In her works encompassing video, installation, wall drawings, sculptures, and photography, Yuk King Tan employs the familiar and ordinary to examine the intersections between economics, migration, culture, and power. Her intellectually layered works attract audiences with their visual impact.Read More
Born in Australia and raised in New Zealand, Tan began to exhibit in the mid-1990s after graduating with a BFA from Elam School of Arts, University of Auckland. Her early works showed characteristics that continue in her practice, such as her use of mass-produced objects. The New Temple—I give so that you may give, I give you so that you may go and stay away (1995), for example, was a wall installation consisting of over 100 objects that had been dipped in red wax. The items were commonplace, received from friends and strangers who donated them. With this work she rethought trade and consumerism in daily life.
Such cheap, ordinary merchandise also serves to interrogate the complexities surrounding cultural identity. In Tan's wall installation Untitled (Red Masks) (1998), for example, a row of 11 masks are wrapped in red threads. She purchased both materials from Asian supermarkets, adding not only a cultural dimension to the work—especially with the colour red being associated with Chinese culture—but also bringing to mind stories of migration and resettlement. The masks—devices that momentarily conceal and transform identity—include an eclectic collection of animals from the Chinese zodiac, an alien face, and a mould of the artist's own face, referencing identity's fluid and relative nature.
Living and working in Hong Kong since 2005, Tan has engaged with the city to create works that examine the interplay between commerce, power, and social status. Her video Scavenger (2008), for example, follows an old woman who collects recyclable trash. The woman carries a cardboard lion on her trolley—a near-life-size replica of the pair of guardians outside the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), a site of international commerce. This cardboard lion references the Chinese and British colonial past while standing as an iconic motif of modern Hong Kong. As the video progresses it becomes evident that the symbol is another commodity—at one point, it appears next to a pile of trash, and eventually is exchanged for money.
Other works by Tan that are connected to Hong Kong concern the pro-democracy protest movement. 'Loudspeaker' (2005) is a series of photographs made in collaboration with photographer Neil Pardington. Standing in different locations, with her face hidden behind a loudspeaker, the artist calls out to be heard. The loudspeaker is also part of a collection of objects that make up Crisis of the Ordinary (2019), a wall installation composed in the aftermath of demonstrations in Hong Kong, New Zealand, Korea, and elsewhere. Tan wound the objects in brightly coloured string that recalls the colours of national flags—symbolic of national pride. Writing about the work for EyeContact in 2019, John Hurrell describes these colours as 'a symbol for raw emotion that in its happiness clouds over the functionality of prosaic items'. The identities of individual items change, creating 'a wider community entity that has long term aims'.
Some of Tan's early group shows were in Auckland's innovative artist-run gallery Teststrip, with peers like Giovanni Intra, Daniel Malone, and Judy Darragh. Her solo exhibitions include Crisis of the Ordinary, Starkwhite, Auckland (2019); Overflow, City Gallery Wellington (2005); Flowers of the Revolution, Jonathan Smart Gallery, Christchurch (2004); and Disorderorder, Sue Crockford Gallery, Auckland (2004). She has also participated in a number of international group exhibitions, notably Remember New Zealand, 26th Bienal de São Paulo (2004); Centre of Attraction, the 8th Baltic Triennial, Lithuania (2002); and Flight Patterns, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2000).
Ocula | 2019
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Hope, censorship, the Hong Kong protests and their threads across Asia and the Pacific: a conversation with artist Yuk King Tan, whose show Crisis of the Ordinary is at Starkwhite gallery now. A lattice screen made out of white plastic zip tie police handcuffs. Batons, bottles, drones and other protest objects, wrapped in many-coloured...
It is many years since Yuk King Tan last had a solo show in Auckland—she used to be represented by Sue Crockford—so this Starkwhite presentation of three installations and a video is a welcome event.
The weather's a bit shit so you can't go to the beach, you've binge-watched all your favourite shows, and you fear for your safety stepping outside with Auckland's current random tendency for mini tornados and roof-ripping winds. What is there left to do but take in some culture, via Auckland's glorious plethora of warm, dry art galleries?
Artist Yuk King Tan and her husband, head of art at Tai Kwun Tobias Berger, talk about three of their favourite pieces in their collection. All of the art work we have tells stories about countries that we live in, our friends and our shared history. Some of the work makes the audience reconsider its belief structures, opening up different ways of...