Para Site’s Celia Ho: ‘We Are Never Afraid of Addressing Political Issues’
The curator's first exhibition for the influential art centre will feature Hong Kong artists Luke Ching Chin Wai and Vvzela Kook.
Para Site curator Celia Ho. Photo Dor Lau.
Celia Ho has accepted a difficult job. The newly appointed curator of Hong Kong art centre Para Site is not only tasked with preparing exhibitions during a pandemic and an economic downturn, but doing so following the introduction of a security law on 30 June that has chilled free expression.
'It's still quite uncertain how this law will affect people, especially in the art scene.' Ho said. 'Some people say maybe it will be more difficult to stage exhibitions, there will be more censorship, or more difficulty getting funding or resources if you make things explicitly political.'
Whatever the limitations, she said, 'it's the responsibility of the curator and the artist to communicate how to realise an idea.'
Ho's emphasis on the curator's role as problem solver meshes with her experience. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she studied accounting and worked as an auditor for five years before joining London non-profit Artsadmin. There she was tasked with supporting artists to realise their work, even if it meant helping them more with funding applications than developing their practice.
'Many artists don't have that administrative or operational mindset,' she said.
This year, an operational mindset has been more important than ever. Para Site's exhibition programme was severely disrupted by the pandemic — the exhibition Garden of Six Seasons was postponed from March until May, and then extended through November. Instead of their usual four exhibitions per year, in 2020 there will be just two. Para Site postponed the other two exhibitions until 2021, and launched a paid virtual studio visits programme to support Hong Kong artists during the pandemic.
The second exhibition of 2020 is also the first Ho will work on as curator at Para Site alongside Executive Director and Curator Cosmin Costinas and Deputy Director Claire Shea, whom Ho described as Para Site's exhibition 'masterminds'. It will consist of solo shows by Hong Kong artists Luke Ching Chin Wai and Vvzela Kook.
'Kook's video works combine technology with her artistic practice to convert an urban landscape into an integrated virtual experience,' Ho said. 'Most of her works in past years are rooted in Hong Kong's colonial past, the naming of the streets, and the historical context, but she adds in her own imagination and storytelling to make something new.'
Ching, on the other hand, emphasises art's social function. His past works include taking a job as a museum security guard to help win other security guards the right to sit during their work days.
'His practice twists the role of artist and observer and he has continuously created works that respond to the cultural and political collisions in Hong Kong,' Ho said.
That's timely, but also tricky, given the current crises of liberty and identity facing Hong Kong. According to Ho, Para Site is undeterred.
'We are never afraid of addressing political issues,' she said. —[O]