'emo gym' Exercises Vulnerability in Hong Kong
Yim Sui Fong, Stair Mass (2022). Four-channel sound installation. Exhibition view: emo gym, Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong (21 April–19 June 2022). Courtesy Tai Kwun Contemporary. Photo: Kwan Sheung Chi.
Amid headlines of a global pandemic, raging wars, and climate disasters, curator Erin Li's group exhibition at Tai Kwun in Hong Kong, emo gym (21 April–19 June 2022), brings together seven emerging local artists to confront the matrix of emotions charging experiences of instability.
Featuring new commissions—installations, video projections, and textiles—by Yim Sui Fong, Michele Chu, Chloë Cheuk, and Dony Cheng Hung, repeated symbols and mediums become vehicles to explore states of vulnerability amid uncertainty.
The eight-channel video installation Against Step (2019) by Yim Sui Fong shows eight analogue T.V. boxes lined up on a table to look like a control room. On the screen, C.C.T.V.-style footage zooms in on facial expressions, gentle hand ticks, passersby on the street, and subway scenes, amplifying the embodied temporality of the day-to-day.
Above the televisions, a projection on the opposing wall shows performance dancer Leung Tin Chak rehearsing a piece inherent to the installation. The dancer moves in disjointed, chaotic motions, replicating ways to evade face and body recognition.
If Against Step abandons normal human patterns, Stress Test (2021) by Chloë Cheuk does the opposite. Elastic sheets on three belts are timed to pull, tighten, and loosen from floor to ceiling; the motor behind the flexing material ticks like a clock that can be heard throughout the space, as if a metronome to lose track of time.
Given what the world has experienced in recent years, there is an underlying melancholy in the staged comfort of familiar and unfamiliar encounters in this exhibition.
While the kinetic structure itself, inspired by pilates reformer equipment, generates physical tension, social media text embroidered on its soft, yoga-pant material becomes distorted from the motion—with phrases like 'Follow,' 'Unfollow,' and 'What are you looking for.'
Both the instability of the moving structure and its influencer messaging speak to the overload pervading digital life and the challenge of finding ways to manage its physical and emotional effects.
As a whole, emo gym is staged like a warm, domestic space, with an open exhibition floor dimly lit to create a sense of comfort, and a conceptual division of space between the 'lounge' and the 'bedroom'.
This movement from public to private is echoed in the shift from observations of public life to that of intimate environments across works. If Tomorrow Never Comes (2020–2021) by Sharon Lee is a series of five large-scale inkjet-print portraits that show characters in homes, lounges, badminton courts and, lastly, The Hong Kong International Airport. The multimedia images are backlit by a lightbox showing text appearing and disappearing over a looped time cycle.
The exposure time of each photograph mirrors the length of conversations the artist had with the photographed subjects—close friends and family—about future plans, with quotes like, 'If tomorrow never comes, then today, I'll make every effort to remember you from tomorrow.'
This sense of intimacy and longing for connection continues with Michele Chu's immersive installation inti-gym (2021), a stretch of nude-coloured nylon fabric shaped like a cocoon, where two entrances bring together two strangers from the audience as a form of 'intimacy training'.
Like a soft embrace, the tunnel becomes increasingly opaque, creating a sense of privacy inciting conversation. Prompts hang at eye level urging to 'get to know each other,' posing questions like, 'When was the last time you felt vulnerable?' And, 'What's one thing you need to hear from others right now?'
Converging at the centre of the installation are two seats separated by a thin, opaque fabric with a flap for eye contact. The artist describes the action as 'a physical vessel to house intangible complex emotions.' Strangers leave as friends, if they are willing to open up.
Given what the world has experienced in recent years, there is an underlying melancholy in the staged comfort of familiar and unfamiliar encounters in this exhibition. As curator Erin Li points out, we live in such delicate times. 'Merely going about on the street could bring tears to our eyes.' —[O]