So here we go again, traveling at magnificent speed across the universe. It's mid-June of 2011 and there I was thinking it was only April.
I'm writing this in the air in a tiny little seat, flying to NYC after a very hectic few months. We opened Hope and Glory in Beijing, then 'Laughing with a Mouthful of Blood' a couple of weeks after and the Prodip show, Tribe of Many Colours'.
Beijing, Hope and Glory @ G-Dot Gallery
Hong Kong Museum of Medical Science
The two painting shows of my work and then prodips were successful in many ways. We pulled a great crowd at the openings and have seen a lot of traffic at the funny little medical museum hidden away amongst the skyscrapers around soho. Both shows can be considered installations. My work, oil paintings of the human body, fits in conceptually with the building that has a hundred year medical science history. A building that served as a pathology lab, where bodies would have been rigorously studied, now filled with art that is all about the body. Much of my painting is layered using palate knives and, not surprisingly, I think of doctors using scalpel knives to open and examine bodies in the same space where my work carves and dissects flesh in a very different way.
Prodip's work, shown in the smaller annex space, connects beautifully with the space and it's history too, as they show a very different vision that involves science and art. Depictions of aliens and UFOs. One in particular shows a mutilated cow, the victim of an alien investigation.
That is the thread that joins it all, art and science. It's been a thoroughly enjoyable experience for us all involved, there are around 10 of us involved in the project. The show had to be built, the museum doesn't normally have a clean white space inside so we built one temporarily. The show also had to be promoted, opening parties organized, people given tours, talks and lectures, posters stuck around town and on and on. A huge amount of work went into building what may seem a tiny little exhibition. But that is HK unfortunately, it's difficult to make art here but the audience seems to understand that and people are very supportive and spread the word and drop by multiple times. All of us have been hanging out at the space whether we need to or not because it's just the nicest place to hang out and we sit on the steps outside in the garden drinking beers and listening to the cicadas.
Before I got on the plane this morning I did a talk with a group of people connected to, or on the committee that manages, the museum. Most of them are retired older ladies and they are enthusiastic and ask many questions and we have a good chat. I worried that there might some awkwardness as the works show nudity and hint at violence and that the title of the show might seem horrific in someway. But then I realized much of the group were retired from medicine, so I was talking with pathologists, oncologists and haemotologists. Little old ladies who would have spent years living amongst blood and guts, births and deaths. Probably one of the most unshakable audiences I've ever spoken too.
I've done a few talks recently, they are always a bit nerve racking but it seems a worthwhile contribution, to share information with the community. I don't preach, I just kinda tell my story.
The work sold very well. Prodips sold out instantly. His first ever exhibition, the work was affordable and high quality. PD has been involved in graphic design, music and illustration for over 20 years so he's no amature. It was all very encouraging, both HK and Beijing shows. Especially being the first 2 projects managed by 'Future Industries', the arts organization that now manages me, Prodip and others. Future Industries is like a gallery without a permanent space and there are a number of huge projects coming up that should really keep things interesting. The FI vision is to produce large and small exhibitions, by local and international artists, in interesting environments both here and abroad.
There's been some stuff in the papers about Hope and Glory and the government. Hope and glory was a massive risk but succeeded in so many ways. Over 50000 people came to see the show even though it was stuck all the way out in Taikoo. It got an enormous amount of press here and abroad. It was given huge support of 'in kind' sponsorship. Not cash (that was supplied by myself from sales of paintings). Swire giving us the space for free (the normal rent would be nearly 5 million HK dollars) and high profile sponsors like Louis Vuitton, Diesel, Absolut Vodka and Shanghai Tang contributing much. Many HK artists and individuals contributed much time and effort to the project giving it a wonderful community spirit. Over 400 people worked on the project. An incredible achievement on an unprecedented scale. Overwhelmingly challenging but a magical adventure for all involved.
The reason for doing the project was simply a continuation of where i'd been heading conceptually. I loved the idea of doing something massive, on the scale of international art museums as we don't have such venues here. And I loved that it would be non-profit, a gift to my community, free for all to enjoy, because it's so opposite to the HK norm of trying to profit in any way possible from anything possible, from every square inch of this city. An idealistic statement and the realisation of art i needed to make. Sadly the one black cloud was the government. They originally promised the project HK$2 million cash support. They advertised this widely and turned up at the big opening event to get their photos taken with movie stars. We had been waiting for the money from them for a year after they had paid us an initial HK$1million. Finally, this month, they decided they would only give us a further HK$300,000. Leaving me personally to find the extra HK$700,000. The shocking thing is we got no explanation for the reduction of contribution, even after they advertised recently how successful their grant was, in supporting HK events, and again stated they gave us 2 million. Well, they didn't. It is finally only 1.3 million. The worst thing is that much of that 1.3million was taken up by admin costs trying to meet the government criteria after they demanded more and more documentation to prove the project happened. Really! When they offered us the money, and we only had about 24 hours to accept the grant after receiving the massive contract, we added work into the project we had been planning to cut as we'd run out of money but now that they have cut their contribution we are worse off than if we had never accepted the grant. Shocking. The contracts in retrospect have such an insanely complex criteria, it's as if they were written to ensure there was no way an applicant would every get the full grant. this has been the case with all the organizations that have applied. No one got full funding. So the final bill is that we paid HK$3.3 million. The government paid only HK$1.3 million. And remember, $0 income. Annoying because I have a feeling the government have a bit more spare cash than us. And even more annoying that the fund only used half it's budget over the period and has about 40 million dollars left which they don't know what to do with. Oh well, I guess we learned a valuable lesson and a painful insight into the way our city is managed, and into bureaucracy, documentation, and project management. I'm sorry if it sounds like i'm whining, it is what it is. I could get into some David and Goliath lawsuit and try to fight for the money but honestly, i'm just too fucking busy and I'm really just very grateful i even got to make the project at all. It was my choice, and I'm well aware that choices have consequences, not all of them good. Amazing how difficult it is in hk to contribute creatively. This is something all local artists understand. Just to find a small space and get people to see your work is such hard work. Well, one way we can all make it easier is just simply to show more unity, to share our information and offer one another support wherever we can. Anyway, we are kinda over the whole thing now and just focused on the future and all very excited about the shows we have on now and the ones coming up in the next year. In some ways that drama has spurred us on to really prove what a small band of pirates can do to impact our community with creativity.
Here on the airplane the lights are out 4 hours in to a 15 hour flight. I wander down the corridor passing the huddled bodies wrapped in uniform blue shrouds, the blankets that are remarkably thin but warm nonetheless. There's such a divide between passengers and staff. There's a real system on planes that subtly controls the passengers. Keeps them in their seats and subdued. The food, the lighting, the announcements, there's some kind of fine tuned pshycological game afoot that manages the cabin environment and all inside it. This is not a bad thing, just an observation. Im quite happy that people aren't doing shots and rockin out in the corridors even though you probably could while everyone is asleep. I have lots of ways to stay alive on the plane. I wander, sleep using pills, chat to the staff in the galleys, snack, write, watch movies and there are secret spots you can hang out. There are bigger bathrooms at the back and if they're clean they are a great place to chill alone for a moment. Or with a friend! In the darkness you can even get away with lounging on the floor in certain areas, in the darkness when everyone is asleep. All this turns the trip into a very pleasant one. Submit and make the most of it. It's always odd when people are in uniform. It's dehumanizing because you perceive them as different to us, that they are to serve or have authority just based on their garments. And they adopt that persona too. Airport security are often the worst examples along with building security guards in Hong Kong. The ones around big residential or commercial buildings times square in Hong Kong are the biggest fucking assholes. Just try sitting on some steps and it can turn into a major drama. Walkie talkies kick off then more guards come and it's suddenly a thing just because granny needed to sit for a moment.
One of our team, Rocky, is with me on the flight so I've been annoying him as much as possible. He's meeting his girl in NYC. Very romantic. I'm meeting art world people, checking out galleries and hanging out with old friends. I have a pcked schedule over three days after which I race to LA for more of the same and then down to Mexico for an actual holiday! The first in many many months. When you're in the middle of it all, the maelstrom of ones life, it all feels so important and so difficult to take breath from but of course you have to almost force yourself to take time out so you can really digest and reflect and come back with clarity, so the next set of decisions is better informed, rather than perhaps blurred by the activity that can consume you. So it was hard to take a holiday, worried that I might be missing some vital move in my strategy for world domination but actually, receding and digesting is the right move right now. Just to be clear, I am not actually planning to dominate the world. Just to make better art and share it with the world. Something about being on the plane, with no Internet, no mobile phone and the commitment of leaving one place to cross the world to another. Theres always a rush of ideas, emotions, reflections. Somehow one let's go of the daily problem solving stuff, bills and relationships, perhaps because it gets more distant by the second. There's nothing I can do about the damp in the kitchen while I'm half way around the world. So your mind is free somehow and flies, just as the plane does. I've never ceased to be amazed just looking out of the window at the clouds below, it never gets boring. The earth from the air is just spectacular. The infinite variety of clouds, their density, color, landscape. It's like your flying over another planet. And you only get experience that ever changing view for a few hours on most flights, maybe a days worth over a year.
This flight is darkness all the way however so, along with my wanderings and writing, I watch tv. There's a documentary about circus. It's really interesting and the people who work there have such diverse and interesting histories but they become a family under the big top. It reminded me much of my own conceptual circus and the experience of bonding we all went through. So will I produce something like that again? Yes, even though the money is a huge issue, I realize in hk that where there is a will, there's a way. My next large scale project won't happen for another year yet but it is on a massive scale. Now hk's art momentum is building so rapidly, as is my exposure, it becomes more and more possible to achieve some pretty ambitious stuff.
I have 2 main projects ahead. One is a huge temporary sctrucutre made of massive sails, each serving, on it's interior surface, as a projection screen. On these screens plays hundreds of films produced by a hundred filmmakers from all over the world. The content is mixed together, just like I used to mix music as a dj, so the pace rises and falls, relaxes and intensifies. Standing inside the massive fortress should be an overwhelming and enveloping experience. The climax is a series of car crashes including the destruction of my recently purchased Ferrari. I intend to love it dearly for the next year until I drive it down a freeway at top speed and hit a ramp, corkscrew it through the air and crash into a fireball at the end. This will al be filmed in beautiful slow motion and played back across dozens of massive screens.
I'm writing on the floor by the emergency exit. There's plenty of room. There's a man standing next to me wearing open toe sandals. He has the grossest toenails ever. He most know this. He must have seen other people toes and realized his are hideous. So why does he want the world to share in his freaky brown twisted nails? Ugh, I feel nauseous. Anyway, shall go back to a happy place and watch the Inbetweeners for a bit. Always makes me laugh. The pill worked well, bought across the counter from a backstreet pharmacy in hk. I'm out for a straight 8 hours as if nothing happened. I wonder what happened during that time. Did I snore, cuddle the guy next to me. Nobody would ever tell you I suppose. I'm the opposite, I always stop a snorer. Baby screams I go for ear plugs plus noise canceling headphones. No problem. The only real problem is fat people bulging into your space but then I just move. Touch down moments away. There's a flurry of activity as everyone rushes to the bathroom, pulls their crap outta the overheads while listening to the warnings from the department of homeland security. America has such stupid names for every conceivable institution. The announcement uses a certain language, words like compliance and mandatory. Words that you rarely say in real life. The planes wheels have barely touched tarmac when a dozen people get to their feet and start trying to pull their luggage down, the stewardesses shouting down the aisles at them to sit back down. What's the rush? There's another half hour before they even unlock the doors. Then everyone stands when the seatbelt light goes off but there's still a good 20 minutes waiting before the line shuffles forward. The everyone bolts for immigration which is painfully slow again. It's this part, the prequel at check in and being dragged through the system until you have to wait again for your bags that adds a couple of hours of draining experience onto the journey. The flight is one of the better parts of the experience of travel. But before and after there's stress and pushing and noise and rules and drama. There's just too fucking many of us for it to be any other way. For my part I just chill through it all. Take a breath and just cruise through the whole adventure and enjoy the time on my own and work a bunch of stuff out in my head and on this wonderful little iPad.