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  • May 27, 2024

“Gentle Again” at The Shophouse

Installation view of CIARAN MURPHY’s Fly bye, 2021, oil and tempera on canvas, 52 × 72 cm, at "Gentle Again," The Shophouse, Tai Hang, Hong Kong, 2024. Curtesy The Shophouse. 

March 22–May 4, 2024
Gentle Again
The Shophouse
Hong Kong

Nowadays, gentleness can often be mistaken for passivity. Yet, Aristotle once described the quality as “justified and controlled anger,” suggesting that gentleness has not always been conceived as such. This evolution marked the inspiration behind “Gentle Again,” a group exhibition at The Shophouse gallery that brought together an array of canvases, a video work, and kinetic installations to re-examine the titular concept. The works were crafted by eight artists who hail from diverse cultural backgrounds, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Ireland, the UK, and Romania. 

BOBBY YU SHUK PUI, Genetic Salon – Waiting Room, 2021, Video, 17 min 25 sec. Courtesy the Artist and The Shophouse. 

On the ground floor of The Shophouse’s three-story historical building in Tai Hang, Norway-based Hong Kong artist Yu Shuk Pui Bobby’s video work Genetic Salon—Waiting Room (2021) was immediately visible on a TV screen. It depicts five different stories of what occurs in a waiting room prior to a genetic modification procedure, and in each, a receptionist delivers a monolog, weaving a speculative story or dialog based on the potential outcomes of genetic modification. Emphasized by the eerie atmosphere of a clinically white empty room, the surreal conversations ridicule overtly standardized, bureaucratic procedures imposed by biotech companies that exploit and perpetuate people’s quest for perfection. Perhaps an offshoot of the exhibition’s theme, Genetic Salon resembles a visual novel, where tension between the viewer’s experience and the actresses’ monologs creates a strange, yet elusive intimacy. Yu further emphasizes that dichotomy by exaggerating the personal desire for body modification to absurd lengths. 

Details of TUNG WING HONG’s T(hey), 2024, two mannequin arms, kinetic devices, carpet, kinetic curtain, 310 × 220 × 130 cm, at "Gentle Again," The Shophouse, Tai Hang, Hong Kong, 2024. Curtesy The Shophouse.

The feeling of elusiveness was reiterated by Hong Kong artist Tung Wing Hong’s kinetic moving luggage, A Way (Away) (2023), wandering around the ground floor. The work vaguely questions the absurdity behind migration, tourism, and the peripatetic lifestyle of globetrotters like celebrities, digital nomads, and global art professionals. Tung’s other kinetic sculpture, his large-scale installation T(hey) (2024), also employs symbolism. Two robotic arms appeared on the carpet, rotating as a motor-driven curtain surrounded them; the limbs maneuvered unhurriedly and sometimes caressed one another. The moving curtain followed, gently altering the space and sometimes blocking the view of the arms. When observed closely, one may realize that both limbs are of left arms, suggesting that they were torn off from two different models. The limbs’ slow movement and random collisions could thus be interpreted as two separate persons caught between avoidance and yearning for intimacy. 

Installation view of ROBIN MEGANNITY’s (left) PICA and (right) Whisperers, both 2022, oil on linen, both 110 × 80cm, at "Gentle Again," The Shophouse, Tai Hang, Hong Kong, 2024. Courtesy Workplace and The Shophouse. 

HUANG KO WEI, Apollo & Artemis, 2024, acrylic on board, 97 × 260 cm. Courtesy Gallery Vacancy and The Shophouse. 

The exhibition also presented a wide range of paintings. Irish artist Ciarán Murphy’s Kind of blueish (2021), which depicts three canoodling lovebirds on two cupped hands against a deep brown background, captures an innocent human-animal relationship and evokes a sense of warmth and tenderness. Robin Megannity’s PICA (2022) illustrates a cube of ice bitten by teeth; a portion of the linen is left blank, exuding an acute sensation from a quotidian moment of tension. The Romanian artist Paul Robas’s painting For a minute there (2024) features a photorealistic chandelier juxtaposed against the malformed face of a boy looking annoyed. Painted under a rose-tainted hue, Robas highlights the illusionary nature of his subjects. Lastly, Taiwanese artist Huang Ko Wei’s diptych Apollo & Artemis (2024) vividly captures glimpses of passengers in a metro station, accentuated by the contrast between the platform’s sharp infrastructure and its blurry movement. The rusty red and blue colored lighting sporadically permeates the paintings, casting different temperatures within the busy commute space to symbolize passersbys’ alienated distance. 

A curatorial statement suggested that “the moment before,” or the time prior to any conclusions can be drawn, lays the foundation for gentleness to emerge. This was evident through the artworks’ emphasis on the feeling of almost, on the in-between, on elusiveness, wherein confusion and dichotomy breed intimacy. Broaching these concepts within the urban sanctuary of The Shophouse, the exhibition provided a gentle respite in an otherwise harsh world. 

Installation view of CIARAN MURPHY’s Kinda of blueish, 2021, oil and on canvas, 71 × 91 cm, at "Gentle Again," The Shophouse, Tai Hang, Hong Kong, 2024. Courtesy Workplace and The Shophouse.

Alex Yiu is associate editor at ArtAsiaPacific. 

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