Cao FeiChoi Jeong HwaJeremy DellerJiakun Architects / Liu JiakunPaul McCarthyTomás SaracenoTam Wai Ping

Cao Fei

House of Treasures; Photo by Nicholas Tse

Born 1978 in Guangzhou, China
Lives and works in Beijing

Cao Fei’s photography, video installations and new media works look at aspects of role play, fantasy and simulated reality within today’s media-saturated society. Attuned to the desires and fantasies of the young, Cao’s artistic practice poignantly captures the ways in which others imagine themselves amidst the hyper-transformative and often disillusioning context of contemporary China.

Cao received critical acclaim for COSPlayers (2004), a photographic series that focuses on the cult of “costume play”, in which young people dress up to inhabit the fantasy role of their favourite animated characters. Cao’s costumed teenagers are depicted in striking strident poses at construction sites, grassy meadows or simply lounging at home with their parents like alienated, displaced superheroes. Following her interest in simulated and parallel realities, Cao launched RMB City in 2008, a long-term project in which she uses the online platform of Second Life to create her own virtual utopia that she inhabits as both participant and observer through her own Second Life avatar, China Tracy. At once a comment on the hyper-capitalistic iterations of Chinese urban development and the vast virtual landscape of alter-egos, role-playing and dislocated desires, RMB City is also a platform that integrates art, design, architecture, literature, cinema, politics, economics and society to reveal the boundaries between virtual and physical existence.

Fascinated by places and moments in which people can bring their private imaginings to life and intersect with the public sphere, Cao has created House of Treasures (2013) — an outsize inflatable suckling pig that celebrates themes of prosperity and abundance. Part playful interactive attraction, part nod to Hong Kong’s food-obsessed culture, House of Treasures injects a space of leisure and pleasure into the West Kowloon site, while prompting visitors to ponder the meaning behind such enjoyment. Viewers accustomed to seeing this food item at a banquet table can now witness it transformed into a larger-than-life space of fantasy and adventure. As in many of Cao’s works, such transfiguration offers a way for audiences to retreat, momentarily, to a space of total imagination.

Choi Jeong Hwa

Emptiness is Form. Form is Emptiness; Photo by Nicholas Tse

Born 1961 in Seoul, South Korea
Lives and works in Seoul

Seoul-based Choi Jeong Hwa is an artist and designer whose work moves between the disciplines of visual art, graphic design, industrial design and architecture. Best known for his large-scale inflatable sculptures — notably lotus blossoms — Choi’s practice is marked by an irreverent take on cultural icons and materials that permeate our daily life. Large-scale outdoor sculptures crafted from diverse materials such as consumer goods, balloons, wires, as well as recycled and found objects are the hallmarks of Choi’s playful repertoire. But it is his lotus flowers — produced in bright red, green, metallic gold and black — which directly comment on the dichotomous relationships of what is real and synthetic, natural and artificial, landscape and urban.

Improbable in colour as they are in size, Choi’s lotus blossoms have been displayed in city squares and public parks around the world. Whether placed in grassy fields, floating on a body of water or mechanised to appear as though “breathing” or wafting in the wind, each presentation offers distinct ways for viewers to engage with the work, and for the work to respond to its given location. These are crucial factors for Choi since he views his sculptures as a form of intervention whereby their presence may interrupt, challenge or formally contrast with their immediate surroundings. Large-scale public installations such as 1000 Doors (千Doors) (2009), a building façade in Seoul fashioned out of thousands of used doors, and Hubble Bubble (2010), featuring stacked columns of neon-green kitchen colanders around structures in public spaces, demonstrate Choi’s fondness for found materials as well as his ongoing dialogue with the built environment of cities.

Choi’s recurring use of the lotus flower elicits multiple, overlapping readings. It may simultaneously speak to the flower’s rich spiritual connotations to Buddhist iconography and the quick disappearance of such beliefs in the face of rapid urban development. Blown up to larger-than-life proportions, rendered in synthetic colours and materials, and pulsating in a slow rhythm, Choi’s lotus flowers downgrade this sanctified symbol from a religious icon to an ornament of lighthearted visual pleasure. Departing from his usual cheery hues, Emptiness is Form. Form is Emptiness. (2013) re-casts this iconic symbol of purity as something seemingly dark, or solemn. By placing the work on the future site of the park of West Kowloon Cultural District — a plot of land which cannot be said to be either wholly natural or man-made — Choi also points to hazy relationships between nature and artifice, urban and non-urban space, and to the presence, or absence, of nature within Hong Kong’s increasingly urban, often consumer-frenzied environment.

Jeremy Deller

Sacrilege; Photo by Nicholas Tse

Born 1966 in London, UK
Lives and works in London

Over the past two decades, UK-based artist Jeremy Deller has been highly influential and instrumental in pioneering new methods of making art collaboratively. His interactions with artists, musicians, historians, collectors and performers have yielded multi-layered video and installation works that push our understanding of social and cultural phenomena, as well as transgress the divide between the artist (or artwork) and the audience. Known for forging innovative modes of public participation, Deller seeks to undermine the strict distinctions that exist between the “professional” and the “amateur” by embracing communal societies, underground groups and eccentricities in vernacular culture within his own native Britain. Encompassing music, film, ephemeral performances, archival research, public processions and disconnected gestures in public space, Deller’s work continually reinforces the power of community over the individual, and the social value of inclusion over isolation.

One of Deller’s signature practices involves overlapping improbable styles or media. An early example would be Acid Brass (1997), a musical collaboration with a brass band that fused traditional brass band compositions with acid house and Detroit techno. In 2001, Deller staged his breakthrough The Battle of Orgreave that brought together nearly one thousand people in a public reenactment of a violent confrontation from the 1984 Miners’ Strike in Orgreave, England. The widely celebrated work united a variety of Deller’s interests — from participation and self-organisation, to highly specialised (and localised) bodies of knowledge. The work also poignantly touched on strategies of reenactment, reproduction and re-performance, as well as the collective claim individuals have to the narration of history.

Sacrilege (2012) — a life-size bouncy castle in the shape of Stonehenge — encapsulates Deller’s interest in the generative spirit of public participation. By recasting one of the world’s most famous existing prehistoric monuments (closed to the public since 1977) as an interactive public sculpture, he allows audiences to reacquaint themselves with history in a high-spirited and entertaining manner. By titling it Sacrilege, Deller cleverly counteracts the work’s amusement-park qualities by alluding to the monument’s sacred origins head-on. Among the most well-recognised and oft-reproduced icons of the modern era, Stonehenge’s characteristic forms have been copied and replicated in a variety of materials, scales and styles across the globe from Europe to China. It is therefore fitting that this “monument of the world” should find a temporary home in Hong Kong — a “world city” with a complicated colonial past — and upon the endlessly evolving site of West Kowloon.

Jiakun Architects / Liu Jiakun

With the Wind; Photo by Nicholas Tse

Born 1956 in Chengdu, China
Lives and works in Chengdu

Liu Jiakun is founder and principal architect of JIAKUN ARCHITECTS. Liu’s architectural practice is characterised by an exploration of constraints — of materials, construction skills and building processes. Active in China since the mid-1990s, Liu embraces a stripped-down, rugged sensibility in his work as a way to counteract the high gloss of most commercially oriented structures. Among his earliest projects was He Duoling Villa, a studio-cum-residence designed for Sichuan painter He Duoling in 1996. Taking the traditional Chinese courtyard building as a departure point, the “villa” used a labyrinthine sequence of interior spaces to surround a central patio and walkways. The work established Liu as an advocate of an alternative form of architectural practice that stood out against China’s rapidly developing, architecture-as-object building boom.

The Luyeyuan Museum of Stone Sculpture (2002) in Xinmin, Sichuan province, epitomises the limits and challenges of working in rural China and JIAKUN ARCHITECTS’ ability to transform these constraints into opportunities. Faced with a limited budget and the rudimentary skills of rural builders, Liu settled on a design approach that embraced “rough” or informal techniques. These included using poured concrete and shale bricks to form both interior and exterior walls, which masked imperfections in fabrication while giving the walls the dramatic texture of a “stony” and “underground” space. As an active participant in producing temporary installations in artistic platforms, such as the perpendicular and intersecting walking platforms for “Crossroads – The First Chengdu Biennale” (2001) and the site-specific courtyard-like space Black Well at the 2002 Shanghai Biennale, Liu has critically employed architectural thinking on the level of conceptual speculation, material-spatial manipulation and public engagement.

Another of Liu’s public artworks is With the Wind, a project first created in 2002 on the occasion of a private gathering in Chengdu, and later reprised for the 2009 Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale for Architecture and Urbanism. In this work, the powerful vocabulary of modern forms employed in Liu’s built structures is replaced by a more fleeting and lighthearted approach. In Chengdu, the work featured a mesh canopy suspended by floating Chinese lantern-shaped balloons, with bamboo fans dangling from the edges of the screen for visitors to use while reclining in the shade. The version of With the Wind created for “Mobile M+: Inflation!” adheres closer to its Shenzhen counterpart — several round floating spheres hovering above an open-air space holding up a swath of black netting to create a shaded area for relaxation and respite from the outdoor elements. Repurposing readily found, inexpensive materials, and simultaneously inhabiting diaphanous and robust qualities, With the Wind merges Liu’s bucolic sensibility with the urban landscape of West Kowloon. 

Paul McCarthy

Complex Pile; Photo by Nicholas Tse

Born 1945 in Salt Lake City, USA
Lives and works in Los Angeles

Paul McCarthy is arguably one of the most celebrated and influential American visual artists working today. Known for his video-taped performances and provocative multimedia installations that lampoon polite society and ridicule authority, McCarthy’s name has become synonymous with nausea-inducing and taboo-breaking approaches to making art. As an educator, McCarthy has also been profoundly influential to multiple generations of artists through his more than two decades of teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles. His groundbreaking oeuvre combines cherished American icons of innocence or purity with sexually-tinged, violent imagery and messy outpourings of food, paint and body fluids. These experiments have not only been central to discourses on American performance and video art in the 1970s and 1980s, but have helped to pioneer the use of satire and sarcasm in the global language of contemporary art.

Early in his career, McCarthy sought to break out from the limitations of painting by using the body as a paintbrush or canvas — most notably in Face Painting – Floor, White Line (1972), a videotaped performance in which the artist drags his body in paint across the floor. Later, as witnessed in his seminal work Painter (1995), the commentary on artmaking devolved into a self-inflicted mess involving costumed figures, prosthetics, ketchup, mayonnaise and assorted body fluids. Walking the line between sensation and agitation, McCarthy’s psychosexual collisions centre on the body as both a container and producer of internal anxieties brought on by the ills of contemporary society.

Complex Pile is a 51-foot-high, 110-foot-long, inflatable sculpture of a twisted pile of excrement. Embodying his rare ability to leverage bad taste to infiltrate the well-mannered confines of the art world, Complex Pile mocks its picturesque surroundings and pokes fun at the prudent qualities of public sculpture. Following a long line of other large-scale inflatable sculptures by the artist — among them, Daddies Tomato Ketchup (2007) and Santa Butt Plug (2007) — Complex Pile also uses its massive size to disrupt perceptions of space, instilling a sense of uncertainty in the viewer and destabilising the pastoral setting of a public park. Despite its airy weightlessness, McCarthy’s work provokes a hefty scrutiny of fundamental beliefs, in particular assumptions of beauty and attractiveness in art. 

Tomás Saraceno

Poetic Cosmos of the Breath; Photo by Nicholas Tse

Born 1973 in Tucumán, Argentina
Lives and works in Frankfurt

Trained as an architect, Tomás Saraceno is an internationally recognised artist who creates inflatable structures and sculptural installations as speculative models of experiencing the built environment. Inspired by naturally occurring geometric patterns and forms, Saraceno’s experiments are both elegantly engineered and visually mesmerising. Made of various synthetic surfaces and structures, his carefully constructed webs, bubbles and spheres offer immersive spaces to walk, climb, play or recline on. Entering one of his floating cells or suspended habitats, people are led to imagine themselves as individual proponents acting within a vast networked system of organisms, materials and natural forces. Throughout Saraceno’s practice — from his frequent collaborations with scientists, engineers, chemists, botanists, astrophysicists and biologists, to his explorations with alternative energy and solar-powered technologies — lies a utopian sensibility.

Saraceno is perhaps most known for his ongoing Cloud Cities project, first installed on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2012. Consisting of a large geodesic dome, the work’s sixteen interconnected modules outfitted with reflective and transparent glass components are designed to create dizzying spatial illusions as the audience enter the sculpture and view the city through a variety of distorted and unfamiliar perspectives. Similar interactive installations such as On Space Time Foam (2012) or Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider’s Web (2009), crafted from steel wires,mirrors, as well as transparent and translucent surfaces, have established Saraceno as an artist skilled at manipulating symmetrical forms to challenge notions of place, space and gravity.

Inspired by the work of Dominic Michaelis, an English architect and inventor who pioneered the technology for a solar-powered hot air balloon, Poetic Cosmos of the Breath is a time-based experimental solar dome that takes flight only under certain climatic conditions. It uses deceptively simple materials — a paper-thin foil membrane accompanied by a few sandbags and a handful of participants — to produce a startlingly ethereal, shimmering effect. Staged at dawn, as temperature conditions naturally shift, air inside the balloon is heated by a greenhouse effect and the lightweight material slowly lifts off the ground unaided by machines or electrical power. At the same time, sunlight cast through the material creates a vibrant rainbow-tinged iridescent glow. Conceived for “Mobile M+: Inflation!” as a temporary event occurring periodically during the show rather than as fixed structure, Poetic Cosmos of the Breath highlights not only the impermanence of public sculpture. It poses new possibilities for imagining humanity’s relationship with the natural world. 

Tam Wai Ping

Falling into the Mundane World; Photo by Nicholas Tse

Born 1967 in Hong Kong, China
Lives and works in Hong Kong

Tam Wai Ping works in a variety of media ranging from photography and video to outdoor installations that juxtapose notions of reality and fiction, home and identity. His measured process and embrace of elemental forms emerge from the artist’s interest to uncover new or unexpected relationships between land, environment and community.

One of Tam’s more ambitious works to date is Temple, a project that was initiated during a residency in Taipei in 2001 and completed nearly five years later in 2005. It began with Tam’s fascination with an important Taoist temple known as Temple of the City God that he came across in Dadaocheng, Taipei. Built in Taiwan in 1821, this temple was an offshoot of an original temple in Fujian province by the same name. Inspired by the notion of migrating cultures, Tam decided to produce an inflatable copy of this temple structure that would be manufactured in China and then shipped to Taiwan to be shown alongside the original. Encompassing multiple locales — the site of the historic building in Fujian; the physical site in Dadaocheng, Taiwan; and the production site in Mainland China — Temple also brought together the local Taiwanese community during its moment of inflation and brief “flight” above the original building. Another public installation by Tam, entitled Stairs (2006), used excavated dirt to sculpt two staircases in mirror image form. One emerged from the earth and reached upward, while the other descended from the ground into a cavernous hole. The work capitalises on formal aspects — namely, the use of positive and negative space — to comment on the natural occurrence of contrasting or opposing forces in society.

Falling into the Mundane World (2013), a new commission for “Mobile M+: Inflation!”, reflects Tam’s ongoing interest in working in the public realm and exploring myriad responses to specific sites and contexts. The oversized female legs and cockroach sculptures point to ubiquitous aspects of life in Hong Kong as well as underlying ills that plague contemporary society at large. Despite the gargantuan proportions and upturned positioning of the work, Tam does not intend to provoke feelings of desire and violence, but rather to critique our conditioned responses to these stimuli over time, and address increasing levels of desensitisation towards our everyday surroundings. Purposely containing an element of spectacle, Falling into the Mundane World is also an acknowledgement of how artworks today are made to function as mild forms of cultural entertainment.