“780s” showcases the photography and multimedia works of seven Hong Kong artists who were born in the 1980s. The exhibition seeks to examine how these young artists employ photography as their main creative medium amid the currents of contemporary art; it also sheds light on how they rethink photography and its expression in a digital era overflowing with images.
The role of photography in contemporary art has been a subject of ceaseless discussion in recent years: whether it should retain its autonomy and uniqueness as an artistic medium, or become part of the contemporary art realm that revolves around multimedia art. This question has inspired different views and approaches among museums and fine arts institutions around the world, as well as divergent response from the artists. A growing number of young artists who use photography as their sole or primary medium have begun to incorporate other media into their works.
A former photography major, Eason Tsang transforms the patterns on everyday items into installation in Floral Fabric, before restoring it from installation to the graphic form through photography. The work is an exploration into the “re-manifesting” nature of photography. South Ho, who began to incorporate painting into his photography last year, presents Defense and Resistance. The work combines photography and installation to illuminate Hong Kong-China conflicts and the artist's personal wish. Siu Wai Hang's Inside Outland also probes into the cross-border relationship through the mix of photography and video. A prolific artist of mixed media work, Trevor Yeung's Sleepy Bed highlights the connection between the photographer and the photographed subjects by incorporating engraving into voyeuristic captures of strangers when they were asleep.
Besides the shift in medium, the artists’ redefinition of photography is also steering the themes and expression of their works. The digitalised modern society prompts us to ponder the divide between photographic art and mass imagery. What is the distinction between photographer and photography artist? Is snapshot or selfie art, or can they definitely not become art? These questions extend infinitely from technological advances and the rising popularity of social media.
With an ordinary cell phone that he uses in his daily life, Lai Lon Hin’s Lean Against the Wall shot a series of extremely low-res photos that lack the sense of dimensions, but which spell emotively painting-like touches. The works challenge the aesthetics that underlines traditional definition of photography, and mock the photographers' preoccupation with professional cameras. Cheung Wai Lok's Photos of Cheung showcases tagged Facebook photos of himself, recreated as a daguerreotype with the traditional darkroom exposure technique on the iPhone. Doreen Chan's photo installation 27.0 consisting of assorted images and selfies offers glimpses into a private diary in an interweaving of poetry and photography.
Today, artists engage in more deliberate reflection on the meaning of photography as an artistic medium, as well as its importance in their creation. While they may not find another medium that can replace photography, perhaps they also grow increasingly discontent with making art solely with the medium. The exhibition “780s” reflects this state of creative restlessness.