Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Para/Site Art Space Until Feb 17

Why does the freedom of choice enslave us with such angst? Such is the big existential question posed by Para/Site Art Space’s latest group exhibition, the first at the gallery by its newly appointed curator Qinyi Lim. Citations by Sartre and Kierkegaard fixed on the corridor wall between the two main exhibition rooms inform the visitors of an impenetrable truth: that what triggers their unfathomable anxiety is the uncertainty of choice as such, the possibility of possibilities, and the ultimate option to choose to be or not to be.

Yet the selection of works in the show confronts us with the unease of choice at a rather more mundane level – the freedom in contemporary society, overwhelmed with consumerist pseudo-choices, appears imaginary. Controlled by commercially-driven implementation of Freud’s theory of unconscious desires, our identities as citizens, buyers, voters, employees and even partners is built on the pseudo-freedom to select between various advertised commodities, where even the prospect of death or love should be directed by profit. At least that is what you’ll learn if you stay long enough to watch the feature-length documentary The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis, whose message is emphasised by Michael Lee’s Skive: A Worker’s Guide, a set of white-collar self-portraitures attached to the walls around the back exhibition room.

They share the space with Tang Kwok-hin’s video triptych Present Reminiscences of the Eastern Capital, where layered images of constantly transforming cityscapes produce a haunting vision of people, places and customs lost in Hong Kong’s rapacious pursuit of future alternatives. By contrast, Tang’s newly commissioned Lower Legs – a composition of steel pillars and a multifaceted disc hanging just below the ceiling screens – seems rather at odds with the rest of the works and is hardly in tune with the main concept of the exhibition.

Sun Xun’s Some Actions Which Haven’t Been Defined Yet in the Revolution occupies the whole front space of the exhibition in the form of a single big-screen projection. The black-and-white animation is especially effective due to its original woodcut material. Vibrating hand-made figures create the intense presence of nightmarish crows, tigers, snakes and an enormous all-absorbing maw. The work reveals a world of unconscious fears and suppressed desires, of decay and darkness, which feels oddly in-sync with the predominantly black-and-white aesthetics on view at the exhibition.

Nevena Ivanova

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