Contemporary lives in altermodernity have become journeys in a chaotic universe, transforming it into a territory which may be traveled both in time and space. In such a changing terrain, individuals’ daily practices, as well as their sense of self, rely on constant translation and mediation between identities and cultures, an ongoing process of negotiation of cultural meanings.
Hong Kong Atlas (2012-13) considers this centerless chronotope of global negotiation and interchange between agents from different cultures as an emerging network of new pathways of translation across multiple formats of expression and communication. The project starts off with Kai-cheung Dung’s novel "Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City", a book of (postmodern) fiction about Hong Kong, then traces the locations in that book onto the real terrain of today's Hong Kong by means of a psychogeography documented in digital photographs, and is then once again transcoded into visual form as a series of mixed media works combining archival pigment print on canvas, screenprint ink, acrylic, oil-and-wax and china ink. This is a project about positionality, a sense of place, about cultural translation and transcoding, and about mediating between different cultural flows.
Transcoding, or intersemiotic translation, is also very much at the centre of the series of digital prints for billboards entitled Abstract Politics (2008-2010). Drawing upon a wide array of artistic strategies used by abstraction in the form of Abstract Expressionism (the gesture, the liberating power of randomness), it recontextualizes them and translates them into the language of new media, while at the same time infusing with political content the visual language of one of the most apolitical developments in 20th century art. The starting point in the process is the media, i.e. news coverage of national and global political issues. In the contemporary, digital version of the aleatory principle, the headline of the news story is searched in Google Images, and the search results thus obtained (including such images as maps, soldiers, ABBA, Aristotle, Abraham Lincoln, fighter jets, parrots, soccer, and Slavoj Zizek) serve as raw material which is later digitally edited to produce a large scale digital print.
This project is one of several (Monument: 1000 Alexandras, City Tour of the Decade, Portrait of the Artist as a Cultural Worker, The Right to the City, etc.) that step out of the white cube context and seek out more direct engagement with the social through the focus on public space.
Art necessarily requires a public space. Without the existence of a public sphere there would be no art as a public discourse. Public space is key to the very possibility of existence of free speech, since one can only practice free speech in public space. The contemporary trends of progressive erosion and shrinking of public space, on the one hand through the metastasizing of commercial interests into public spaces, and on the other through the continuous intrusion of state surveillance and control in public space under the security paradigm, result in extremely negative effects to democracy.
The move to take art out of the galleries and museum and out in the streets, must go hand in hand with an attempt to get people out of the shopping malls and encourage them to become critical and active participants in public discourse. In this time of ubiquitous presence of the entertainment industry, artists must find uncommodified spaces and new ways for communication with the publics and their activation. The new economic practices of reappropriating and restructuring public space, coupled with the absence of a truly public sphere defined by critical dialogue, increase the necessity and the urgency for alternative discourses to the official one dominated by advertising. And this is where public art, of the activist or socially engaged type, can offer powerful resistance to the power structures, both through its critique of commercial abuse of public spaces as well as through refashioning the urban landscape beyond the old spatial hierarchies and segregation. In this, socially engaged public art comes close to realizing the ideal of public space –an arena where citizens organized in different publics and counterpublics meet to confront opposing values and expectations in public deliberation and discourse.
Zoran Poposki, PhD, MFA