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  • Writer's pictureShawn Griffin


I'm up...

After hitting the snooze button one too many times recovering from my visual hangover of what is Art Basel, I've finally gotten out of bed, washed my mouth of the "postmodern" opening taste, put on some pants presentable enough for me to go to Pacific Coffee on a Monday afternoon, and am ready to dissect the week.

Well... still not quite...

Hong Kong art week has a lot of...layers... much like fruitcake. For every cluster of perfectly cinnamon-ed pecans, there's about 20 cherries Grandma left fermenting in the rum a little too long (at least I think it was rum... she's from West Virginia, they make their own rules)...

Any-who, this year, I was privileged to start the week off strong and found my El Dorado of cinnamon pecans right on the first Sunday, with the HOCA Foundation's opening show of Tomokazu Matsuyama's "OH MAGIC NIGHT". This show took up two freakin' floors of Repulse Bay's new-ish hangout/ only place in Repulse Bay to go that isn't the beach, "The Pulse". And every room of this solo museum was truly more magical, magnificent, and mutha-effn' tripptastic than the last.

Because of this, Matsuyama deserves a whole post apart for this show and will save my Art Week cluster buster for a more dedicated, whiskey-fueled night at my apartment to write.

Spoiler alert: I bought a piece...

As an artist, we don't buy pieces... we support our fellow artists by showing up, looking fancy in their gallery show pictures, and indulging in just enough free hors d'oeuvres to only need the snack set at Tsui Wah later that night.

We'll begin our approach to Matsuyama's the same way I first approached it. With absolutely no context or information beforehand. I had never heard of Matsuyama before this show. 

So, like preparing for a promising Tinder date, I stalked his Instagram page to make sure he's actually doing something with his life and hoped for the best.

I was first greeted by a metallic sculpture of a "Tin Tin"-esque character riding an eclectically rendered horse. The horse's style contrasted in an interesting way to the rider in the sense that they both seemed to have been illustrated in different periods of cartooning, an admirable conveyance as, remember, this was then reinvented in 3D. The voids abounding the line work of the sculpture merged with the byobu styled panel painting behind it of characters, both human and horse, rendered in the same fashion.

The layout of this room was pretty nifty in that it took a 3D form and seamlessly merged it with a 2D work behind it which both added to the visual fluidness of the pieces in the room, as well as provided a sense of immersing confusion in viewing the pieces. You had to look very closely in order to truly separate the forms, as they merged together in a chaotic overlap of still movement, movement which complements with the battle scene depiction within the 2D work setting the background.

After realigning my pupils, I walk into the next room, and was immediately overtaken by... this...

Yes, that is a life-size Playmobil figure riding a silver stallion away from its own poo (aka, pretty much what I doodled in the margins of my high school math book).

This room mesmerized me; I was fully engulfed in the childhood whimsy mixed with nostalgia, mixed with disorienting chaos, mixed with "but why the poo?". If I could give this experience any more compliments, it would probably expect more from me than just dinner and a movie. Contextually, this sculpture is very important for the remaining context of the show, as we see in this more realistically rendered horse that Matsuyama depicts is actually a kirin. 

Yes, club 7-11's beer of choice for college kids who want to seem "cultured" is in fact named after a mythological half horse/half dragon which appears at the birth and death of important leaders... ~PARTY~!

This depiction now gives us more relevance to the beasts that will appear in a majority of Matsuyama's body of work. As the kirin become more gestured in representation, and their scales become nondescript through Matsuyama's application of texture within the 2D works.

We can now associate another layer to Matsuyama's 2D paintings. The kirin carry with them a sense of mythology and might which contrasts to their riders, in illustrations resembling more that of Archie Bunker's best friend, or in sculpture that of a children's toy. It begins to belittle these ideological symbols, calling to question the power they hold in modern society, yet remaining ever present and loudly apparent in relatable culture.

As I walked past two Kongorikishi with "I [heart] NY" and "Disneyland" blasted out of their chests, I entered a breather room featuring a few larger scale byobu style panel paintings and a cluster of people surrounding a box in the middle of the room. 

After waiting for around 10 minutes for a millisecond to take this clear photo, I approached the booth to find what appeared to be an old man perched within an infinite tunnel of old hotel wallpaper.

From my initial viewing of the sculpture, the "old man" in the middle is a familiar figure from Buddhism. As I am not Buddhist, I will not take a guess at which one this is. As as a proper gallery viewer, I will not read any of the plaques on the wall in the gallery, as this may make me seem under-informed and weaker compared to other gallery guests, leaving me vulnerable prey to the scoffs of art critics and poorly wigged socialites. I quickly photograph each plaque and read them in the cafe after the show (the figure is of Basu Rennin, by the way)

ANYWAY, the initial viewing of this and the title of the work "Money Talks" draws with it obvious allusions to the presence and importance of money in religion. By placing the figure within this "lobby of a fancy southern home" wallpaper pattern, Matsuyama draws connections between contemporary opulence merging with religion and the importance that the modernized versions of ancient religion has placed on commodities and wealth. This contrast emphasized even further by placing this particular holy figure, a hermit clad in swaddled cloth, within the opulent room which his religion has paid for and, almost comically, runs counter to the very foundation of the initial religion. This comic contrast furthered by the cartoon-like rendering of the piggy bank which Basu Rennin is clutching.

Upon swallowing my pride and reading the description (on my phone; we're avoiding skepticism, remember...) I read, in Matsuyama's rendition, the cartoon piggy bank has actually replaced the original Buddhist script that Basu Rennin's original sculpture is meant to be holding; a further jab at the full replacement of religious values for the sake of "fun money".

Also, the sculpture's robes were apparently painted with a similar paint used for Hot Wheels cars... neat-o!

Upon moving upstairs, we are greeted to a plethora of Matsuyama's work, starting with a 3D diorama of his signature figures riding kirin across a checkered floor.

While impressive in both scale and scene, I felt the proper way to view this sculpture was actually from the rooms exit, where the hollowness of these ancient characters are emphasized by the gaggle of rich gallery guests sipping champagne and discussing which Yayoi Kusama pumpkin was "their total FAVE" visible through the voids of the figures. 

The remainder of the exhibition is a collection of Matsuyama's paintings. Rather than doing a full "Sister Wendy" on every piece. I'll just point out what made me connect visually with Matsuyama's work enough to justify buying one. 

Aside from the overt merging of ancient and contemporary pop culture that Matsuyama has woven together, the real seller for Matsuyama's work was his mind-boggling use of texture and application of paint. What I find so captivating about Matsuyama's 2D work is his unconventional yet uniform choices for representing texture. Animals are depicted with a dripping paint application, kimonos and cloth with more geometric dots, wallpaper florals, and heavy gradients, and the most naturally organic form, human hair, represented with stark, diagonal lines. This mismatch of textures for objects gives an off-kilter feeling to his paintings which keeps you entranced and completely engulfed in his scenes. Movement, emotion, and physical space are seemingly enhanced by the substitution of these conventional textures, and the ensuing confusion and analysis is both physically and conceptually what Matsuyama purposely evokes.

The exhibition concludes with a few more surprise 3D works and a "comes to climax" on a series featuring crude, 2d silhouettes smiling while performing bizarrely censored sex acts on wallpaper backgrounds.

Why this sudden departure? What does it imply? Can the human body even bend like that? Can I bend like that?

I hate to be a total spoiler, so I urge you to find out these answers and more for yourself at HOCAs presentation of "Oh Magic Night" at The Pulse in Repulse Bay. The exhibition closes April 1st, 2017...

...Run... now!

The Pulse


28 Beach Rd, Repulse Bay

Hong Kong

Open from 12 - 8pm daily

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