Co-founder of the incredibly refreshing art space Things That Can Happen, Chantal Wong is one to look out for – as if you could miss her with that stylish platinum bob. Chantal launched the space last September with local conceptual artist Lee Kit, who had just represented Hong Kong in the 55th Venice Biennale. Housed in an apartment in Sham Shui Po, Things is not your typical art space, with kitchen sink and 80s style chandeliers still intact. We can’t wait to see what can happen.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into curating?
I’ve been working at Asia Art Archive (AAA) since 2006, as head of strategy and special projects. I studied art history in Montreal and received my master’s in cultural studies from Goldsmiths in London.
I should confess that I don’t really see myself a curator. Things That Can Happen works with artists to develop projects. I’d say we’re more like collaborators, producers. I co-curated my first two exhibitions in 2014. The first was Mapping Asia at AAA, which proposed an alternative and evolving way of thinking of Asia, and the second, Ten Million Rooms of Yearning: Sex in Hong Kong, at Para Site explored sexuality and desire in Hong Kong through art. It was after curating these two shows that I realised I don’t feel like a curator. I saw a curator as having particular skills – drawing associations between artworks, an indexical mind, an intuitive sense of space, and so on. Things relies much more on the artists we work with to conceive the projects, as a response to the site. Lee Kit [local conceptual artist who recently represented Hong Kong in last year’s Venice Biennale] and I share thoughts and questions, and sometimes we ask friends, like Yung Ma, for feedback. It’s a collaborative project.Things That Can Happen is one of the most exciting new spaces we have in Hong Kong. Can you tell us about
Things was conceived as a modest space for conversations relating to our socio-political environment enabled by art. The idea started over dinner. Lee Kit and I were chatting about the art landscape, the lack of spaces, the market and the political environment of the time – an increasingly polarised society – and the more we drank the more it seemed like a good idea...
Which exhibitions have been your biggest inspiration?
I think documentary film festivals have been an important inspiration, especially experimental documentaries. They start from reality but can end up surreal, fantastical, horrifying. They can challenge reality as you know it – real life is stranger than fiction.
What’s the most rewarding part of curating for you?
We started in September 2015 during the post Umbrella Movement with a modest intent to be a space for conversations transpiring from art. The most rewarding part has been getting to know different people – whether artists, activists, neighbours and professionals – with common interests and stakes in the society we live in. It’s touching to receive this kind of support – we are very lucky in Hong Kong to have such a tight-knit and supportive community for our work.
And what’s the toughest part?
The toughest part is probably managing my own expectations. It’s taken lots of internal reflection and debate for Things to become the space it is now, and it continues to adapt. Before it opened, I’d conceived of it as a space packed with experimental programmes, and I remember Lee Kit telling me that we aren’t a programming space but an art space, and we can’t be directed by our own expectations. We need to start by listening to others, and we must stay close to the ground.
What excites you about art?
I experience life through art. Studying art history fundamentally changed who I was – it made me more curious, empathetic, imaginative, concerned and humanist. Being immersed in it now just strengthens these muscles. I don’t know much outside of it.
What we can expect from it for the next few months?
What you can expect are artists’ projects that don’t only take the form of exhibitions, but employ different media and modes to experiment with ideas. Angela Su, for instance, is working on a science-fiction anthology in collaboration with local writers and we’d love for the short stories to be aired on public radio.