Chow Chun-fai – Dreams of Hong Kong – The Liverpool Biennial

Fancy a trip to Hong Kong? Who wouldn’t. Every year tourists flock to sample the delights of this exciting city.

In his exhibition for the Liverpool Biennial this year, Hong Kong artist Chow Chun-fai takes a closer at look at why so many are compelled to take a visit.


Famous for facing political issues in his work, this time he honours the Biennial’s theme of “hospitality”, by breaking down stills from the government’s tourism board video. “I play with this kind of propaganda. I like to call this propaganda because all the images in the video are fake. In these oil paintings I have captured all the images from the video. When I paint it, the audience will see what the images actually are. So you can see the horse racing, Jackie Chan, all of these represent Hong Kong. This is a typical representation of what Hong Kong is like as a city.”

Transforming the footage into 108 paintings, Chow exposes clearly the pictures being shown. When you see an advert on TV, its usually over before you have time to grasp the concept, working its way through your subconscious. “If you see the original work from the tourism board, you will not see how the images work on you. There’s a kind of a brainwashing effect in advertising. You will have no intention, you don’t really know what you are watching. I am always doing research on the use of images. This time, I am the guest for the Biennial and I’m hosting with my home images. This is only one side of Hong Kong, which is trying to attract foreigners. Leung Mee Ping (a fellow Hong Kong artist at the Biennial) tries to capture the hopeless, the lost people of the city. But you will never see these kind of people in the tourists videos. As a local of Hong Kong I know that there are many other faces”.

The montage of colourful paintings is very attractive and the clever layout gives the impression of a film strip immediately. His work is not aggressive or forceful- he doesn’t alter the original material, only displays it to the audience in a new way. Like a lot of advertising campaigns, Chow feels it is a misleading representation of its product. “I like to look at the political symbolic meaning behind the image. I like to change the medium, paint is one I really like to use. I would say I’m a painter but at the same time i do many other works and use other medium. Sometimes i will do photos from classical paintings, I will pretend to be Jesus Christ in The Last Supper for example. It’s about a change, a transformation between media.”

Chow’s work is part of the Hong Kong All Are Guests group exhibition, who have also looked at the relationship between the city and the individual. Chow is pleased that they have had a chance to focus on Hong Kong’s unique identity. Around the world, he finds that cities share as many endless similarities as they do differences.

“Capturing these big events like the Biennial is about tourism, about attracting people to other places. This year the Liverpool Biennial have invited cities here rather than countries which is so special for us, for Hong Kong. Now of course we are part of China, but we are so different. Showing this in a foreign city is interesting because, from Hong Kong, we will look at this and know that it is the tourist board video. But for foreigners, they won’t recognise this straight away. Social difference is something I find very interesting and I am always trying to experiment with. Last time I had an exhibition in Manchester at the Chinese Arts Centre, I changed a Caravaggio painting into The Monkey King. I thought maybe Manchester wouldn’t know who he was was. When I arrived, the theatre next to The Chinese Arts Centre was also showing The Monkey King.”

I asked if the exhibition might cause a stir, had he had any issues with the government or the tourist board yet? “I was quite concerned with copyright and the political situations- it can be dangerous. But I won’t ask for copyright because we are just playing with them- no one can ask for the copyrights of the Caravaggio. People start to question the creativity against the rules.”

The All Are Guests exhibition at the Liverpool Biennial is on until 25th November. There is a rich and unusual variety of work definitely worth checking out, visit to find out more.

words Hannah Barr


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