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Hong Kong artist Chris Cheung (h0nh1m) warns of climate change at Art Basel debut

Vivienne Chow

May 19, 2021

To Hong Kong artist Chris Cheung Hon Him, the much anticipated art week in his hometown could be a turning point of his career. A regular at institutional exhibitions, arts festivals and biennales locally and abroad, the artist will be making his art fair debut at the return of Art Basel with Hanart TZ Gallery at Booth: 1C07, and Art Central in the city after a year of hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But preparing for exhibiting at art fairs is more challenging than he thought despite the vast exhibition experiences under his belt.


“Art fairs’ use of space and the purpose of the exhibition are very different to those at museum shows. The psychology and the preparation for the upcoming showcases are whole new experiences to me,” says the 37-year-old who goes by his artistic name h0nh1m.


Cheung’s new media art practice embodies a lyrical hybrid of futuristic technology and traditional ink art, a result of his fascination with ancient civilisations as well as his curiosity about what lies ahead of humanity amid the accelerating technological and socio-political transformation and climate change. Presenting his conceptual media art installations at art fairs to an audience who may not have experienced his works at institutional shows previously also poses additional challenges.



H0nh1m (Chris Cheung Hon Him)
Installation view of No Longer Write- Mochiji, 2020 at Taoyuan Museum of Fine Arts
Courtesy of the artist



“Works exhibited at museum shows are often dismantled afterwards and not necessarily for the permanent collection. But these new works that I’m creating, I need to think about how they can sustain after the show. Does the collector need to change the light bulb afterwards? There’s an expiration date for the paper I use in one of the works. Should I set a maintenance period? All these are very new experiences to me,” Cheung expressed. 


At Art Central, Cheung will be presenting a climate change-themed multimedia installation that calls upon visitors to rethink the relationship between nature and humanity. Titled Ink Reveries (2021), the installation consists of 63 stainless steel bamboo-shaped tubes filled with thermochromic ink. A special commission by UOB (United Overseas Bank), the bamboo forest installation is essentially a data visualisation of the Keeling Curve, a daily record of carbon dioxide concentration. Each bamboo represents one of the 63 years since scientists began to measure carbon dioxide data in 1958. The thermochromic ink fades in and out, as a result of a computer programme triggered by the carbon dioxide data recorded in a particular year. How long it takes for the ink colours to reappear corresponds to the data of that year. Visitors are also invited to further transform the appearance of the stainless steel bamboos by touching them.



H0nh1m (Chris Cheung Hon Him)
Installation view of Ink Reveries, 2021 at Art Central, Hong Kong
Courtesy of the artist 



Bamboo, on the other hand, symbolises the man of virtue in ancient Chinese culture, and is also regarded as a sustainable and eco-friendly material. The constant change of colours also represents the true nature of ink. 


A version of two stainless steel bamboos from Ink Reveries, InkFlux: Bamboo Reveries 1958 (2021) and InkFlux: Bamboo 2021 (2021), each representing the carbon emission data from the year 1958 and 2021 respectively, will be showcased at Hanart TZ Gallery booth at Art Basel. Cheung says the ink reappears much quicker in the 1958 tube than the one symbolising 2021 - it takes much longer to recover from the damages done to our environment now than 63 years ago. 


Also showing at Art Basel are InkFlux: Crack of Time I (2021) and InkFlux: Bamboo Annals (2021), both from the artist’s ongoing InkFlux series. The former is inspired by a conversation about the cycle of life between Confucius and Lao Tzu. The latter is Cheung’s latest work drawing inspirations from the ancient Chinese text Bamboo Annals. The text is back into people’s spotlight as it offers an alternative version of history challenging Shiji, or The Records of the Grand Historian, which is often considered the official record of ancient Chinese history.



H0nh1m (Chris Cheung Hon Him)
InkFlux: Bamboo Annals, 2021
Thermochromic ink, stainless steel, electronics
101 x 101 x 12 cm (39.8 x 39.8 x 4.7 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Hanart TZ Gallery
, Hong Kong



Participating in art fairs has been an entirely new experience for Cheung, whether it's in terms of conceptualising the presentation, the actual installation of his works or working with a commercial art gallery like Hanart TZ. The gallery was founded by the famed dealer and collector Johnson Chang, who was among the first to put Chinese contemporary art on the world stage. For his presentation at Art Basel, Cheung has been engaged in lengthy discussions and experimentation with the gallery over how best to present and communicate his installation. 


"I hope the presence of my work at art fairs can make collecting new media art more accessible," Cheung says.  


Art Basel runs from May 19 to 23. Art Central runs from May 20 to 23. Both take place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.



Vivienne Chow is an award-winning journalist and writer specialising in art, cinema and Canto-pop. She can be reached via Twitter and Instagram