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Exhibition Review

Different Ways of Seeing: Curtain at Para Site


Jul 20, 2021

From our experience, appreciating art is usually done from a distance. For instance, we are constantly reminded to keep behind the line in galleries and museums to view the artwork. However, Curtain at Para Site, Hong Kong (May 15 - Jul 25, 2021) is a bit different. Here, the fabrics change the relationship between viewer and artwork by challenging the usual way of seeing. The exhibition is in two venues; in the main Para Site space on King's Road and in Soho House, giving a breathing room between the two presentations.


The exhibition includes 24 international artists’ works: from Chantel Akerman’s self-reflective video installation about her family story as European Jewish descendants to Hu Yun’s hand-embroidered silk that transcends a quote from biblical time to contemporary China. With various media, backgrounds, and contents, the exhibition connects different stories through soft pieces of fabric and the intimate space created by the materials.



Gustav Metzger
Historic Photographs: To Crawl Into - Anschluss, Vienna, March 1938, 1996/2021 
Black & white photograph on PVC and cotton cover
315 x 425 cm (124 x 167.3 in.)
Courtesy of the estate of Gustav Metzger and the Gustav Metzger Foundation



The intimacy is found in works such as the German artist Gustav Metzger’s Historic Photographs: To Crawl into - Anschluss, Vienna, March 1938 (1996/2021) in the Para Site venue on the floor beneath a large cover, which has to be removed to reveal the moment the Nazi was forcing Jewish people to wash the street; and Historic Photographs: To Walk Into - Massacre on the Mount, Jerusalem, 8 November 1990 (1996/2021) in Soho House where the audience has to go under a piece of cloth to view an image that shows the scene after the Israeli border police opened fire on Palestinians over the Israel-Palestinian Conflict. 


Crawling under or walking behind the cloth, the gigantic photos documenting the painful and shameful scenes in human history are only inches away from your eyes. You can no longer view the images objectively as historical records but almost feel the pain through staring at them closely.


In Stella Zhang’s O-Viewpoint series, which is showing in both venues, the fabric itself has become the medium. The artist sharply cut through the canvases in the middle, stretched them tightly, and covered them in black paint. The deformed fabrics lost their original soft and light texture, creating uneasiness for the viewer. It can be anything, be it the implication of violence, corporality, or pressure from society. Yet you don’t need a readable context to understand the strong emotion attached to the work.



Felix Gonzalez-Torres
Untitled (Loverboy), 1989
Sheer blue fabric and hanging device
Dimensions variable
Photo by Angel 



On the contrary of the heaviness in Zhang’s work, Felix Gonzalez-Torres's installation Untitled (Loverboy) (1989) over the windows of Soho House illustrates a subtle yet powerful lightness. On a row of large windows, an azure blue curtain is hanging so thinly that it is almost transparent. Walking behind it gives a sense of being at the edge of two worlds: urbanity outside the window and tranquillity where time seems to have stopped inside of Soho House. This profound experience is inseparable from the context behind the artwork. When the artist created the work in the late 1980s, his boyfriend was dying from AIDS. Gonzalez-Torres transformed the helplessness and unpredictableness facing the then-unknown pandemic into a dream-like experience. It is uncannily relatable nowadays when we have experienced similar fear and anxiety facing Covid-19.


In contemporary art, we often analyze an artwork instead of viewing it as it is. Curtain invites us to question and rethink the usual way of seeing by creating a specific environment between each artwork and its spectator.