Art and People
Wandering between boundaries: Interview with Anqi Li
Apr 09, 2023
Curated by Anqi Li, Lost in Translation at Galerie du Monde in Hong Kong presents works that are abstract and figurative, offering a space for reflection on ambiguous boundaries. Intrigued to find out more about the curatorial approach of the group exhibition made up of mostly emerging artists, eazel interviewed Anqi Li, who is a freelance curator and former Curator of Education and Public Programs at one of the oldest independent art spaces in Asia, Para Site. Also a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Hong Kong, Li is interested in the mechanisms behind the running of different models of art museums and the role that various policies play in museum operation.
With a passion for art and public-facing art institutions, Li has always strived to contribute to the sustainability of public art education. After accumulating administrative and managerial experience by working with non-profits, she is now actively supporting artists and delving into her research on contemporary art with her curatorial work as a medium.
Li’s most recent and current project, Lost in Translation has garnered our interest with its innovative viewing experience which is characterized by an almost silent quality amidst a failure of language. Our interview looks into the makings of Li as a curator and a researcher of art, expanding on her views on the realization of the exhibition.
eazel: Could you tell us how you came about curating Lost in Translation at Galerie du Monde?
Anqi Li (AL): After I left my previous position as Curator of Education and Public Programs at Para Site, Galerie du Monde reached out to me with an invitation to curate a show at their premises on Duddell Street in Hong Kong. I was curious about curating outside of institutions, and Galerie du Monde offered me lots of curatorial freedom and support. So I took up this challenge, which resulted in Lost in Translation opening at the beginning of this year’s Art Basel week in Hong Kong.
eazel: Being part of an institution and working independently each have their advantages and limitations. Could you expand a little more about gaining more autonomy in relation to curatorial freedom?
AL: Many curators share this urge to present and discuss their research through exhibition/program-making, and it also motivates me to seek the right opportunity to realize these thoughts. I always like to start by thinking about how a curation would benefit the practice of the artists, and from there, I delve into the type of venue (institution, gallery, or a different type of space) that would be suitable for the specific piece, and who the audience would be.
eazel: As a researcher investigating how the institutionalization of contemporary art and the making of public policy inform and influence each other, what was your curatorial motif in making exhibitions like Lost in Translation at Galerie du Monde and promoting various young and emerging artists?
AL: My academic research, curatorial interest, and artistic practice (maybe I can call myself a part-time artist) are quite different and most of the time unrelated, but I do think that the more I understand about different roles in the art ecology, the more I try to create space for unheard voices. Like what you have noticed, most of the artists who participated in Lost in Translation are relatively new on the commercial art market and new to Hong Kong’s audience. Also, almost all works in this exhibition were made within the span of the last couple of years. They are the artists’ latest series using new mediums, meaning that they are more experimental and can be “risky” for a commercial gallery. But I have to thank Galerie du Monde for being supportive in their effort to value all of these uncertainties and for their choice to grow with the artists. In addition, I also carried on with my institutional habit of introducing female artists in every program or exhibition I work on. I feel very honored to work with the four female artists participating in Lost in Translation at a pivotal time of their early career.
eazel: Most of the artists deal with boundaries between two opposing concepts. For instance, Tang Kwong San attempts to blur the boundary between reality and dreams, and Liang Shuni looks at the intersection of the virtual and the real. What attracts you to the subject of ambiguity in relation to the concept of translation?
AL: In Semiotics, the signifier refers to the physical form of what we see, and the signified refers to the signifier’s embodied meanings. What fascinates me is that the eight artists all present clear and precious signifiers in their works, yet they save space for imagination and open interpretation for what is signified. This is also where I find the beauty of art. There is always a certain level of unspeakableness in describing how we feel about art. In my curatorial statement, I used “lostness” to describe this ambiguity - and by this, I mean a sense of speechlessness, an intentional pause, or a chance to read between the lines.
eazel: The title of the exhibition is ambiguous but at the same time a familiar concept that can be interpreted differently by individuals. What is translation to you in general and in the context of the exhibition?
AL: I was thinking, writing, and also communicating in Chinese when planning this exhibition. The Chinese title of the show 「言不由衷」 was decided at the very beginning. This phrase originally means that what one says does not necessarily reflect what this person really thinks. However, in a contemporary cultural context, it starts to summarize both individual and collective experiences that languages can no longer describe our real intentions, or that we can no longer express ourselves fully through languages. This lostness is a repeating theme in the eight artists’ works. Calling the exhibition Lost in Translation is also my invitation to the spectators to look for this lostness in this exhibition and focus on the experience of looking at art.
eazel: The eight artists come from different regions, representing different mediums, such as photography, sculpture, and painting. What is the biggest challenge in curating a group show with such diversity, and how did you bring the artists and their works together cohesively for Lost in Translation?
AL: To me, this exhibition centers on the viewing experience, and painting happened to be a shared medium of the participating artists. Certainly, there are some variations in the formats. For example, Wang Zhiyuan’s installation Prototype #2023-1 (2023) prototypes Ad Reinhardt’s Twelve Rules for A New Academy that criticizes painting and art in general, and Qin Xiaoshi uses ceramics to experiment with preserving the memory of the digital age in 0-0 (2022) and 0-2 (2022). As for the process of arranging the pieces, writing the curatorial statement and texts for each artist helped me a lot.
eazel: We have noticed that all works are titled, helping the viewer figure out what story each work tells. What role do you think titles play in visual art and how far should they serve its purpose?
AL: Some of the artwork titles in this exhibition are more literal, telling the audience more about what they are looking at, and some are more conceptual, suggesting the artists’ different interests. For example, Dony Cheng Hung's Empty Land (2023) repeats an important conceptual motif in the artist's current series, Song Yuanyuan’s Blindspot (2022) is about the hidden memories and stories of the artist himself, Xiao Jiang’s Mountain Views series (2023) is a mix of reality and imaginary lands, and Astra Huimeng Wang’s Siren’s Call (2023) uses a luring color palate to blur the scenery of a red sun, or a red moon, conceptually re-appropriated from the Odyssey.
eazel: We have also noticed that the two works by Qin Xiaoshi are installed in the small room of the gallery rather poignantly. Was there any specific reason for this placement?
AL: There is always a sense of treasure hunting in Qin Xiaoshi’s practice, particularly in her recent series that explores the pirate history, natural landscape and mythologies of South China. Qin Xiaoshi also hides these works within nature around Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Maybe we can encounter one someday.
eazel: Is there a way to enhance the viewing experience of the exhibition from the curator’s perspective? It could be anything from wayfinding to bearing a particular thought in mind.
AL: This exhibition is about shaping a way of seeing, and most of the artworks are installed in pairs or in series to create an experience in which one can compare and contrast works by the same artist, or relate to works by a different artist.
Lost in Translation at Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong, curated by Anqi Li, is on view until Apr 22, 2023. For more information about the exhibition, please click here.