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Installation works by Gu Wenda and Leung Mee-ping at Museum of Art

Globalisation has brought great changes on all fronts: the economy, politics, culture and art. The“Hair Dialogue – An Installation Art Exhibition”, currently being shown at the Hong Kong Museum of Art until October 8, attempts to promote reflection on the development of globalisation through two large-scale installation artworks created with hair.

The installations featured are“United Nations Series - China Monument: Temple of Heaven”by renowned Chinese artist in the US Gu Wenda, and“Memorize the Future”, by local artist Leung Mee-ping. Gu and Leung used human hair as a collective symbol to interpret their concern and response to the ever-intensifying globalisation, and the future of the human race.

Gu Wenda began the“United Nations Series”, an installation art project, in 1993. The“United Nations Series - China Monument: Temple of Heaven”is the 12th piece of the series in which he has used hair from people of his two homelands: China and the US. Gu and his assistant spent more than three months collecting human hair from more than 30 hair salons in the two countries. Gu reorganised these discarded hair strands with gum adhesive to become subjects of this art piece.

The installation is essentially made of glued hair strands and light-pervious calligraphy scrolls. The text on the scrolls looks like Chinese, English, Arabic and Indian. It could be interpreted as traditional ancient word characters that these countries have lost over time, but in fact it is“false text”created by Gu, who was inspired by the big character posters of the Cultural Revolution and seal carvings. These incomprehensible symbols reflect problems that have existed since ancient times between people, societies and cultures, as a result of different modes of communication and connection.

In the centre of the installation are mock Ming tables, chairs and a video. The furniture transforms the gallery into a gathering place, while the symbols on the scrolls twisted up with hair from people of different races seem capable of transcending cultural or even world barriers.

On each of the chairs is a screen playing a video of clouds drifting across a blue sky with musical notes from the Chinese instrument,“bian zhong”bells. Gu hopes the visitors can feel the sensation of flying, to break away from inherent personalities and rediscover their own roots. He also hopes people can relate to the land of serenity within us - Utopia.

Leung Mee-ping began producing the installation work,“Memorize the Future”, in 1998. She collected hair from more than 10,000 people through hair salons, the Internet, street garbage cans in the US and by placing advertisements in a friend’s restaurant. The owners of these hair strands are from more than 100 countries and belong to different geographical regions, races, age groups and sexes. Leung mixed, reconstructed, kneaded and wove the hair into thousands of child-sized hair shoes.

The 3,000 little shoes were placed in a pure white space. Hair detached from its host body symbolises“memories”, while the children's shoes pointing in the same direction represent the“future”. “Memorize the Future”contains a message that merges the beginning and the end of life, indicating a strong sense of contradiction.

Leung used minimalistic materials to accentuate contradiction. She picked a single material ? hair. However, hair carries very complex meanings. Qualities like colours and forms, and inner and outer contrasts are highlighted when Leung mixed and kneaded human hair to create art. She hopes to see these variances blended, so that geographical distances and identities meet to form a new age of unison.

There are similar and varied elements in the works of Gu and Leung. Both have chosen hair from people of different races as art material, yet Gu's interpretation is full of force and vigour, while Leung's work is frail at first sight but deeply enthralling at a closer look. Gu's work has“false text”but Leung chooses not to express herself with words. Gu delivers a strong sense of nationalism, yet Leung's work is borderless. An invisible bridge is built between their installations, one that the visitors can go back and forth to savour the full significance.

Gu Wenda was born in Shanghai in 1955. In 1976, Gu graduated from Shanghai School of Arts and Crafts, China. In 1981, he obtained his Master of Fine Arts from China National Academy of Arts, and taught at the same academy until 1987. In the same year, he received an award from the Canada Council to study in Toronto and after that, he studied at the San Francisco Academy of Art and emigrated to New York.

From 1989 to 1999, Gu served as an associate professor of Continuing Education of Studio Arts at the University of Minnesota. In 1995, Gu was a panel member of the international artists residence of P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York and the student scholarship committee of the Chicago Art Institute in 1998.

Gu's works have been shown worldwide and he has participated in numerous international exhibitions and biennials. His recent solo and group exhibitions include“United Nations Series”,“The First Guangzhou Triennial Reinterpretation: A Decade of Experimental Chinese Art (1990-2000)”,“Translating Visuality: Wenda Gu Forest of Stone Steles - Retranslation & Rewriting Tang Poetry”and“The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art”.

Leung Mee-ping was born in Hong Kong in 1961 and graduated from the L’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1991. She obtained her Master of Fine Arts at the California Institute of the Arts in 2000. Leung has received several local and international awards, including the "Prize of Excellence" at the Hong Kong Art Biennial Exhibition 2001, the Starr Foundation Fellowship by the Asian Cultural Council, US. in 2002, the Freeman Foundation Fellowship, US in 2004 and the Global Arts Artist Fellowship in 2006. In 2003, ART AsiaPacific selected her as a“Leading Contemporary Asian Artist”and Japan's Bijutsu Techo selected her as "One of the Leading Contemporary Artists in the World" in 2004.

Leung has participated in numerous solo and joint exhibitions in Hong Kong and abroad. Exhibitions included the“Hong Kong Art Biennial Exhibition”,“Hong Kong Contemporary - Water Tone: Leung Mee-ping”,“City net Asia 2003”, the“Shanghai Biennale”,“Asian Traffic”,“Past in Reverse: Contemporary Art of East Asia”and “Hers Shorts: 1st Annual Women's International Video Festival”.

The Museum of Art is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm daily. Starting from August, the opening hours will be extended to 8pm on Saturdays. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

For enquiries, call 2721 0116 or visit the Museum of Art's website at .

Ends/Wednesday, July 19, 2006
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