Henry Au-yeung, September 2020
Borrowed Space – Borrowed Time is the gallery's third solo exhibition of Bouie Choi Yuk-kuen. Almost a decade since our first collaboration in 2011, Choi's surrealistic collages and delicate use of ink wash and acrylic paint have become her signature style. They successfully offer rather than impose a new vista filled with delicate subtleties. Social issues through informal urbanism were brought to the forefront in her 2015 exhibition Breathing Room, adding to the paintings' rich complexity yet another important layer.
The present collection continues her fascination with urban landscape, concerning not only physical properties but more so "space" and "time". The exhibition title immediately brings to mind two publications about this city: Richard Hughes' Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time: Hong Kong and its Many Faces (1968) and Borrowed Spaces: Life Between the Cracks of Modern Hong Kong by Christopher DeWolf (2017). Separated by almost half a century, Hughes and DeWolf discussed the unique Hong Kong situation through macro and micro methods – the former praising its rare combination of cultural diversities and colonial government's laissez-faire approach while the latter examines grassroot struggle to reclaim public spaces and the inadequacies of the HKSAR government. It is obvious that Hughes and DeWolf, both expatriates, viewed Hong Kong as a transient place, with limited time and exists only in transitory space. In fact, both used the term "borrowed" profusely, to refer to Hong Kong's permanent temporary status as well as that it does not belong to its inhabitants.
Bouie Choi's new exhibition is without doubt about place, time, and space. It reflects the artist's personal sentiment on political and social issues through macro and micro approaches. For example, many new works feature birds-eye view of the city, giving the audience an aerial vista on the buildings and streets below, observing from above epic events taking form and occupying the space. Similar to Hughes' methodology, these paintings allow us to capture an event through contextualisation, metaphors and icons; thereby generate new insights to our own interpretation of the current system. On the other hand, Choi offers street-level viewpoints that focus on one or two individual events. Like through a magnifying glass within a pin-hole camera, the artist captures one specific image then deliberately blurred its surrounding. With such contrast and details, we are caught in a quandary: clear images do not mean clarity of event; what is veiled can well be the hidden truth. If DeWolf uses neon-signs and fish ball stalls as casualties in the struggle to reclaim public spaces, Choi's depiction of social unrest and battles transforms her audiences into involuntary eyewitness who must confront their own moral consequences.
Choi's painting has achieved within its own narrow territories a co-existence which is baffling, infuriating, incomprehensible, and visually stunning. And perhaps most inspiring is her conviction to present Hong Kong as her home. Her use of term "borrowed" is strikingly different from that of Hughes and DeWolf. The Chinese title refers to a rump state that was a remnant of a much large state. So instead of temporality, Choi interprets this city as the "precious one". Whether it rests in light or darkness, turmoil and rumble, we must take responsibility to this land. No longer temporary, it is our permanent home. The present images draw us together to reminisce our emotions shaped by events, experiences, perceptions, and insights. Each of these memories, rooted in locality, embroiders an album of our city in a specific place, time and space.