Artists create art through the observation of life forms and matters around them.  The presentation of their observations, by way of visual or installation, shows their feelings and reflections on the subject, history and life.  These presentations are like solemn ceremonies.

Yan Kallen(L) & Leung Chi Wo(R)

Text: Ire Tsui | Photo: Cheung Wai Lok | Artworks Provided by Yan Kallen and Leung Chi Wo

Visual artist Kallen Yan studied design.  Yan began his artistic work since 2009.  He combines video technology and philosophy theories to present the relationship between man and nature.  In 2016, he was awarded the KG+ Award in the Kyotographie Festival.  In last November, he hosted an exhibition titled “No Coming, No Going” in Common Room Gallery in Sham Shui Po.  Yan made use of visual, video and installation art to present objects, sea, street and spaces to give his audience a poem-like spiritual experience.  Yan presented his new work titled “Between the Light and Darkness” this April in Kyotographie.  This new work was commissioned by the Festival as a documentary of the artistry, life and culture of the Japanese people, with the use of various different forms of media.  In preparation of the festival, we are delighted to have Kallen Yan and Leung Chi Wo to talk to us about the role of photography in art.

“Between the Light and Darkness” (2017) by Yan Kallen 

“Rhythm of Nature” Exhibition in Antique Delicate

01 Videography|History

The walls in Yan’s studio in Hong Kong hangs many solemn black and white photographs of objects in Japan, including canal, wagami factory, ancient tools and work studios. These are the primary material he collected in the past 6 months in preparation for his exhibition in Kyotographie. Yan said “Handcraft presents the relationship between man and nature. Japanese workers like to make use of natural materials such as water, fire, earth and plants. I visited many factories that makes traditional Japanese wood work, wagami, mirror, book, pottery and steel tea pots. Many of these communities have a history of some hundred years. For example, I visited a village that specialise in the making of wagami for over 800 years. They make paper by the river, dry them by the river. Some of the tools used by them are modified from traditional Chinese tools and had been used for years. For the work men who specialise in building temples, they have their own tools. The measurement imprinted on the wagami are important to them.”

“Rhythm of Nature” is the Yan’s work presented in Kyotographie 2016. This collection showed more than 70 brooms he collected from around the world. The brooms were all made from natural materials, showing their natural beauty from daily life. Like Karl Blossfeldt, he casts these brooms as the main subjects in his photographs, to give them live and energy. His work also include the iconic metallic street stalls in Hong Kong, bronze statues, stamps with typhoon symbols, which are all common objects in the city that may go extinct soon. “There are too many things happening in Hong Kong right now. It is hard for one to focus on one single matter. Photography allows us to re-visit things that we often get used to and forget. For example, we look at the relationship between man and nature. I shot the metallic street stalls, because they show the relationship between local residents and the road. Local residents always greet each other and chat in front of the stalls. They go to these stalls to buy daily items like umbrellas, instead of going to department stores.”

“Rhythm of Nature” (2016) by Yan Kallen 

“Livelihood” by Yan Kallen

Leung Chi Wo likes to conduct researches.  His work often carry information from the past.  In his work “Bright light has much the same effect as ice”, he used a newspaper article about snowing on the Victoria Peak by Pun Lun Studio as the main subject to create an art installation.  “I like to read and listen to stories.  If an object has evolved through time, one can learn about it through my study and my exhibition.  History is a convenient medium that highlights the differences through time.  This billboard was made 20 years ago.  I like wooden handcraft a lot back then, because I like the feeling of touch of wood.  Now I am less attached to the things I like, I control the way I express my feelings.”

“Wik Dor Lei (Land of Profits)” (1997) by Leung Chi Wo

“A: He was lost yesterday and we found him today, B: Museum of the Lost” by Leung Chi Wo + Sara Wong

02 Exhibition is a ceremony

Yan: Yan Kallen

Leung: Leung Chi Wo

Yan: My goal of creation is I like to provoke thoughts, especially when I do photography. Most people think that photography has to document the reality. They did not think of the alternative. I like the works of Mark Rothko, Hiroshi Sugimoto. Their works halt their audience, make them stop and think. It feels like a mediation session, it allows the audience to relax and think about things.

Leung: I also like the two artists Yan mentioned. Art was built upon information. We have to be clear about what information we want to express and to avoid expressing too much of them. I particularly like a work by Hiroshi Sugimoto titled “Theatre”. I often quote this work in my classes. “Theatre” uses long exposure to show the light behind a movie. It is fascinating and carries a lot of meaning in it.

Yan: Hiroshi Sugimoto is good at showing the continuity between his works. His earliest works titled “Seascape” and “Theatre” impress me the most. What is art? What is time and medium? I visited an exhibition by Sugimoto in Japan in which he only presented very few pieces of his work. He invited many famous philosophers, artists and doctors for a meal. A lot of thoughts were given to the meal, from the menu, the discussion subject to which work was to be hanged in the venue. The meaning of art in Japan is the gathering of people to have tea, enjoy art work. It was very inspiring to me.

Leung: Sugimoto expresses a very strong statement through his work. His works are like performances, they are full of stories. The mixing of video and exhibition create a new experience for its audience. For example, in recent years, people begin to use “Found Photography” to express stories. When the audience sees a Found Image, this allows them to experience the content and rediscover how photography can be art. Sugimoto’s artistry is both deep and wide, and it extends to different medium, even to architecture projects. I visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum which was designed by him. The cafe in the museum uses glasses of a new technology. The curves in the glasses is elegant. It shows he master the skills of observation and art interpretation.

Yan’s Exhibition in Kaho Gallery

Yan’s Exhibition in Kaho Gallery

Yan’s Exhibition in Common Room

Yan’s Exhibition in Common Room

Yan: If you limit yourself to create only photography work, feeling will only stops in photography works. In every exhibition, I include installation, visual and other mediums to try expand on my ideas. For example, in one part in “Rhythm of Nature”, I took apart the brooms to re-create the shape of a flower, it presents its natural state. The tighten up fabric threads in a broom gives you the feeling that man wants to control nature.

Leung: I agree that exhibition needs to experience, especially for topics/ideas that are more serious, so we can present the things in a more realistic ways. One example is performance artist Tehching Hsieh. He used a year to present his work with a rigid plan to record and perform. As his audience cannot see his performance live, he post snapshots of him on an hourly basis, this results in a stop-motion animation. This shows a man’s changes through time. A good artist can present his art creation process and his observation through the process.

Yan: Actually, the venue of exhibition inspire the exhibition too. For example, in Common Room gallery, there was a narrow space that most want to hide it. But I placed a small television there to play a videoclip. That space instantly turned into a small video viewing room. Most exhibition spaces in Japan are an empty room, we have to be mindful to leave some empty space and not to fill up the space with works. In the exhibition space that I will use in Kyoto, I have invited some Japanese handicraft artists to create a camera obscura together. We got the inspiration from the ancient drawings in an old Japanese book called “The Japanese Mirror”. We hope to present the experience working with these artists. Besides the photography work, we also sell the works of these artists.

“Between the Light and Darkness” (2017) by Yan Kallen 

Kan’s reference books (Left one to three) and the art book of “Rhythm of Nature”

03 The Language of Photography

Leung: The invention of photography rooted from film. The dark room was invented before cameras, when people copied the images they see on the screen to a paper. Before dark room there was also Camera Lucida, which uses optical instruments to project object on a paper, so the viewpoint of the observer is fixed. These are good ways to understand photography. They are not merely copying photography but to look at photography from a certain viewpoint. I am not a scientist, but facing the ever changing advancement in technology, we have to focus on the understanding of the meaning of a work. This especially applies to new media, artists must think through and select the right medium to match the object they are presenting.

Yan: For me, handicraft and science go together. Using iPhone as an example, the iPhone is actually a camera that follows you 24 hours a day. This is similar to the old 8 x 10 camera or Eadweard Muybridge camera using a house cartridge, which shows photography and technology always have influences over one another.

Leung: For me, the most important impact in photography is selfie. Selfie let us see ourselves. This is different from the self timer on cameras. Selfie allows you to see yourself instantly. The object of your photograph is yourself. Traditionally, in commercial settings, objects and human makes no difference to a photographer, because it is ultimately up to the photographer to decide how to shoot. The invention of selfie gives this power to the human.

Yan: This is different from self-portrait which we studied in art history class. Selfie differs from that.

Leung: Although painting and photography are two different mediums. But selfie is like a painter painting himself through a mirror. It gives power and control to the painter.

Yan: This is one of the things that I often think about. In my new work, I took a photo of a symbol for lense. It represents one self, family, society, humanity and nature. For me, the language of photography are these elements. This applies also to the work men in Japan. I thank the arrangements by the Festival. They dispatched a team of producers and translators to support us in the interviews and visits with the Japanese work men. In the process, I understand the goal, daily life and social responsibilities of these Japanese work men. For example, the steel tea pot work man was in a family business of 16th generation. He just welcomed a new son to his family and I asked if he felt obliged to pass on the skills and tradition. I asked if he sacrifices her personal wishes to be doing this job on a daily basis. This is what I had learned from them. I will collage the materials I collected in this trip and publish them in form of a book.

Leung: Publication is an interesting medium. Reading is an interesting experience. This especially applies to photography books. Through the photograph arrangements in a book, a story and rhythm can be created and expanded. The books of Araki Nobuyoshi is a good example. I collaborated with Luk Chi Cheong for a set of picture books. We only published 50 sets. As Artist Book has become more popular in recent years, the cost has gone down and it has been easier to publish.

Yan: Books are the more affordable art for many. Besides exhibitions, books are how most people learn about artists and photographers.

Leung: Aritsits need to have a sense of community. I often tell my students in school that, no matter how great their work are during school years, they will experience loneliness when they graduate. You need friends that you can relate to, to share your creation. Art is not a job, it is a way of life. If you want to become an artist, you will have to create more possibility for yourself. I believe that if society is diversified enough, there will be more room for sustainable creation. For example, some artists like to collaborate with commercial galleries. Those who do not like to do it will also find their way of survival. Creation is not necessarily followed by exhibition. There are other ways of expression.

Yan: To be frank, there are certain limits to develop photography creation in Hong Kong. But we have to find ways within these limitations. For example, we can share our work with others, share studio with friends, share resources and contacts as well. If you are a photographer, you can go to exhibition, workshops. I met the founder of Kyotographie last year through the connection of Lianzhou Photography Festival, which allows me to submit a proposal to Kyotographie.

Leung: Submitting proposal is important, especially for young artists. Compared to the past, it is much easier to submit proposals electronically now. Artists need to communicate and share, friends should help each other out to be introduced to curators to understand the themes of each exhibition. Artist are common people too, they should be active to connect to each other.

“Between the Light and Darkness” (2017) by Yan Kallen 

“Between the Light and Darkness” (2017) by Yan Kallen 

“Between the Light and Darkness” (2017) by Yan Kallen 

“Between the Light and Darkness” (2017) by Yan Kallen 

“Between the Light and Darkness” (2017) by Yan Kallen 

“Between the Light and Darkness” (2017) by Yan Kallen 

Between the Light and Darkness by Yan Kallen
Date : 2017.4.15 – 5.14
Event : Kyotographie International Photography Festival 5th Edition
Venue : Mumeisha, 363 Rokkaku-cho, Rokkaku-sagaru, Shinmachi-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, 604-8212 


YAN Kallen (right) 

Born 1981 in Hong Kong, Yan attended Central Saint Martins College in London and Parsons School of Design in New York. He established his own “Office of Yan Kallen” in 2004. He began his career in art directing in New York and Amsterdam. He began his art creation in 2009 and had shown his works in Seoul, Sydney, Kyoto and Hong Kong. In 2016, Yan received the Kyotographie International Photography Festival KG+AWARD, and was previously shortlisted for the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Awards by Hong Kong Museum of Art in 2012, Hong Kong Photography Collection Compeition in 2013 and PhotoLucida Critical Mass in 2015.

Leung Chi Wo (left)

Born in Hong Kong in 1968, Leung Chi Wo studied photography in Italian Centre of Photography research and Record.  He receives a master in art from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1997 and is a founding member of Para Site.  He has worked in various studios as visiting artist, including Monash University, Melbourne and Australian National University and Museums quartier in Vienna, Austria.  Recently, he hosted an exhibition in OCT Modern Art Centre in Shenzhen in 2015.  He also exhibit in Queens, New York (2000), New York ISP (2013), City University of Hong Kong Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre (2014).  Leung also participated in the Shanghai Biannual (2000), Venice Biannual (2001) and the biannual and tri-annual in in Marrakash, Morroco, Guangzhou, China and Manchester, UK.  He is not an associate profession in the creative media centre of the City University of Hong Kong.