“Only a Joke Can Save Us”

2F, Tak On House, 13 Wong Chuk St, Tong Mi
May 13–July 3, 2021

Hu Rui, Soon It Will Be Deep Enough, 2019, single-channel HD video, color, sound, 4 minutes 44 seconds, site-specific installation.
Hu Rui, Soon It Will Be Deep Enough, 2019, single-channel HD video, color, sound, 4 minutes 44 seconds, site-specific installation.

Fruit flies are preying on the flaccid corpses of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher, and Chris Patten. During my visit to this group show in the melting June heatwave, the dolls—papier-mâché and cloth creations that Bo Choy has titled Sad Leaders, 2019—were sweaty and morose, slumped over a table of empty liquor bottles as if hungover from their own territorial nostalgia of Hong Kong.

This satirical scene poses a mordant question: How much of our laughter is a scream for help? Through the works of nine artists, curators Eunice Tsang and Tiffany Leung find the desperate comedy of broken systems. Who will be its mascot? In Pow Martinez’s acrylic painting Homeland Security, 2021, a wild-eyed, gun-toting man clad in only Y-fronts and white socks embodies the absurdist terror of authoritarian regimes, while Kieran Leach’s installation Ooooooooooof, 2018, shows a pair of gloved hands and booted feet holding up a heavy canvas, the absent body a nod to the invisible labor of art handlers.

Some punchlines are delivered swiftly, others play out more ambiguously. In Hu Rui’s Soon It Will Be Deep Enough, 2019, CGI-animated, scantily clad youngsters rave in a plane cabin, oblivious to the rising water levels in their hermetic tomb. Inspired by a sojourn in Los Angeles, where the artist witnessed pool parties amid raging wildfires, the video runs at an ominous 4:44 minutes, a homonym for “death death death” in Cantonese. It’s a memorable scene, but why? Visitors may take note of the curators’ Orwellian reference: “Every joke is a small revolution.”

— Ysabelle Cheung

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