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A performer dangles upside down mid-air on a long piece of clothe, performing aerial acrobat against a grey smoky backdrop. The performer is dressed in grey pants and a ripped top in lighter grey.

Angela Su:
Arise, Hong Kong in Venice

Angela Su:
Arise, Hong Kong in Venice

23 Apr 2022
27 Nov 2022
Location: Campo della Tana, Castello 2126, 30122, Venice, Italy

Angela Su’s presentation at the Biennale Arte 2022 conveys a speculative narrative through interlocking fictional perspectives. The act of levitation serves as an organising metaphor that reappears throughout Su's drawings, moving images, embroideries, and installations. The artist assumes the guise of a fictional alter-ego to explore myriad cultural and political valences of rising in the air.

The world Su creates in Arise is an assemblage of various contemporary expressions of how an individual can confront a changed and changing world. Fiction allows us to create this hybrid world, a space where we can explore ideas that cannot be confronted directly.

Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice, is co-presented and co-promoted by M+, Asia’s first global museum of contemporary visual culture in the West Kowloon Cultural District, and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.

Inside ‘Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice’
Inside ‘Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice’

A video tour of the exhibition at the 59th Venice Biennale.

Video Transcript

Angela Su: The show itself is around the theme of levitation and I am interested in levitation as a concept or a metaphor. Levitation can mean many things: it means freedom, it can mean transcendence, the rejection of geographical boundaries or the rejection of gravity, or even humans' aspiration to take risks in order to achieve the impossible, even knowing that the chance of success is very slim.

I want to actually talk about the center piece of the exhibition before I give you a tour. Because there are a lot of the elements from the film that you will see in other sections in the exhibition. The film is a speculative fiction and is also a documentary of the life of Lauren O and her involvement with an activist group called “Laden Raven''.

Lauren O believed that she could levitate. She was involved with this activist group, which was initiated by a tightrope walker in the 1930s, and its founding members were circus performers. Hence you see a lot of circus elements in the exhibition.

“Laden Raven” became heavily involved in the 1960s in the United States during the anti-war movement. In the end all the protest movements in the United States were very heavily suppressed, and members of “Laden Raven” were arrested and locked up in a sensory deprivation cell. The film ends with me in a performance in which I was hoisted up, I was lifted up five meters from the ground and I slowly turned into a disco ball.

I like the transition between the documentary part and the performance scene, because it is like jumping from one reality to another, it is like when you jolt awake from a bad dream. So you can go from Lauren O’s reality to the personal world of Angela Su, and I really like that kind of transition. That is why I think it is important for me to perform in the film. I was trying to figure out some answers to certain questions in life. So I think it is very important to present these solutions in the performance and that is why I think I should perform in the video.

I am always interested in the 60s, with the flower power, the hippie, the counterculture movements. When I was doing research, I came across a really interesting happening. During the anti-war movement, around 50 thousand protesters marched to the pentagon and tried to levitate the building. The action is exorcising demons out from the building, the action for me is very powerful because they demystified the authority of the military. We all know it is not going to levitate but the building actually levitated in the minds of the protesters, sofor me this is very powerful. From the very beginning I wanted to include this element in the film and that is why I started to research around the theme of levitation.

When you enter the pavilion you see a giant swing which is around four point five meters high and there is an unreachable seat. It is like a trapeze and it is also a swing. You can also see a circus ring here with hovering triangular modules. And you can see the theme of levitation coming through already in the courtyard. There is also a big row of circus posters behind me.

The title of this installation is called the Playscape for the Feathered Girl. The idea is about the rejection of work in progress in the capitalistic society and it’s like the idea of play and freedom, of having joy as sort of a disruption of the monotony of work.

After the courtyard you enter into the interior of the pavilion. In the first room you will see an installation of fifteen videos. They are arranged in three boxes, horizontal long boxes, five videos in a group. These videos are found footages, very old footages of trapeze performers, of tightrope walkers and also dancers. The title of this installation is Tiptoeing the Kármán Line. The Kármán line is actually an imaginary line in between earth's atmosphere and outer space. This line never existed, I mean, it is just imaginary. So walking on this line means that you have to constantly guess where the line is. It is also like a balancing act: the tightrope walker has to decide what is dangerous and what is safe; and it is also about taking risks. So the first room is about the mental risk one has to go through in order to levitate.

From there you go through a red PVC curtain into the second room. The second room is mainly drawings and embroideries. There is also a video of a very short performance. This room is mainly about the monstrosity of metamorphosis and also the physical risk of transformation. When you enter the room you see a giant embroidered raven on your right side and, on the left side, is a double layered drawing of a piece called Rorschach Test No.3.

So my 2D works are mainly medical drawings or scientific drawings. The way we presented these works is to wrap a curtain around the room. My works or my drawings or embroideries are very clinical and clean, they are like medical drawings, very old medical drawings such as Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings or Andreas Vesalius' drawings. So I need a very clean space to present these works. The red fabric sort of evoked the idea of a classical period and the idea of the fabric also reminds one of a circus tent. So this is how this room is set up.

Then, through another PVC curtain, you go into the third room where you see the video that I just mentioned. The way we fabricated the room is that we lined the walls up with acoustic foam, they are big pyramidal foam that is thirty cm in height. The installation of this room is actually an extension of the performance piece you see at the end of the video. In the end, a set was built that references an anechoic chamber. That is why we used acoustic foam, to rebuild the anechoic chamber and the physical space in Venice. There are also two concrete benches which are very heavy and are actually anchored on the floor. So you can see in the exhibition, there is a juxtaposition between lightness and heaviness. You have a lot of the works, the drawings, the embroideries and the fifteen videos suspended from the ceiling, and you also have very heavy structures, like these you see here, casted cement, concrete, that are heavy on the floor.

When you exit, you come into the fourth room in which you will see a huge disco ball, it is like one meter in diameter and like having another element that echoes what you see in the film. It’s an iconic symbol of entertainment and dance and freedom, but you can imagine the dancers gravitate or levitate or dance towards this disco ball. So it is like a symbol of collectivity or the collective energy of millions of people.

And on that note you exit and enter into the courtyard again where people can sit and relax and enjoy the sunshine.

Exhibition View

Photo of the exhibition entrance. Front view of a 3-metre-tall enclosing wall covered with peeling paints and graffiti. Next to deep blue carved wooden door is a black panel of the exhibition title in curvy fluorescent green texts. Drawing of skeleton hands can be vaguely seen on the background. The wooden door is opened, leading to the pavilion’s courtyard.

Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice, 2022. Photo by t-space studio.

Photo of an indoor room of the exhibition. The walls are covered with white peeling paints. From the exposed wooden ceiling structure irregularly hang three black horizontal long boxes to about the height of an adult’s shoulder. Each box shows five different footages. At the back is an arch with red plastic curtain that leads to another room.

Installation view of Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice, 2022. Photo by t-space studio. 

Photo of the trapezium-shaped courtyard of the exhibition. On the right is a 3-storey building of earthy yellow colour. On the left is an enclosing brick wall of about 3 metres tall, hanging over twenty circus posters. In the courtyard placed a C-shaped circus ring of alternating grey and black colour, and a 4.5-metre-tall giant swing whose seat is over 2 metres high.

Installation view of Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice, 2022. Photo by t-space studio.

Photo of an indoor room of the exhibition. The wooden ceiling structure is exposed, and the partition walls are of burgundy red colour. Six black-and-white embroideries of medical images such as an eyeball, a breast, and a raven with wings opened, can be seen. The room is dim and the embroideries are lit with spotlights, which also cast the raven’s image on the grey floor.

Installation view of Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice, 2022. Photo by t-space studio.

A white canvas is hung against a white wall in a gallery space. On the canvas is a raven, woven in black, with its wings spread out horizontally.

Angela Su. Laden Raven, 2022. Hair embroidery on fabric, 290 x 140 cm. Commissioned by M+. Photo: Lok Cheng, courtesy of the artist

A monotone image of an artwork. In the image, there is a hole in the very centre. Its top one-thirds and bottom one-thirds are stitched.

Angela Su. Sewing Together My Split Mind: Straight Stitch, 2020. Hair embroidery on fabric. 56 x 51 x 4.5 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist and Blindspot Gallery

Photo of an indoor room of the exhibition with burgundy red and dark fuchsia partition walls. Two black-and-white embroideries of medical images are displayed. Standing against a partition wall is a rectangular concrete block, whose top side is projected with a video. The video shows a hand with fingers spread wide, and a hand that is picking up a pair of metal scissors.

Installation view of Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice, 2022. Photo by t-space studio.

A display of a monotone ink art work in a white frame.

Angela Su. Rorschach Test No.3 , 2016. Ink on drafting films. 171.5 x 125 x 2.5 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist and Blindspot Gallery

Photo of an indoor room of the exhibition. The wooden ceiling structure is exposed, and the side walls are covered with dark pyramidal acoustic foams. A long block of concrete bench is placed at an angle to the projection wall at the end of the room. Being the only light source, the black-and-white projection shows a person doing an aerial acrobatics performance, hanging upside down.

Installation view of Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice, 2022. Photo by t-space studio.

A performer dangles upside down on a long piece of clothing, performing aerial acrobatics.

Angela Su. Photo of performance for the video The Magnificent Levitation Act of Lauren O , 2022. Video performance. Commisioned by M+. Photo: Ka Lam, courtesy of the artist

Photo of an indoor room of the exhibition. In a black room, a disco ball of one metre in diameter is suspended from the ceiling, reflecting lights onto the ceiling, walls, and the floor. The room is located on the ground floor, where the courtyard with the circus ring installation and posters can be seen through the windows.

Installation view of Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice, 2022. Photo by t-space studio.

About the Artist

Angela Su’s works investigate the perception and imagery of the body, through metamorphosis, hybridity and transformation. Her research-based projects materialise in drawing, video, hair embroidery, performative and installation works, which explore the interrelations between our state of being and the advancement of technology. Central to these projects are video essays and texts that weave together fiction and facts, reality and fantasy. With focus on the history of medical science, her works question the dominant biomedical discourse, and contemplate the impact of technology on the past, present and future.

About the Curator

Freya Chou is a Hong Kong-based curator and editor. She was part of the Taipei Biennial (2008, 2010) curatorial team and was Co-Curator of the Shanghai Biennial (2014). She worked at Para Site, Hong Kong, as its first Education and Public Programmes Curator (2015 to 2019). Chou curated Ellen Pau: What About Home Affairs?A Retrospective (2018); Chris Evans, Pak Sheung Chuen: Two Exhibitions (2017); and Afterwork (co-curator, 2016) and has worked with Taipei Fine Arts Museum and Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong. She has edited and contributed to artists’ books, magazines, and exhibition catalogues, and is a member of the 58th Carnegie International’s Curatorial Council.

Explore More

Established in 1995, HKADC is a statutory body set up by the Hong Kong Government. Its major roles include grant allocation, policy and planning, advocacy, promotion and development, and special projects. HKADC supports and promotes the development of ten major art forms in literary arts, performing arts, visual arts as well as film and media arts. It aims to foster a thriving arts environment by facilitating community-wide participation in the arts and art education, encouraging criticism, raising arts administration standards, and contributing on policy research.

M+ Magazine

Image at top: Angela Su. Photo of performance for the video The Magnificent Levitation Act of Lauren O , 2022. Video performance. Commisioned by M+. Photo: Ka Lam, courtesy of the artist