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.
Join Angela Su on a video tour of Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice, Hong Kong’s exhibition at the 59th Venice Biennale, as she explores the ideas and intentions behind the exhibition's installations, moving images, drawings, and embroideries. The central theme of levitation takes many forms—a circus swing hanging just out of reach; a 1960s anti-war activist who believes she can levitate; the artist suspended in the air as a disco ball.
Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice is co-presented and co-promoted by M+, West Kowloon Cultural District, and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.
- Produced by
- Director & Cinematographer
- Producer & Colouist
- Audio Mixer & Master
- M+ Video Production
IIaria Rocchi, Ellen Oredsson
- M+ Text and Subtitle Editing
LW Lam, Amy Leung
- Special Thanks
Angela Su, Freya Chou, Jenny Tam, Lesley Kwok, William Smith, Chris Sullivan, Mimi Cheung, Blindspot Gallery