Friday, 12 August 2016

Supersize Textiles: Harmonic Motion at the IFC, Hong Kong

Hello folks! This week I've got back to London after a whirlwind research trip and holiday in Asia. I spent several days in Hong Kong researching my Masters thesis, and really enjoyed discovering the city accompanied by my friend, in-between museum and archive visits.

When I am in a new city, I like to walk; but walking in Hong Kong found me frequently puzzled and confused. Routes form a jigsaw-like arrangement of stairways, overpasses, and interconnecting shortcuts through shopping malls to avoid the heat of the streets. Within the tallest, shiniest glass tower in Central is a big surprise: a textile art installation.

The installation is entitled 'Harmonic Motion', and is by the textile artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam.This brightly-coloured, abstract sculpture hangs suspended from a rig, like an upside-down big top, or an alien trampoline. Its colours and ergonomic, abstract-yet-naturalistic shapes give immediate associations of child's play; and indeed, Harmonic Motion must be booked in advance for a short time-slot allowing HK Darlings to enter and romp freely. The sculpture is presented as art, yet treated as a giant playground or toy.

And indeed, it is fun! I loved the doughnut-like seating beneath, and the pendulum, dangling balls that one could swing around on. The sculpture only truly came to life once people entered the space, running, jumping, playing. Its massive, amoeba-like form quivered and sang, flowing internally under all the movement. Play is written into its form due to the bright colours and bold shapes; but play is what transformed the physicality of this installation from object into being.

Technically, Harmonic Motion is impressive. The accompanying billboard proclaims that it  used 800kg of nylon braid measuring 60 kilometres, taking the artist over 10 months of work to create by hand. The attention to detail is perfect, and I particularly liked the colour-matching of the safety nets at the top level. Although the curators describe the installation as 'the world's first knitted playground', they also describe Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam's crochet technique. My examination of the work leads me to believe that it is crochet, not knitting; but the colours of the piece, and its unexpected presence in a luxury shopping mall, certainly are reminiscent of yarn bombing - which does tend to be referred to as 'knit graffiti'.

Harmonic Motion's  presentation as 'art' rather than 'a children's playground' warrants deeper interrogation of its relationship between space and play. The installation is currently on show at IFC, which stands for International Finance Centre. However, it's worth noting that Hong Kongers' relationship to the streets and to public space is certainly different than in Europe, where the street is supposed to belong to the people. Hong Kong's climate is humid and hot, and the air-conditioned interiors of shopping malls become regularly-used thoroughfares in a city that buzzes with capitalism. Pedestrians claim sparkling shopping malls filled with luxury brands as a right-of way. I have never seen so many Chanel boutiques in one city, but Hong Kongers around me marched straight by, oblivious to the glitter. So the location of the playscape in Hong Kong perhaps has different resonances to elsewhere. Nonetheless, the playground is not opened to all: a strictly-policed booking system is in operation. There is little spontaneous or naturalistic about the approach to Harmonic Motion: it's organised fun.

Nonetheless, it is a dynamic addition to the Hong Kong summer; and the tactile nature of hand-made textiles is a wonderful contrast to all the glossiness and glass of affluent Central Hong Kong. I liked that this piece was so forthrightly playful, so obviously dynamic - again, very different to the self-conscious nature of the district that it is presented in. And of course I like to see hand-made textiles everywhere, particularly in a country that was famous for its factories and mass production in the post-WWII period. I would love to see this piece presented in a wide-open field; or suspended above the water. But in this urban landscape, a mall suffices; and one can admire it from afar.

Harmonic Motion is on display until 12 September 2016 at IFC, Hong Kong. Click here for more information.

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