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Exhibition: Only A Joke Can Save Us at Present Projects

Exhibition: Only A Joke Can Save Us at Present Projects

Only A Joke Can Save Us: Bo Choy, FAMEME, Hu Rui, Cyrus Hung, Kensuke Koike, Kieran Leach, Mak Ying Tung 2, Pow Martinez, Yan Xinyue
Co-curated by Eunice Tsang and Tiffany Leung
June 24 – July 4, 2021
Present Projects in Hong Kong

very joke is a tiny revolution. - George Orwell

Embedded in manic laughter is a cry for help, a face perpetually contorted into the laugh-cry emoji. Selected as the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year couple of years ago, 😂 was apparently the most used ‘word’ globally. Originally called ‘Face with Tears of Joy’, 😂 has quickly evolved to inhabit deeper complexities, encompassing helplessness, embarrassment, incompetence. Are the tears the result of unhinged laughter; or is laughter a front for bitter tears? HahahAhAHahahahahaHALP!

Humor is specific in its time and space; what makes us laugh reveals a lot about our immediacy, and the world here and now. It also reflects on the evolution of our cultures and endures in its infinite forms: satire, slapstick, irony, parody, memes and so on. Inheriting the nature of humour, Only a Joke Can Save Us is a complex, varied and rebellious account of our current times.

With this exhibition, we wish to explore humour as a way of understanding or questioning ourselves in an ever more unsettling world — our desires, fantasies, frustrations and resistance, riffing off everything from the familiar to the absurd.

Featuring ridiculed political figures, the banality of pigeons, dancing in a flood, playful instagram filters and more, these artworks will elicit laughter and offer comfort in bleakness; but also irreverently disrupt and transgress, creating radical resistance in times of uncertainty. Confronted by crisis and trauma, joking and laughing becomes a methodology to explore new conceptions of solidarity, critique and justice.

(PS. Apparently, 😂 is already going out of fashion. Gen Z-ers have instead replaced the ambiguous laugh-cry with a uber-direct, zeitgeisty 💀, a skull as in ‘I’m dead’. After all, the youngest gets the last laugh.)


About the Artists

Bo Choy (b. 1986, Hong Kong) is a graduate of MA Fine Art Media from the Slade School of Art and a recipient of Clare Winsten Memorial Award in 2020. Her recent exhibitions/screenings include Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Kasseler Dokfest, Tomorrow: London, White Cube, and She works as an Assistant Editor for Afterall's Exhibition Histories and teaches at Chelsea College of Art. 

Hu Rui (b.1990, China) frames our current living condition as one in between a mythological past and a technological future, and considers from this perspective the issues of memory, expectation, decision-making, and the experience of time. Hu holds an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles and a BFA from New York University. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Practice in Computational Media and Arts at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Cyrus Hung (b.1996, Hong Kong) is a graduate from the Slade School of Fine Art, London and works in painting, sound, installation and video. He uses parodist and deadpan approaches to be critical yet humorous. His work was selected as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2019, and he has exhibited internationally across the UK, Finland and Hong Kong.

Kensuke Koike (b. 1980, Japan) transforms single-image processing into surrealist revelations about truth-making. Reviving vintage photographs he finds at flea markets, Koike distorts them into eye-catching configurations, creating new meanings and possibilities for these archival materials. Kensuke Koike is a graduate of the Venice Academy of Fine Arts, and currently resides in Italy. He has exhibited internationally across New York City, London, Italy, and Tokyo.

Kieran Leach (b. 1994, Manchester) is an artist based in Manchester, United Kingdom. From playful sculptural forms to modified ready-mades, His works often appropriate and satirise elements from  everyday, online and ‘art world’ cultures. His recent exhibitions include Remote Work, The Grundy, Blackpool, UK (2021), Soft Display, Division of Labour, Paradise Works, Manchester, UK (2020) and CONTACT, ThorpStravi, London, UK (2020).

Mak Ying Tung 2 (b. 1989, Hong Kong) contemplates contemporary culture and social issues through the lens of fantasy and humor. Identifying as a conceptual artist, she works with a wide-range of mediums including paintings, installations, videos, Youtube videos, stand-up comedy routines and Instagram filters. Mak is best known for painting series Home Sweet Home (2019-) where she commissioned artists on the Chinese e-commerce site Taobao to re-depict absurd environments she created on life stimulation video game ‘the Sims’. The artist has exhibited internationally across Hong Kong, Lisbon, Beijing, Dallas, Shanghai and London. 

Yan Xinyue (b.1992, China) graduated with an MFA in painting from the Royal Academy of Fine Art Antwerp, Belgium in 2018, and currently lives and works in Shanghai. Yan presents vignettes of metropolitan life in the context of rapid urbanization. The innocent playfulness and romantic imaginations embedded in her work serve as an escape from the tedium of everyday reality. Fusing daily observations with memory and fiction, her work depicts fleeting gestures, emotions and humorous scenarios, inviting the viewer to enter a universe of imagination and possibilities.

Pow Martinez (b. 1983, Philippines) is a Manila-based interdisciplinary artist. Drawing inspiration from the traditions of grotesque imagery and Pinoy pop culture, Martinez offers eclectic and humorous visual insights into Filipino history and Southeast Asian politics. His daring use of color and deviant urban subject matters are endlessly compelling, resembling nightmarish landscapes that are messy, rough, and anxious. He holds degrees in Painting at the Kalayaan College and Visual Communications at the University of Philippines. He is the recipient of the prestigious 2010 Ateneo Art Award, and has exhibited internationally across Paris, New York, Berlin, Jakarta, Taipei, Hong Kong, and more. 

FAMEME (b. 1983, Taiwan) is a widely popular KOL/influencer who famously inherited and rebranded Durian King, a durian supplier founded by his grandfather in 1936. As a style icon and music enthusiast, FAMEME incorporated ground-breaking elements into the remake of Durian King and subsequently increased the sales of durians all over the world. In 2019 he made his debut in the United States, where he established the world’s first ‘Museum of Durian’, a popular check-in spot for influencers. In 2020 FAMEME also expanded his brand in Korea, collaborating with the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art (GMoMA) to create the ‘Durian Exercise Room’. Recently he also launched the technological initiative ‘Durian Pharmaceutical’ which focuses on medical research and the health benefits of durians. 


Only A Joke Can Save Us at Present Projects


Images courtesy the artists and Britta Rettberg. Photography by Dirk Tacke