Present Tradition

Alessandro Cardinale and Angel Hui Hoi Kiu

Curator Text Name: Charmaine Tam

22 Apr – 29 May 2021

Novalis Art Design, G/F, 5 Sau Wa Fong, Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Novalis Contemporary Art Design Gallery and Art Next are delighted to present Present Tradition, in partnership with the Italian Cultural Institute of Hong Kong. The collaboration came about to see what new conversations and inspirations would be sparked through a cultural exchange between an Italian artist (Alessandro Cardinale, represented by Novalis Contemporary Art Design) and a Hong Kong artist (Angel Hui Hoi Kiu, represented by Art Next). The two artists have been put in dialogue with each other with regards to tradition, especially when tradition is becoming more and more important in navigating the complex identities in present times.

Curatorial Statement:

Tradition is a language. Each carries within it its own history, its own code of hidden meanings and values. All this, manifested as a single action, a string of sounds, a myriad of symbols… Oftentimes in the hustle and bustle of modern life, we neglect the ‘language’ of tradition: the meanings behind it and how it has changed.

This exhibition aims to remind oneself of the meanings posited in ‘tradition’, and stage a dialogue between ‘tradition’ and the present, where codified meanings in ‘tradition’ have been lost, neglected, or altered by the tides of changing perceptions in society. The name, ‘Present/Tradition’, points to both the exploration of tradition in present day (our present tradition), and the dialogue between the present and tradition. Both artists, Alessandro Cardinale and Angel Hui Hoi Kiu were chosen for their exploration of ’tradition’ in the present: Alessandro’s ‘Nu Shu’ series presents a conceptual interpretation of the lost tradition of the Nu Shu language, whilst Angel’s practice subverts and contemporizes tradition through her use of traditional Chinese ink painting techniques in inventive ways.

Alessandro Cardinale’s ‘Nu Shu’ series was directly inspired by the lost tradition of ‘Nu Shu’: a traditional script developed in Hunan, China. It was in use in the Song and Yuan dynasty, c. 13th – 14th century, reaching its peak in late Qing dynasty c. 1644 – 1911, and was used exclusively by women who had not been afforded the privileges of reading and writing in Chinese. Historically, it was not socially acceptable for Chinese women to openly talk about personal regrets, thus Nushu offered them an outlet of expression, through hidden messages embroidered on their clothes and fans, which the excluded patriarchy could not decipher and would only see as embroidered patterns. Alessandro interprets this in visual art form, where his haunting images of women and traditional Chinese architecture can only be seen from a certain viewpoint, before dissipating into incoherence again, as the viewer moves and changes their perspectives. It is fitting interpretation of lost tradition, with the dissipation of the fleeting image echoing how in the present, one can only catch glimpses of lost traditions, with the meanings they once embodied, once clear, now dissipating into incoherence.

Deeply inspired by traditional Chinese art, Angel Hui engages viewers in an active dialogue between present and tradition. She subverts ‘tradition’ by reinterpreting Chinese traditional materials and techniques, ‘embroidering’ ornate paper fans with a brush, and painting ostriches in ‘gongbi’. Whilst the image of a goldfish meticulously embroidered on a plastic bag invites us to reconsider the boundary between present and tradition by applying the traditional technique of embroidery to illustrate a scene from everyday Hong Kong: walls of goldfish in plastic bags at Goldfish Market. Her ink paintings mimicking patterns of Chinese blue-on-white porcelain, painted on everyday items such as toilet paper and facial tissue also speak to the subtle presence of tradition in our everyday lives: blue-on-white crockery, Chinese household wares on our dinner table, hark back to the Chinese tradition of porcelain. We are once again reminded that tradition is not inaccessible, or hard to decipher, but exists in the present, in our everyday lives, one only has to look around them to ‘rediscover’ tradition taken for granted.