Ho Siu-Kee

Gravity Hoop
1996. Steel sculpture and photograph installation. Photo: Ho Siu-Kee

by Tsong-Zung Chang

The Inverted Laboratory of Ho Siu-Kee

The mechanical devices created by Ho Siu-kee over the years cannot be called artworks as such. Almost all of them are contraptions and gears designed as tools for experiments. Like equipment in a workshop, they are silent evidence of an on-going enquiry, but the baffling thing about the experiments is that they try to teach the human body how to do things it already knows.

Contact Point is a vibrating mechanism which sends pulses down one's arm to make ripples at the point where the finger touches the water surface. Walking Machine is a device which simulates walking movement only when attached to the leg. Flying Machine makes flapping movements when pulled on a pair of pulleys; it is actually fastened to the ground. In short, none of the machines are of any use. They do not, as body contraptions, exercise or extend functions of the body; if anything they exercise only the imagination.

They are dream machines. Ho has built them as reminders of dreams about the human being. Flying Machine echoes Leonardo da Vinci's famous drawing of the ideally proportioned man, who marks with his stretched limbs points on the circumference of a circle. To Ho it is significant that it is to the ideal circle that Leonardo's man is matched, rather than fitting the man with his own geometry. By reaching out to an ideal image man aspires to be more than himself; he becomes his own creator. Given the ubiquity of the aeroplane today, Ho's machine seems to be a reminder that man as a natural being actually does not fly; flight started as an idea. Machines which are useless are truly human machines because they serve dreams and imagination, the intrinsic virtues.

Throughout the ages the making of equipment and devices has fascinated artist and scientist alike, but the intention has nearly always been to design practical devices. It is the modern postindustrial sensibility which has given us artists who are obsessed with nonsensical, mock machinery. The futurists sang the praise of the industrial age, but others were more in awe of its efficacy. Francis Picabia was fascinated with machinery as a metaphor for the human mind, and Marcel Duchamp's absurd experiments hinted at an occult order beyond his mechanized erotica. Ho's mechanical equipment pays homage to the early masters of modernism, and examines the way machines bear on our consciousness of the body. Instead of taking for granted the role of machinery as an over-developed limb, Ho creates equipment which makes the body an extension of the machine: a piece of equipment imitates what the body already knows (e.g. walking, breathing), but in setting the body to its mechanical logic, the equipment actually retards the body's natural instincts so that one is forced to rethink the physical abilities that are one's birthright. To Walk on Two Balls re-creates the sensation of learning to walk, and Gravity Hoop flips one's perspective of the horizon at a topsy-turvy angle. The retardation of reflexive responses restores a mental awareness. This retarded gap, created by equipment which is based on the image of man, is the space created for knowledge and imagination.

Ho Siu-kee has always been fascinated with the Chinese creation myth which tells of the wedging apart of heaven and earth by the primordial man Pan Gu. The sphere of the world was created through the daily growth of Pan Gu, who eventually reached such height that heaven and earth were in turn pushed immeasurably far apart. The myth symbolizes for Ho the manner we grow to know our world through reaching out with our corporeal bodies. For him, art objects are simply gears which assist man in this reaching out.

Ho Siu-kee does not aspire to an all-embracing intellectual order. The purpose of his art is essentially restorative; knowledge means getting to know our instincts. He is happy with his laboratory of accessories and gadgets that flex the muscles of our minds. If there exists a physical law which provides an underlying metaphor to Ho's science, it is a poetic version of the conservation law which seals the circuit of transformation between matter and energy and knowledge. The energy stored from suspending the observer upside down on the gravity-reversing Gravity Hoop is transformed into new awareness. The suffocating experience of the Closed System metamorphoses into an experience of a complete ecosystem. In Ho Siu-kee's mind, the world of matter and man is linked imaginatively, and there is really nothing in art but exercises for the mind.

An artist from Hong Kong, everything that Ho Siu-kee's art stands for seems to go against the ethos of the place. Hong Kong is rational, frenetically efficient and performance minded; its education is "science" oriented and unquestioning about the "real" world. Ho's art is made perfectly for Hong Kong, to be misread, and misunderstood as a form of failed pseudo science; which ironically is also what it is. At a metaphoric level, Ho stands for the nagging insecurity that lies beneath such a self-consciously rational culture. And remembering the uncertain historical destiny of Hong Kong, it is against the blind energy of such a city that Ho's painfully absurd artistic quest becomes most poignant.

Born in Hong Kong on 29 May 1964. In 1984 obtained his diploma in Graphic Design at First Institute of Art and Design, Hong Kong. In 1989, obtained his BA in Fine Arts at Chinese University of Hong Kong; in 1990, obtained his diploma in Education, Art and Design at Chinese University of Hong Kong. In 1995 obtained his MFA in Sculpture at Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan, United States.

Solo exhibitions

Body/Space-Mixed Media, Visual Arts Center, Hong Kong.
Siu-kee Ho, Fine Art Department, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Group exhibitions

Installation Art Festival '96, Hong Kong Visual Arts Research Society, Hong Kong; New Horizon in Art, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong.
M.F.A. Degree Show, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan, United States.
The 4th Exhibition, Federation of Asian Fine Art Association, Corëia; City Vibrance Exhibition - Recent works in Western Media by Hong Kong artists, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong.
Modern Chinese Ink Painting by Hong Kong Artists, Xangai and Nanquim, China; Chile Biennial Art Exhibition, Valparaìso, Chile; Environmental Drawing, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong.
Exhibition of Asian Watercolour Confederation, Bankok, Thailand; Contemporary Hong Kong Art Biennial Exhibition, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong.