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Sun, Dec 05, 1999 - Page 20 News List

Man and Machine

Hong Kong artist Ho Siu-Kee explores the relationship between the human body, machines and the environment in which they interact

By Susan Kendzulak  /  SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR

Ho Siu-Kee's use of various props, such as these gas masks, seek to make the viewer think about the relationship between the body and the tools we use to supplement its functions.


Clad only in shorts, a man with shaved head precariously balances on two large, irregularly shaped wooden balls. As he lurches forward with demented baby steps, he struggles to stay upright; he can barely make his way across the room.

For Hong Kong artist Ho Siu-Kee, this act illustrates the precarious situation Hong Kong artists face today, a time of change and uncertainty. For Ho, the frustrating attempt simply to cross the room symbolizes the awkwardness and powerlessness Hong Kong residents are feeling during their transition to Chinese rule.

Walking on Two Balls is part of Ho's solo exhibition, Connotative Body. A combination of computer manipulated photographs, video installations and sculpture, the exhibition is on display at IT Park until Dec. 11.

Walking on Two Balls, also indicates the degree to which Ho's art is about the body's direct relationship to space and time. Even though most of his work is documented by photographs or video, in them the artist is a performer and uses his body as an instrument.

According to media guru Marshall McLuhan, a machine or tool becomes an extension of its user's body. The wheel acts as an extension of the feet, a book an extension of the eyes, electricity of the nerves. Ho captures this notion by attaching prostheses to his head, back, arms and feet and photographing himself.

Like a post-modern Da Vinci, Ho constructs scientific contraptions that act as extensions of the body. In Flying Machine, for example, Ho, with bandaged hands, holds a hand-made flying machine that is nearly his size. In the first photo, his arms are outstretched to his sides while the propeller blades jut straight up into the air. In the second, his arms jut straight up and the blades move perpendicular to the ground. The body imitates the movement of the blades and vice versa. Does the machine control the man or the man control the machine?

In The Third Eye photo series (1997), a double portrait of the artist, Ho wears a metal-pipe fitting as headgear. It holds a small glass ball in front of his eyes that extends his vision; yet the glass ball operates much like the eye's retina, inverting the image and thus incapacitating the vision.

The actual headgear is installed on a large glass jar shaped like the artist's head. Viewers can look through the glass ball to see the portraits on the wall -- also inverted. The piece raises issues about how vision distorts perception: you can't always trust what you see.

The comical video installation Contact Point (1996) further toys with issues of perception. Two monitors face each other. In the left monitor, Ho throws a ball off-screen to his counterpart self in the right monitor, who catches the ball and throws it back to his left.

This back-and-forth interplay creates a dialogue in the space between the two monitors. Viewers feel as if they can almost interrupt the two monitor-bound characters and catch the ball themselves.

In Gravity Hoop (1997), a frontal and side view both show the artist hanging upside down, motionless, in his large metallic circular ladder. He remains deep in concentration, like a Hindu fakir or an astronaut in intensive training; the work hints at the body's endurance, the passage of time.

Yet the piece also seems like some form of protest or challenge, and in many ways it best illustrates the essence of Ho's message. His gesture is defiant. He seems to be testing the body's limitations against the machine; the images are reminiscent of Brave New World. Or maybe it's simply the life for an artist in today's Hong Kong.

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