As I was talking with Arnault Castel, the man behind Kapok, a shop-cum-gallery nestled in a quiet history-laden district of Hong Kong, an adrenaline-fuelled twentysomething lugging a large backpack, portfolio, and sleeping gear stomped into the room and threw his things onto the ground. Then, after a few moments of standing still, of just absorbing the hanging drawings, the handmade zines, and the miniature castle, he finally said, "You don't know how much I've missed all of this."
That a young artist hailing from Florida and living in Shanghai could walk into a former garage space in Tin Hau and immediately feel at home says something. It says something about the nature of the pieces that make up Kapok's first exhibit, "Sleepover Psychedelia". Curated by Samantha Culp and Adrian Wong, "Sleepover" brings together five artists from the United States who share an aesthetic drenched in the spirit of DIY, fantasy, and geekchic. Post-hippie, post-punk, post-new age, and post-pop, these drawings, zines, handmade shirts, cds, and graphics define the experience of a certain generation.
"They draw on graph paper," Arnault says. "We all drew on graph paper." He adds that the intricacy of these drawings create a personal universe for each of them, that beyond their childish exteriors, these worlds are already well-formed and recognizable.
These worlds may be familiar because they are manifestations of some sort of universal subconscious gone haywire, a conglomeration of the images we are constantly bombarded with and the inner worlds we dare to imagine. What happens when pop culture, video games, 60s and 80s iconography, and mythical creatures run wild in the otherworld of suburban America, where they consummate their mad love, giving birth to a new aesthetic, raging and indecipherable, yet completely familiar?
What happens? You get Thomas Galloway's ethereal robotic figures, his "gang dudes". And Matt Lock's neon cavepeople sharpening their tools to the music of Don Henley and Air Supply. And Devon Varmega's Aztec-fusion monster-cities that loom over a geometry problem set.
These icons are not unfamiliar to Hong Kongers, but maybe the way they're drawn in math class and the way they spread through blogs is. "There is an understanding in Hong Kong of DIY as something young or messy, but I'm interested in seeing what it actually looks like to be making stuff in your basement," Samantha points out. "It's not enough of an option here, or something that's valued. People are told that they either go to art school or don't do art." Adrian adds that the prolific flow of money in Hong Kong means that people just default to high fashion or popular culture. Arnault adds that Kapok exists for this very purpose, to provide a space in between high-end branding and widely available street art, to provide a space for "something surprising". Samantha has an additional agenda: "No one here needs to see more America, because it's so privileged already, but we only see Hollywood here. Some European consulates support interesting work from their countries, and we wanted to show some young, underground American work here as a first step in cultural exchange."
So these magnificent neon-markered, alternahistory-steeped doodles exist in the space between reality and the subconscious, between ancient mythology and 21st century post-culture, between high art and street art. In a fitting tribute, some of these humble, glorious works rest atop an installation of a monochrome castle and set of rainbows, built by co-curator Adrian Wong. "The ideal feeling I'd like to evoke is awesomeness, an appreciation of stupid profoundness," he explains. Too busy playing Nintendo to theorize post-punk, Adrian built the space-commanding castle and rainbows as a visceral reaction to the drawings. Finding them loose, colorful, exciting, and real, he decided to respond to their flatness by pulling them into a 3-dimensional space. He went a step further by choosing castles and rainbows, icons of childhood, but without their trademark color. "They're a nice thing for the drawings to rest on," he concludes.
An Exhibition Curated by Samantha Culp and Adrian Wong
Installation by Adrian Wong
Artists: Brian Chippendale, Thomas Galloway, Matt Lock, Devon Varmega, Brent Wadden
Date: 1st April - 5th May, 2006
Place: Kapok Gallery Space
Address: 9 Dragon Road, Tin Hau, Hong Kong
Text and Photos: Kat Lo