Tucked away in West Melbourne's Blender Studios, we land in Hong Kong for the third and final iteration of curator Elizaveta Maltseva's three-year project: Return Flight MEL-HKG. For this iteration of Return Flight, a project dubbed as a cross-cultural exchange between artists and writers and presented by long-running literary journal Going Down Swinging, Maltseva has commissioned twenty artists from Melbourne and Hong Kong to create new works responding to the thematic 'Away'. Works are digitally sent to respective writers in their opposing city where they—without any context concerning the artist's work and practice—respond. The result is a beautiful collection of dialogues between artists echoing each other's vulnerabilities and desire for belonging.
Where the publication holds a degree of magnitude in its introspection on deeply moving works, the exhibition itself is fallible in formal translation, lacking the direction and flow its publication so strongly possesses. Lining the gallery walls are works, all mounted at eye level with their accompanying written pieces to the right. The works move in a similar fashion to their published counterpart, inducing an all too easily digestible dialogue between the work and text. A conventional, and safe approach, this dialogue limits the strength of Maltseva's cross-cultural concept within the bounds of the two works. While this could be seen as a missed opportunity to explore the politics of space across each pairing, it serves to make the collaborative works instantly accessible.
There are, however, saccadic points in the exhibition which seem to carry a weight beyond personal vulnerability. Michael Peck's Grid and Lo Lai Lai Natalie's Continuity, for instance, consolidate the vulnerabilities associated with political violence. A timely meditation on the current demonstrations in Hong Kong, and at the airport, no less. Where Peck's watercolours possess a dark softness, Lo amplifies the grief associated with it in prose. Pointing to a greater violence and tension at hand in Hong Kong, perhaps it is in this dialogue that viewers can be still and fixate on the vulnerable human emotion behind each collective ecology. Something we all have in common, cross-culturally, herein is where Maltseva's soft approach takes flight.
Ari Tampubolon is an emerging student artist, writer, and performer with a practice grounded in destabilising eurocentric and colonial perspectives that dominate urban life.
Installation view of Return Flight MEL>HKG, 2019. In partnership with Going Down Swinging, Blender Studios and Floating Projects. Photo: Theresa Harrison