What does ‘monument’ mean?

Last fall, when I was abroad in Hong Kong, I immersed myself in the vibrant art atmosphere of Asia’s world city. Among the numerous art spaces, galleries, auction houses, and artists’ studios, there are always opening receptions, artist talks and interesting conversations going on. It was eye-opening to see art from not only Asia or the rest of the world, but a fusion between the two.

Out of all the shows I visited, the most unforgettable one has to be “This is not an Art Show.” The show presented exhibitions of different media, and together they questioned the practice of mass classification, labeling ideas and promoting boundaries. Walking into the art space and looking through the photographs and videos, I was intrigued and confused. I was expecting a common reception, where they serve wine and crackers, present big tangible pieces of artwork, and an easy theme to be understood. This was nothing like that. I was surrounded by stories, statements, and photographs and I could not figure out why they were there. Why was there a picture of the bricks, why was he telling me this, why were pictures placed outside of the frame, why could I not understand what is being captured in the photos… While I was drowning in my thoughts, the background music suddenly stopped. All the attention then shifted to two dancers, on the other side of the room. We gathered in the center, facing them. They stood there, silently, staring at us. After a long pause, the music began again. The two performers then started stripping. After another pause, they started moving towards us. I could not recognize the moves, which looked like a combination of walking, falling, dancing, and crawling. What I did feel, was the symphony between the bodies and the music. I felt that I was moving with them, traveling through time and music notes. As the music went on, they kept moving towards us. They moved as if we were not there. I stood at the very front of the crowd, and as they got closer and closer, I was anxious. What are they going to do, are they going to stop, what should I do, should I move?… While my brain was confused about what to do, my body automatically made the way for them to pass through. Silently and concurrently, we made way for them. In the crowded little space, they were moving inches away from us. We were so close to them, yet we were in two different worlds. In their world, we the crowds did not exist. In their world, they were not performers but living objects moving. They kept moving, in the same direction, to the wall on the opposite side from where they started. Eventually, they stopped as they reached the wall, where pictures hung with statements:

This is NOT you. This is NOT relevant. This is NOT a gallery. This is NOT finished. This is NOT unique. This is NOT progressive.

Then the music stopped. After a long pause, everything went back to the state before the performance started: videos and background music playing; people walking around and chatting. I also went back to where I was before the performance: asking myself what do these exhibitions mean, and is this an art show? I lingered around and talked to other visitors. At the end, I realized that there is no perfect definition to what an art show is; there are only perfect definitions.

Above: This is NOT an artshow. 2016. LIGHTSTAGE Arts&Events, Hong Kong.

On the day of opening reception for Collective Monument, I spoke with artist Nara Park. Her artwork Never Forget was made of plastic packaging boxes and vinyl, which imitated the stones that build monuments in DC and the mosses that grow on them. I asked, why plastic boxes? She told me, both plastic boxes and the stones to build moments, are all purchased disposable objects. What’s interesting is that, while the plastic boxes are meant to be thrown away, plastic itself lasts forever while statues come and go, even though they are meant to be built forever.

Preconception kills art, and to follow a single definition is to limit. What does ‘monument’ mean? Is it a statue? Is it tangible? Does it have to be monumental? Is the object’s physical presence in accordance with its purpose of existence?

There is no perfect answer, only the perfect answers.

By Yvette Yu