Venus lau

In­de­pen­dent cu­ra­tor

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

“I stum­bled into the art world. I was a hip­ster and there were lots of mu­sic fes­ti­vals and po­ets in Bei­jing,” says Hongkonger Venus Lau, 35, of the years she spent vis­it­ing the cap­i­tal in the noughties. When she moved there full-time in 2007, she be­gan writing for list­ings magazine The Bei­jinger—“for the arts section be­cause I knew more painters than any­one in the of­fice.”

She be­came im­mersed in the art world, but it wasn’t un­til she took part in a project with artist Cao Fei, RMB City, in 2009 that she re­alised she wanted to be a cu­ra­tor. “I thought, I’m not go­ing to be an artist; it might be in­ter­est­ing to be a cu­ra­tor, to ac­tu­ally put con­tent from dif­fer­ent con­texts to­gether and build a new nar­ra­tive.” She re­turned to Hong Kong in 2010 and be­gan work­ing as an in­de­pen­dent cu­ra­tor. The fol­low­ing year she won the Jury’s Pick at the Chi­nese Con­tem­po­rary Art Awards for a pro­posal re­think­ing strate­gies for in­sti­tu­tional cri­tiques.

In 2014 she moved back to Bei­jing with her hus­band, art critic Robin Peck­ham, to take up the po­si­tion of cu­ra­tor at the Ul­lens Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Art. She cu­rated its Se­cret

Time­zones Tril­ogy, solo projects by Ming Wong, Ko­rakrit Arunanond­chai and Haegue Yang. Since Septem­ber 2015 she has been work­ing as artis­tic direc­tor of OCAT Shen­zhen, for which she cu­rated the land art ex­hi­bi­tion Dig­ging a Hole in China; Sum­mer Tri­an­gle, an ex­hi­bi­tion of works by Jon Raf­man, Adrian Wong, Lan­tian Xie; and a Jiang Zhi solo show. Her lat­est project, in which Ber­lin-based artist Si­mon Denny ex­plores the de­vel­op­ment of tech­nol­ogy and Shen­zhen’s fu­ture, opens this month.

“We are spin­ning out from a lot of stereo­types of Asian art, and peo­ple are more will­ing to un­der­stand each other from dif­fer­ent re­gions,” says Lau, whose ex­pe­ri­ence in Bei­jing, Hong Kong, Shen­zhen and Shang­hai (she moved there in Jan­uary), af­fords her a broad view. “There are so many new plat­forms, new mu­se­ums open­ing. There are more and more op­por­tu­ni­ties for young cu­ra­tors and artists.” For her, a cu­ra­tor’s role is not to “set up a the­o­ret­i­cal or aes­thetic frame and try to fit ev­ery­thing in it, but rather to build a plat­form. The cu­ra­tor is a starter who pulls art­work to­gether and uses that art­work to ex­pand what al­ready ex­ists. It’s al­most like build­ing a cos­mos.”

Lau is re­al­is­tic about the chal­lenges of work­ing in Main­land China: from cen­sor­ship to ship­ping dif­fi­cul­ties and even sex­ism. “The art world, and par­tic­u­larly the Chi­nese art world, is very mas­cu­line,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of fe­male cu­ra­tors in China.”

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