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Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Asian art flavours Venice Biennale
Venetian canals are background to new art at Biennale
Asia launches new art at Venice Biennale
By the BBC's Charis Dunn-Chan

This year the Venice Biennale is showcasing a Hong Kong artist who wants you to eat cookies. The cookies, baked in a sky-cut shape, are part of his performance installation.

Over the next five months, the 49th Biennale will showcase hundreds of contemporary artists from all over the world.

In the case of the Asian artists, they are taking their place in innovative and exciting ways. In the Hong Kong show, you actually get to taste the art.

The everyday interaction of food, drink and chat became creative sensations

Over recent years, Asian contemporary art has begun to make its mark on the international scene. Performance, installation and video work have pushed aside traditional brush and ink skills to make the Asian art scene global in its outlook.

At this year's 49th Venice Biennale, more Asian art is now on view than in previous years. This year marks the first official entry of Hong Kong into the arena.

Press pack queues

The art world press queued for hours outside the German and USA Biennale pavilions for the shows most hyped by the critics. Yet all around Venice, Asian artists were working away to make their presence felt.

Venice streets decorated with art poster flags
Venice streets flag up Biennale art
They did not disappoint. The Asian dimension had its own flavour and made their work worth seeking out. In the case of Hong Kong's Leung Chi-wo, his desire is to make you participate in and eat his work.

Taking two pictures of the Venetian and Hong Kong skyline, he created a unique shape cut from the sky space seen above a section of an amalgam of the two city's buildings. He then used that space as the defining shape for his cafe installation work.

Taste of Asia

Visitors came into a venue which seemed like a small tea shop and were offered fragrant Chinese tea in cups designed for the exhibition. At the bottom of each cup was the sky space shape.

In exchange for a small item of your own to be displayed on the wall you got a token. The token was for a vending machine full of cookies shaped in the Hong Kong-Venice sky space.

Artist Leong gives out cookies to gondoliers
Leong Chi-wo and gondolier exchange trinkets for cookies
"Eat the sky," said Leong - and everybody did.

By the fifth day of the exhibition the wall space around the tables was a firmament of small objects from all around the world.

As this Biennale runs from 10 June until 4 November, one can only imagine how the Hong Kong exhibition space will be after months of interactive art at this level.

A Venetian baker will also be kept busy making fresh cookies for each day of the exhibition.

Street magic

The Hong Kong curator, Chang Tsong-zung, has called the venue Magic at Street Level and the spell worked. Venetian gondoliers dropped by for tea and biscuits. Art as performance was lively.

Hong Kong art curator outside cafe venue
Hong Kong curator Chang Tsong-zung fronts cafe art table
Full marks too for newcomers Hong Kong in pulling together the Asian arts world for a dialogue over food.

Hong Kong hosted a dinner for all the Asian artists at the Biennale and brought them together with the international critics and press.

Side by side Chinese, Taiwan, South Korean, Japanese, Hong Kong and Singapore artists ate and talked.

When interviewed, many of the artists said they saw no conflict between their traditional roots and the modern art scene.

They acknowledged their art is being shaped in subtle ways by their own cultural background.

Asian unity

The Singapore artist Matthew Ngui spoke of the fluidity, transparency, light and colour of water in Venice.

His sense of cohesion about the artist's vision wherever he or she came from and wherever they worked was inspiring.

Matthew's small prisms of projected lights filled the Singapore exhibition space with an installation breaking boundaries of sight and perception.

Boundary breaking is where Asian art is heading. Governments of many the region's countries have embraced the changes and given their blessing and funds.

Others are still watching from the sidelines and refusing to acknowledge the sea-change.

See also:

07 Jun 01 | Arts
In pictures: Venice Biennale
07 Jun 01 | Arts
Maori dancers wow Venice
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