China’s Multimedia Man: Li Zhenhua curates Art Basel HK

Chen Zhou, Spanking The Maid II, 2012. Courtesy of Arthub Asia and Aike-Dellarco.

Sino-German relations are currently having a moment, with the Hauptstadt celebrating the 20th anniversary of the cooperation between Berlin and Beijing. This week, to make the most the current love for Chinese culture in Berlin, we’re focusing on artists and designers hailing from the People’s Republic.

Li Zhenhua is a curator and art producer who has collaborated with art on all levels, but always returns to multimedia performances. A jury member of Transmediale festival, the co-curator of the current “Pandamonium” Chinese multimedia art festival at Momentum Berlin, Li is also currently curating Art Basel Hong Kong’s new sector for Film. We talked to the founder of Beijing Art Lab about his approach to video art curation for the art fair and why we shouldn’t limit ourselves by the public understanding of multimedia.

What was your approach to curating this sector of Art Basel Hong Kong?

To begin with, this is a very different system from how I have worked before – I have previously worked for independent institutions, whereas at Art Basel Hong Kong I follow their system: galleries applying first with what they think is important about their artists.

From this system, I’ve booked them according to theme and lens and context of artworks, independently.

Video art began in the late 60s, but it’s my job to put everything into categories that help the audience understand. I intend to show the last fifty years of video art – in terms of what has changed from a cultural and contemporary art context.

For me, there is a lot of interest in video art generally. It’s very relevant, both as a medium and also from the cultural side – it’s the context of all these different aspects.

Do you feel separate from the rest of the art fair?

It’s a very different thing but still inside the whole frame of Art Basel in Hong Kong. I’m very keen to link the local institutions and Art Basel Hong Kong together – that’s partly the significance of creating this film section.

Hong Kong’s Art Basel positions itself as East meets West – is this position important to you?

Of course. If nothing else, by the choice of galleries. More than half the galleries at Art Basel Hong Kong are from so-called “Asian” areas. You can feel the globalisation, though. There are so many artists coming from all over the world. We are focusing on Asian artists but then Asian galleries also submit international artists, so it’s a more mixed program. 

What particularly interests you about video work?

My two main interests are action and activism. I mean action in the sense of Roman Signer: explosive art, with water, or flying objects and so on. His concept for “video art” as a movement has come through to today.

In terms of activism, I find this highly connected with the situation in Hong Kong – a lot of artists here in Hong Kong are involved in fighting for democracy. 

How well-suited is the art fair to show video art? 

In the last three years it’s become a trend that the art fairs are reflecting. For example, at Art Basel three years ago, there were a lot of people showing single channel videos or other multimedia. I would say that this is the moment – the medium is moving from the public to the commercial. A lot of galleries and collectors are dealing with it, young people and artists are working like this. I think we are limiting ourselves by the public understanding of the medium.


Art Basel Hong Kong runs from May 15-18.

More information is available on their website.


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