Sunday HongKong Standard
Marjorie Kouns is very much a “hands-on” artist whose
latest display of installation art is generating a lot of interest
at The Fringe Club, writes Annabel Walker.
There is something elementary about Marjorie Kouns’ work.
Handing from the ceiling of the Fringe Club foyer are the tracings
of hands, while stuck to plastic blow-up gloves are hand shapes
cut from felt. "water music" plays to relax you and the
clicks and claps of hand movements sound.
Kouns believes hands communicate messages to the people of the world
whatever their language and the installation features hand associated
works (“handsome”, hand made”, “give me
a hand”) in a variety of languages.
“This installation is throwing a lot of things at someone
if they aren’t used to it”, said Kouns, who is in Hong
Kong for the first time.
“It will feel like you are walking in space because, as well
as the spheres hanging from the ceiling, I will place something
ion the ground so you won’t be sure if it’s the ground
you are walking on or not.
“I am also working with the sensory aspect. I have ‘space’
music playing which is calming and hypnotizing”
Kouns trained as a sculptor, but has been involved in installation
art for many years. She finds her sculpture background has given
her the awareness of the 3-D element to her art.
PUSH and PULL
Her previous works, Timelines focused on the impact of light and
shadow on urban environments. Her obsession recently has been with
It all started when Kouns invited adults and children to send drawings,
tracking and faxes of their hands to her studio in New York. The
images of hands seemed to spark off something Kouns had been mulling
“The push, pull, giving and receiving that is represented
by hands had been with me all my life”, she said.
“I wanted to show the dichotomy because, although hands are
receiving and pull you in, they also push you away. I began to think
how much we communicate with our hands. Yet in this technological
age, it is our hands that keep us apart. “Our hands type on
the computer, dial the numbers on the telephone and use the paper
– we never see the human being any more because we are so
electronically connected. It’s those issues I want to explore;
whether hands are what are pulling us into the larger picture or
part of what is keeping us at arm’s distance from society.”
Gathering so many impressions and interpretations, Kouns developed
her interest into a full show. After Hong Kong her plan is to make
“some sort of a book” of the hands and to develop the
sculptural side of the installation.
Invited to be artist-in-residence for the United Nations Women’s
Conference last year, Kouns displayed her hands installation as
a means of crossing language and cultural barriers. “Hands
have had a universal symbolism since the beginning of Time”
During the Beijing conference, Kouns invited women to take part
in the installation by drawing their hands, signing their name and
country and hanging them with the hundreds of others she collected.
Here, as in Beijing, there will be an area set aside for people
who want to add their own handprints to the installation.
“People get really into it,” Kouns said, recalling the
reaction of people at her earlier shows.
“You see people become really involved-they are hunched over
the worktable almost like children.”
Achievements of women
For Kouns, the women’s conference was a sign of how much women
have achieved, although she feels the casualness of women today
may mean gains are lost.
A Mandarin speaker, she was able to hear how speeches were translated-she
points to Hilary Clinton’s mention of human rights as an area
which was noticeably toned down. There were also disruptions while
delegates were speaking.
At one point they literally switched translators midway through
the speech and we lost five minutes of the presentation. Maybe it
was the end of the translator’s shift, but if you only have
a speech of 45 minutes, why arrange for a shift change in the middle
of it?” Kouns added.
She described the conference as “Hong Kong at rush hour”,
but ultimately a worthwhile event.
“Amid all the politics and human rights issues, they did the
best they could,” Kouns said.
She is excited to be exhibiting in Hong Kong although she acknowledges
installation work is not everybody’s idea of art.
“For some people their sense of art is something framed, hanging
on a wall behind glass. There is so much quality out there that
isn’t in this category,” Kouns said.
“ This is better than blue chip art, because it’s approachable.
It arouses so much more curiosity.”
But in a society like Hong Kong, it can be hard for installation
artists to make a living. Without the support of the corporations
and sponsorship back home, Kouns said, her artistic work would be
“I feel strongly that an artist should look into their own
style and not whether or not the piece can be sold. Fortunately
there are a lot of corporations who still believe in this type of
work,” she said.
“What is needed is the venues to give the artists the space
to speak out in their own creative forms. I know it’s kind
of small here, but in Hong Kong I see a lot of potential.”
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