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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 hands.
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 over.
“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” she said.
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 compromised.

Corporate Support
“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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