Howie Tsui

From swelling shadows, we draw our bows


The Power Plant presents Howie Tsui's first institutional solo show in Toronto.

CURATOR: JUSTINE KOHLEAL

The Power Plant presents a partial continuation of Vancouver-based artist Howie Tsui’s exhibition From swelling shadows, we draw our bows, which debuted on 26 September 2020. Growing up between Hong Kong, Lagos, and Thunder Bay, Tsui has described his childhood and adolescence as existing between Chinese and Colonial cultures. His artworks blend classical and contemporary Chinese art, including wuxia—a popular martial arts genre advocating for resistance against oppressors that emerged in China during the mid-20th century—with Western popular culture to examine the complexities of the diasporic experience and question Chinese monoculturalism. 

The exhibition takes as its starting point Tsui’s Retainers of Anarchy (2017), a five-channel algorithmic animation comprised of hundreds of hand-painted ink drawings on paper. This formative work was created as a response to the animated scroll River of Wisdom (2010), a Chinese government-sanctioned version of a famous Song Dynasty painting. Exhibited at the 2010 Expo Shanghai China, River of Wisdom’s idyllic marketplace setting negated decades of state-sponsored oppression and civil unrest, particularly within Hong Kong. Tsui’s animation is populated, instead, by wuxia-style characters, and is set in the Kowloon Walled City (1898–1994). A tenement once situated on the fringes of British-occupied Hong Kong, the Walled City was at one time considered the densest place on Earth, with some estimating that upwards of 50,000 people lived within its 2.6-hectare footprint. Rarely patrolled by police, it was known by locals as “the city of darkness.”

The single-channel animation Parallax Chambers (2018–ongoing) features many of the same characters as Retainers of Anarchy, but emanates a much more claustrophobic feeling. Like its predecessor, Parallax Chambers is algorithmic. For our Winter 2021 season, The Power Plant is presenting a three-hour capture of the original animation, which was shown in the Fall 2020 exhibition but traveled to Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun Contemporary Art Gallery for Spring 2021. Both animations are accompanied by a series of lightbox works that draw from different scenes and characters featured in the films.

Tsui’s version of Hong Kong is, at times, nightmarish, full of violence, and permeated with a sense of hopelessness as the characters struggle to survive the horrors that befall them. But in the shadows—liminal spaces, whether rooted in the physical world, like the Kowloon Walled City, or found internally, like the psychic shifts members of the diaspora experience as they move between cultures—exist the tools to fight against injustice, untruths, and fear.

Click here for an extended curatorial statement.

Howie Tsui (Tsui Ho Yan / 徐浩恩, b. 1978 in Hong Kong and raised in Lagos, Nigeria and Thunder Bay) currently lives and works in Vancouver, Canada. Recent solo exhibitions include the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida (2020); Burrard Arts Foundation, Vancouver (2020); Ottawa Art Gallery (2019); OCAT Museum, Xi’an, China (2018); and Vancouver Art Gallery (2017). Select Group exhibitions include the Asian Art Fair, Paris (2019); Ottawa Art Gallery (2018); Art Labor, Shanghai (2015); Dalhousie Art Gallery, Nova Scotia (2015); Para Site, Hong Kong (2014); and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (2014). Tsui received Canada Council's Joseph Stauffer Prize in 2005 and was long-listed for the Sobey Art Award in 2018. He holds a BFA (2002) from the University of Waterloo. 

RELATED PROGRAMS

In Conversation: Howie Tsui with Rhiannon Vogl
Monday, 21 September 2020, 6 PM

Sunday Scene: Jason Li
Sunday, 4 October 2020, 2 PM

Power Kids: PK Comics - Cultivating Heroes
Sunday, 4 October 2020

Writing Workshop with Toronto Writers Collective
Wednesday, 11 November 2020, 2 PM

Power Kids: Fast Forward
Sunday, 22 November 2020

Field Trip: Howie Tsui in conversation with Greg Girard
Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Sunday Scene: Jing Jing Chang
Sunday, 6 December 2020, 2 PM
 

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