Published: 10:32, May 31, 2024
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Spotlight on the trailblazers of Asian cinema
By Amy Mullins
Here’s Looking at You, Kid! (1990) by Yau Ching, Ellen Pau and Wong Chi-fai. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The avant-garde is technically defined as that which is innovative, experimental, and often works in stark contrast to the artistic establishment. As an aesthetic, the avant-garde is a disruptor, and so it is no surprise that artists often combine the ideas of the avant-garde with the fundamentally disruptive medium of cinema. The Asian Avant-Garde Film Festival (AAGFF), which opened on Thursday at the M+ museum, celebrates this marriage.

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The first edition of the AAGFF dives into the history of the avant-garde in Asia, and examines how these films have challenged dominant historical narratives and broadened visual expression. Cutting across disciplines, cultures and generations, the films highlight the role artists play in redefining those narratives.

Glamorous Boys of Tang: Redux (2018) by Su Hui-yu. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

M+ Moving Image lead curator Silke Schmickl defines avant-garde as works that introduce “groundbreaking ideas and audio-visual approaches at the time of their creation”. The festival program includes live performance and panels besides screenings, reflecting “the diverse sensibilities that are inherent in this kind of collaborative, experimental art practice”, Schmickl adds. The AAGFF’s design kicks off from M+’s own collections, offering a gateway to avant-garde audio-visual works across the region, beginning around 1960.

“The festival is a special activation of the collection and an opportunity to collaborate with other cultural organizations and artists whose works we admire,” Schmickl continues. “The festival format is furthermore a way to bring history alive and to make it relevant for today’s audiences instead of encapsulating it in a bubble of the past.”

Untitled 77 (1977) by Han Ok-hee. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Nick Deocampo, Simon Liu, Ellen Pau, Wong Ping, Ruby Yang and Zhang Peili are among the artists showcased at the festival. They also make appearances in various panels.

The striking Grand Stair is the venue of five programs, anchored by festival art director Wing Shya’s Phantom Frequencies, a live cinema multi-sensory experience commissioned by M+ for the festival. Nine programs are lined up for screening at The Cinema, among them a reinterpretation of Chiu Kang-chien’s Glamourous Boys of Tang: Redux by Su Hui-yu. The Self x Society section features multiple short films examining the relationship of the individual to their surroundings. It includes experimental works shot in 16mm and 8mm films, such as The Hole by Han Ok-hee and an animation film — Wong Ping’s Fables 1.

Oliver (1983) by Nick Deocampo. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

“Original curatorial frameworks and unexpected pairings create a sense of surprise and fresh perspectives,” Schmickl says. “A good example is Secrets and Lies, a program that features three speculative essay-films by award-winning M+ collection artists Ho Tzu-nyen, Bo Wang and Lee Kai-chung, who investigate chapters of Asia’s unresolved Cold War history using Hong Kong as a vantage point.”

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Tonight the museum turns into a party space, with its Horizon Terrace hosting Amorphous Bodies: A Happening, an immersive art experience. Its Moving Image Centre is serving as the Festival Lounge for workshops, talks and film presentations for the run of the AAGFF.

Wong Ping’s Fables 1 (2018) by Wong Ping. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Schmickl is pleased to reveal that the AAGFF is planned as a yearly event. While the inaugural edition is very much focused on “the body, its form and performativity; and the community — the artistic networks that are essential to sustain independent art practices”, the 2025 festival, she says, “will build upon the inaugural edition with a different selection of established and emerging artists and a new thematic angle — celebrating artists’ bold experimentations with technology”.

If you go

Asian Avant-Garde Film Festival

Dates: Through June 2

Venue: M+, Museum Drive,West Kowloon Cultural District, Kowloon