Curator | Davina Lee

Opening Reception in the presence of the artists and officiating guest Dr. Lars Nittve, Executive Director, M+

7.00pm 23 November 2011

1a Space, Unit 1401, Cattle Depot Artists' Village, 63 Ma Tau Kok Road, To Kwa Wan, Kowloon, Hong Kong


One Suitcase Per Person presents Chinese artists, David Diao, Ken Lum and Hiram To, who began making art between 1960s and 1980s, and whose practices span Abstract Modernism, Conceptual and Post-conceptual art.   The premise of One Suitcase Per Person questions whether the nature of identity is fluid and interchangeable and shaped by cultural circumstance and upbringing, or fixed and non-negotiable.  The objectives of the project are to offer the Hong Kong public unprecedented access to the works of these internationally renowned artists and to the artists themselves by bringing them to Hong Kong to participate in the exhibition and in the talks and forum that are planned.

Taking the title of a recent painting by David Diao as a starting point, One Suitcase Per Person was created for the artist’s first solo exhibition for mainland China in 2008, referring to his experience as a young child leaving Sichuan during the political turmoil of 1949. The painted text is a reproduction of a sign seen by Diao at the airport before boarding the plane. There, at the crossroads between political ideology, ideas of the future and survival, all voyagers are limited to one piece of luggage on their journey.

A simple suitcase carrying personal belongings becomes a vessel for identity. Diao’s work raises the question: is identity fluid and interchangeable, something that can be shaped by cultural circumstance and upbringing, or is it fixed and non-negotiable, something that is unshakeable and what we carry with us in our lives?

Born respectively in China, Hong Kong and Canada, Diao, To and Lum have in their careers blended an active enquiry of the self with their own cultural upbringing.  With cultural trajectories spanning China, Hong Kong, United States, Canada and Australia, their works reference physical migration, the many permutations of cultural migration and acculturation and are untypically ‘Chinese’ in what the public today may perceive ‘Chinese art’ to be.

 David Diao, No Chinese Learning, 2008

About the Artists

David Diao

In a career that spanned over 40 years, New York-based Diao has been described as a ‘legendary abstract modernist’.  His recent works dealt with the emotional loss ensuing from his family’s hurried departure from the family’s home in Chengdu in 1949 on the founding of the People’s Republic of China, resulting in works that combine references to architecture, memory and Chinese language.  Diao’s recent works deal with the emotional loss ensuing from his family’s hurried departure from the family’s home in Chengdu in 1949 on the founding of the People’s Republic of China, resulting in works that combine references to architecture, memory and Chinese language.

Ken Lum

Lum’s complex body of works relate to the construction of identity within the politics of assimilation.  His highly charged, emotive works make use of advertising-like imagery and language, exposing the politics of nationality and internationality. More recently, his blend of photographic “portraits’ and installations moved into the realm of public art, where billboards become his communication tool.  Lum’s Schnitzel Company first appeared as a series of billboards in Vienna in 2004, in collaboration with the Vienna Chamber of Labour. His tongue-in-cheek fictive Schnitzel Company tackles the feel good factor of the Employee of the Month as satire, questioning the dynamics of ethnic groupings, social interaction and corporate expectations.    

Hiram To

To left Hong Kong during his teenage years, and since that time he has lived for extended periods in Scotland and Australia, eventually settling back in Hong Kong in the late 1990s. Working as an artist in Australia between 1986 and 1995, his assimilation in the Australian art scene often led to his being misconstrued as "Australian born" but also seen as being Chinese. To's work tackles the nature of changing identity and its relationships with the mass media and personal/public interface.  Taking references from a wide variety of sources such as literature, film, art and popular culture, he creates multi-layered installations that embrace and challenge the way that identity is constructed or fragmented.  Using imagery from the 1955 film Soldier of Fortune— the first Hollywood film released in the United States which was shot in Hong Kong— To creates new landscapes teeming with the lost romance of the Orient. Merging with views of the Peak Tram overlooking Hong Kong harbour and Aberdeen floating with sampans are images of flower arrangements, To’s Fortune Landscapes not only depict a bygone era, but also references faded aspirations and the artist's own familial recollections.

David Diao, Da Hen Li House, 2008


Hiram To, Fortune Landscapes, 2011

Ken Lum, Schnitzel Company, 2004

About 1a space

1a space, founded in 1998, is an independent, non-profit making contemporary visual art organization and art venue founded by a collective of Hong Kong artworkers.  It aims to promote the critical dissemination of contemporary visual arts practices and affiliated artforms through 1a space programme drawn from Hong Kong and international arena.

1a space is operated by the Program Committee, governed by a Board of Directors. Operation funding of 1a space has been assisted by grants and donations. 1a space's administration is partially supported by Hong Kong Arts Development Council.  Throughout the years, 1a space has developed a reputation as one of the Hong Kong's leading contemporary visual art organizations.  1a space has produced and organized more than 100 exhibitions and activities, and has been active in international exchanges, cultural activities and festivals, as well as interactive community art, arts education, art criticism and publications.  1a space has played a vital role in developing new frontiers for the visual art scene in Hong Kong and abroad. One of its major achievements has been to establish contemporary visual art within a wide viewing public, making it more popular and accessible.