Hong Kong (AFP) – The gigantic bowls and chopsticks strewn across the floor at Hong Kong’s Art Basel looked so squeaky clean it seemed pointless for the cleaner to keep wiping them, dwarfed by the oversized tableware.
A few metres away, a robot vacuum cleaner buzzed about as the gazes of onlookers followed its mechanical and almost playful movements.
Looking like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland, it was in fact part of a performance art piece by Taiwanese artist Chou Yu-cheng.
On the other side of the bowls stand three tall sculptures shaped like Dyson’s signature air purifiers — the robot cleaner is also provided by the technology company, which is a sponsor of the installation.
Here, a smartly dressed male performer recites a “product description” rewritten by a poet.
“I feel my work is comparatively modern, or should I say, it has a sense of cleanliness,” said Chou.
The conceptual artist said his penchant and even enjoyment for “keeping things clean” had translated into his work as he meditated on a kind of division of labour between human and machine.
“There are some things that robots cannot replace. For example, in this work, the only platform the robot can clean is the floor. People are still needed for many other things,” he told AFP.
“So even though there is technology and new inventions, people and humanity is still a core issue.”
The installation attracted curious spectators this week, in a city where domestic labour is heavily dependent on migrant women from Southeast Asia who live in to perform the work.
Performance art has become more prominent at Hong Kong’s edition of Art Basel this year.
Among the exhibits, local artist Kwok Mang-ho, better known as “Frog King”, set up a replica of his 1992 exhibition in New York, “The Art Mall”.
Sitting inside his cluttered calligraphy shop, the artist executed his whimsical calligraphy for visitors for HK$1,000 ($127) a piece during the fair’s private preview on Tuesday.
Danish artist Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen’s performance, entitled “Re-inventing Domesticity and the Decomposing of the Self”, also drew others to tread carefully around her body as she lay down in an open container.
“Now, hopefully, the performance aspect of art is coming back, because it’s all about life. Because I think we are all living a virtual world now, that everything is online,” Kary Kwok, an art director visiting Art Basel, told AFP.
“But it’s so nice to see something real in front of you and I think it should be encouraged.”