The Happy Hours is a culmination of Ghost Mountain Field’s practice, showcasing new works through an exploration of the world of entertainment within Cantonese pop culture and social traditions.
Hong Kong-born artist Ghost Mountain Field explores themes of culture and identity in his works, infusing his impression of traditional Chinese paintings into pieces that ask us to contemplate how we form our cultural identity in relation to our background. We chat with the artist and his gallery representative, Fiona Ho of Gallery HZ, about everything from cultural taste to beauty in contemporary Asia and the significance of horses.
When did the art bug bite? When did you start creating?
Ghost Mountain Field: If I’m honest, I started liking that idea only when I was signed to a gallery. I’ve always wanted to learn and be involved with art; I studied art in university as a mature student, I didn’t actually think I would complete a full degree, I just wanted to develop my skill set. After finishing my foundation course, I realized that there was a passion there. Being an artist is not a straightforward path, and I never seriously considered the profession until I sold a few pieces at my graduation show.
Have you always been quite influenced by old Cantonese culture?
GMF: When I was growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it really was the golden era of cinema. I spent a lot of time watching movies, listening to pop music; my life was very much built upon pop culture, so it was natural that I drew upon my favourite moments to inspire me now.
Tell us about this theme: The Happy Hours.
GMF: This show features pieces that are under the umbrella of entertainment in Hong Kong. Horse-racing, mahjong, movies… these are all themes of individuality versus collective society’s norms.
Fiona Ho: If you look at these movies-inspired works, they all have overly exaggerated “perfect” features. They are meant to look recognizable in a surreal way, filtered faces of enlarged eyes, smaller noses, slimmer faces; it’s a commentary about this phenomenon: the seeking of “perfection”. In the previous generations, beauty was not quite so standardized, but now, there’s a certain look that people are trying to achieve.
GMF: Movies reflect society in a way that people tend to lean towards conforming to societal norms. The reason why I used a female character at the core of this series is because, back in the golden age of cinema, each character required such a strong, individualistic look that the actress becomes the character. Anita Mui, Maggie Cheung… they all have such unique temperaments and really embody the character. We don’t see that so much on screens anymore. So, I’m really trying to propose a question. When? Why? Why did it all change?
What’s the significance behind this centerpiece?
FH: If we look at this piece featuring the horse races, it’s inspired by the traditional Chinese eight-horsed paintings. Looking back in history, each horse has their own name and character, however, once you put them on a racing track, they all have one goal: to win.
GMF: This style emulates the games we play in carnivals. The background is meant to look cartoonish while the horses retain a sense of realism. We wanted to tell the story of everyone having the same goal.
FH: Similar to mahjong, when the four players are at the table, everyone’s goal is the same: winning. Like us, and movie stars, we all want to be unique, but at the same time, people are following this stream of standardized beauty. We’re losing individuality in our struggle to stand out. That struggle is ironic.
GMF: In life, everyone wants the same thing. Who’s going to get there first? Who’s going to earn the most money? Who’s going to get married first? We judge our lives based on such a limited parameter, such materialistic pointers. Hongkongers are quite materialistic, in that sense.
You’ve used horses as a recurring motif in a couple of shows now. Why horses?
GMF: I like the concept of horses. In my previous work, I was trying to modify traditional Chinese ink painting and composition into something else. Horses were such a big theme there that I used them as my starting point.
When we look back in our art history, we see horses running free, but in reality, where can we actually see a scene like that? Even now, if we wanted to see a horse in person, we’d go to the races on Wednesday to view them. Learning about nature as a concept is constantly evolving. Children growing up now will learn about animals from a totally different standard.
Is there anything that stands out in this exhibition?
FH: So, there’s a merchandise aspect in this show, we have bags, we’re also going to have these qipaos on display, but they’ll all be tailor-made.
GMF: The designer has her own studio in Kau U Fong. I designed three patterns for the fabric, we’ll be debuting two qipaos and one shirt during the exhibition. You can really do as you may with the fabrics. In line with the theme, they’re all mahjong themed!
FH: There’ll also be a shirt that’s made from a sustainable Hong Kong brand where they use eco-friendly cotton from Kyoto. It’s inspired by the old-school, Ivy League design to be a “Mahjong Club” member tee.
What emotion do you want to evoke in your viewers?
GMF: Nostalgia. There’s a lot of beauty and history in the classics that we are forgetting.
The Happy Hours is a solo exhibition by Hong Kong artist Ghost Mountain Field. This is the artist’s second solo presentation at Gallery HZ, following his first, titled Chop Suey in 2020. The Happy Hours will run from 16 September to 23 October, with an opening reception on 16 September from 6 to 9pm.