At Current Plans, the Hong Kong-based art space, a mind-blowing thing happened. A group exhibition, curated by Eunice Tsang & Tiffany Leung, on the power of humour, satire and absurdity in art. I think we ought to have a look!


“Every joke is a tiny revolution”, George Orwell once wrote. Humor is specific in its time and space; what makes us laugh reveals a lot about our immediacy, and the world here and now. It also reflects on the evolution of our cultures and endures in its infinite forms: satire, slapstick, irony, parody, memes and so on. Inheriting the nature of humour, Only a Joke Can Save Us is a complex, varied and rebellious account of our current times. This exhibition brought together together nine international artists (Bo Choy, Hu Rui, Cyrus Hung, Kensuke Koike, Kieran Leach, Mak Ying Tung 2, Yan Xinyue, Pow Martinez and Yu Cheng-ta) who have explored humour as a way of understanding or questioning ourselves in an ever more unsettling world — our desires, fantasies, frustrations and resistance, riffing off everything from the familiar to the absurd. Featuring ridiculed political figures, the banality of pigeons, dancing in a flood, playful instagram filters and more, these artworks have aroused laughter and offer comfort in bleakness; but also irreverently disrupt and transgress, creating radical resistance in times of uncertainty. Joking and laughing in a time of crisis and trauma becomes a methodology to explore new conceptions of solidarity, critique, and justice.

Only A Joke Cas Save Us Install shoot

Soon It Will Be Deep Enough is a wry but playful embodiment of the impending doom of climate change and rising sea level. While living in Los Angeles from 2017 to 2018, Hu Rui experienced polarised worlds — one that was ravaged by wildfires and toxic smoke, and another consumed by pool parties and celebrity culture. Echoing this dichotomy, the frame depicts an ominous narrative in soft, pastel tones: sims-like avatars dressed for a pool party, appearing to enjoy themselves all the while being submerged under water gradually. The total length of the video is 4:44; 4 is a number that is nearly homophonous to the word ‘death’ in Chinese.

Hu Rui Soon It Will Be Deep Enough
Hu Rui, Soon It Will Be Deep Enough, 2019. Single-channel HD video with sound, 04:44, site-specific installation.

Kensuke Koike’s works take the form of vintage postcards, altered to create humorous images that disrupt the stasis of archival photography. As the bodies, movements, and environments in each postcard are repositioned, these new confi gurations expose the underlying tensions within such quintessential images of romance. Th e man’s earnest pleading turns into a sexualized gaze, a romantic getaway results in a sinking boat, and a gentle embrace becomes the silencing hand.

Kensuke Koike
Kensuke Koike, Shhh!, 2018. Cut postcard, paper, rivet, 14.7 x 10.3 cm.

Kieran Leach’s work stems from his time working as an art technician, highlighting the labour that is often overlooked or unrecognised. Modeled at a 1:1 scale, the sculpture captures a peculiar moment of a painting being moved around, with only his hands and legs visible from behind. It brings to light a moment in exhibition making that is usually obscured, yet the irony lies in the artifice of the work as no technician stands behind the work to receive such recognition.

Kieran Leach, OOOOOOOOOOOF, 2018.
Kieran Leach, OOOOOOOOOOOF, 2018. Oil paint and acrylic on canvas, wood, gloves, jeans, socks, trainers 130 x 150 cm.

The wheels of history turn, former leaders reunite to breathe sob and dance mourn over. Drunk, tired and sad, they slump dormant over a table. Incorporating film, live performance and multimedia installation, Bo Choy uses fiction, music, writing and costuming as artistic devices to navigate through the socio-political sphere, merging everyday occurrences with the fantastical, and fusing the mythological with the absurd.

Bo Choy
Bo Choy, Sad Leaders, 2021. Paper mache masks, puppets, costumes, site-specific installation.

Clad like a nerdy Indiana Jones, a masked man traverses the streets of London with binoculars and a guidebook on pigeons. He lies down in a park, rows a boat, and strolls in Trafalgar Square to study them intently. Growing up in Hong Kong, Cyrus Hung experienced the scare of the bird flu in the 2000s, observing its impact on the poultry industry and stigmatisation on bird ownership. Th is research-led mockumentary ponders about the love-hate relationship between humans and animals, the fi ne line between pets and pests, and the ambiguity of our anthropocentric worldview.

Cyrus Hung, Cher Ami, 2020. Single channel video, 18:53.

Skeletons go about their daily routines as if they were alive — reading while on the latrine and enjoying a shower (or dancing in the rain?). Painted with delicate brushwork and raw playfulness, Yan Xinyue combines absurd imagery and ordinary daily settings; the trompe l’oeil water drops enhancing the distance of the viewer and subject. Life after death is Sisyphian, and there is no escape from banality, her cartoonish skeletons seem to say. But then, with eternity in waiting, maybe we can finally finish that book while emptying our (already empty) bowels.

Yan Xinyue To Be #1, 2021 Oil on canvas, 50 x 40cm
Yan Xinyue, To Be #1, 2021. Oil on canvas, 50 x 40cm.

Pow Martinez’s new works speak to the politics of immigration and monarchy respectively. Despite their humorous appearances, cartoonish renderings and playful colors, the paintings reveal the anxiety and paranoia caused by authoritarian and tyrannical modes of governance. His works prompt viewers to not only ridicule the subjects within the canvas, but question static notions of borders, nations, and hierarchical social structures.

Pow Martinez
Pow Martinez, Homeland Security, 2021. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches.

Durian Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. is the newest venture for internationally renowned influencer FAMEME. In face of a global pandemic and health crisis, FAMEME found a new calling in biotechnology and launched groundbreaking research in extracting ‘MISOHTHORNII’, a nutrient found exclusively in durians. By 2023, Durian Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. aims to introduce ‘MST’, an elixir that will significantly improve one’s health, boost immune system and prevent viral infections. It has the ability to activate the amygdala, which strengthens our limbic responses and in turn stimulates the release of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin in the brain. According to early trials, the user feels the same emotional effect as falling in love. ‘MST’ will be the solution to achieving the highest level of well-being. Just like FAMEME’s motto, it will ‘make you smile again’!

FAMEME, Durian Pharmaceutical Pop-up Store, 2021. Mixed media

Created for Instagram, these interactive filters are catered to exhibition-goers and art enthusiasts. Artmakeup, 2021 is a ‘beautifying’ effect which lets your Instagram followers know just how much you love art. Mak Ying Tung 2 recommends taking a selfie in front of your favorite artwork to generate more views. If you are struggling to cope with all the art world jargon — don’t worry, Artvomit, 2021 got you covered. Just switch on this fi lter and feel instantly smart while looking cute.

Mak Ying Tung 2
Mak Ying Tung 2, Artvomit, 2021. Instagram filter