The Tiger Returns to the Mountain is a new, major exhibition of Hong Kong-based artist Adrian Wong, curated by David Chan Ho Yeung and presented by the K11 Art Foundation.
The exhibition takes a site-specific installation as its starting point: a ferocious cement tiger evocative of the one once stood erect at the centre of Tiger Balm Garden, a historic complex built by the inventor of the famous Tiger Balm ointment. Perching high on a rock above the ever-changing surroundings of the garden, the tiger was one of the few constants in the garden’s history as it evolved from a private residence to Hong Kong’s first amusement park, to a psychedelic statuary, and finally to what remain today: little more than a sprinkling of brightly coloured fragments stubbornly clinging to the cliffside.
Artworks in this exhibition are displayed in an arrangement reminiscent of a traditional Chinese garden and designed to be viewed from a set vantage point; however, viewers are invited to explore the composition on their own terms. The result is a multilayered exhibition that encourages a diversity of readings. From one vantage, it presents as a study of Chinese landscape and ink painting; from another, artificial rock forms and arrangements of bamboo give way to a barrage of light and sound.
The tiger is at once a nostalgic memento of days gone by, a Taoist signifier of spiritual power, an immanent threat, and a sombre reminder of failed cultural preservation efforts in a metropolis that thrives on the exchange of fortune and power. A Chinese proverb warns that ‘a tiger released to the wild guarantees future calamity’. Through this exhibition, the once fearsome beast is given a voice, albeit an abstruse one, and its ghost a new life. The result is a critical deconstruction of a former colony and its self-anointed position as a global cultural capital, at once precarious and above all uncertain of itself.