New Orient Garden is a multi-sensory installation that investigates the psychological struggles faced by diaspora communitie while searching for cultural authenticity in megacities—an issue that is particularly close to heart for Adrian Wong, a Chinese American raised in Chicago.
This installation takes a cement tiger once situated at the centre of Tiger Balm Garden in Hong Kong as its starting point. The ferocious beast has left a strong impression on Wong since his childhood visit in 1985. Perched high on a rock above its ever-changing surroundings, the tiger was one of the few constants in the history of the garden. A historic complex built by the inventor of the famous Tiger Balm Ointment, the garden evolved from private residence, to Hong Kong’s first amusement park, to psychedelic statuary, to what remains today: little more than a sprinkling of brightly colored fragments stubbornly clinging to the cliffside.
Visitors are first greeted with a colourful corridor that draws visual references from the décor of a Chinese restaurant like many found across the globe and enter New Orient Garden through a round gateway. The compositional elements of this exhibition are displayed in an arrangement reminiscent of a classical Suzhou garden, intended to be viewed from set vantage points. The result is a multi-layered work that encourages a diversity of readings. From one vantage, it resembles a modern Lingnan ink painting; from another, a neon-lit Hong Kong streetscape; and from yet another, an abstract barrage of light, sound, and fog.
The garden functions as a critique of our infatuation with Orientalism and probes our subconscious by reversing the gaze back at us, the beholders. Investigating a city’s psychological ambivalence towards heritage preservation as derived from Western conceptions of “the Orient”, this relational dynamic encourages viewers to contemplate the past when imagining a shared future.