Robert Koch Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of new works by Michael Wolf. In these immense photographs, Wolf delves into the complex dynamics of modern life in Hong Kong by looking to the city’s industrial and residential architecture. This ongoing exploration, which Wolf started in 2003, alludes to economic and cultural under-currents in the region, revealing, at the same time, the aesthetics of urban existence.
In the past fifty years Hong Kong has experienced significant development, becoming one the contemporary world’s most striking cityscapes. A shortage of space on the small landmass has prompted growth in an upward direction in the form of towering high-rises. Wolf’s large prints translate the dizzying scale of the city’s constructions and draw the viewer into the visceral world of Hong Kong as if he or she were standing among the densely packed buildings. While the photographs have a powerful presence, and from a distance seem abstractions, one finds minute details in the images that breathe life into the imposing structures. Wolf is concerned with the surfaces of these buildings but is equally intent on what is going on “underneath the skin.” Ultimately, the images are very personal, offering traces of the individual lives unfolding within the residential and industrial complexes. Looking more closely, one sees objects placed in the small windows of the residences by the inhabitants, such as feng-shui mirrors or racks of hanging clothes. In the industrial images one also comes upon unexpected signs of a human presence, such as lush decorative plants that emerge sporadically from open factory windows.
A state of perpetual industrial transformation in Hong Kong leaves few historical buildings intact, yet while the city is distinctly characterized by modern architecture it is not an unblemished land of new concrete, polished steel and glass. Some buildings, particularly those in the industrial sector, reveal a patina of age. Scrutinizing the details in Wolf’s photographs and examining the intricate surfaces of these buildings, the viewer is in a sense looking upon a reflection of Hong Kong’s recent history. The multi-colored new housing units contrast visually with the more time-worn industrial structures, which have slipped into disuse as production has shifted to mainland China. Through this juxtaposition, Wolf reminds us that economic and cultural growth is often a more complex process than a simple forward march. The factories are a glimpse of the lingering past, while the residential buildings seem to speak to an indefatigable future.
Michael Wolf was born in Munich, Germany in 1954 and has studied at the North Toronto Collegiate Institute in Canada, the University of California at Berkeley, and with Otto Steinert at the University of Essen, Germany. Published monographs include Hong Kong: Front Door/Back Door (Thames & Hudson, 2005) and Sitting in China (Steidl, 2002).