Bat Cave. Two words I’ve mostly heard followed by another two: Bat Man.
Not this time.
This time they are preceded by ‘Asia Society’.
For those of you not familiar with the Asia Society, it is an incredible organisation dedicated to promoting the mutual understanding and strengthening of partnerships among peoples, leaders and institutions of Asia and the United States in a global context.
How does that relate to me?
Well, as you know, I was in Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago. Whilst there, I did my best to get reacquainted with the city, it’s art and culture.
Why? Because I’m an archaeologist and the last time I was there, I was 15!!
And, let me tell you, a lot has changed. The rickshaws are gone. The Harbour is slowly being filled in. The Peninsula Hotel no longer overlooks the water and the street hawkers have all but disappeared.
So, in an effort to find and reconnect with old Hong Kong, I paid Asia Society’s Hong Kong Centre a visit.
There I found Bat Cave: Treasures of the Day and Creatures of the Night, an EXQUISITE exhibition of Chinese Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasty ceramics, jade cravings, paintings and textiles all decorated with – you guessed it – bats!
There is even an accompanying digital bat installation by contemporary Chinese artist Sun Xun (below). The aim, I am told, is to alter the stereotypes tied to traditional Chinese art and to synthesise the old with the new in a modern and fun way.
Although bats may be an unusual curatorial theme for many (myself included), they are an auspicious symbol in Chinese culture and have been since the early Ming Dynasty.
The bat motif is used regularly in Chinese art to convey blessings to people as the Chinese characters for ‘bat’ and ‘blessing’ share the same sound. Multiple bats; multiple blessings. Five bats, for instance, are put together to represent the ‘Five Blessings’ held dear to the Chinese: longevity, wealth, health, a virtuous life and a natural death.
Bats can also be used to create more complex meanings when combined with other motifs. Bats, Magu (a Daoist goddess), deer and cranes can all join together to bring blessings, fortune and longevity (as above). When a red bat is set among rainbow-hued clouds, the intention is to bring especially good luck and we all know, the Chinese love their luck!
There are hidden meanings everywhere within these objects. The trick for an archaeologist, like myself, is that they are sometimes very, very difficult to see. This is challenging enough in a museum context (as below), but almost impossible whilst excavating underwater!!
Bat Cave is an exquisite exhibition that will please even the greatest sino-phobe. Even if bats are not your thing, consider this, the: objects are magnificent, surroundings pleasant and the exhibition beautifully curated. You may even (gasp!) learn something…
Co-organized by Asia Society Hong Kong Center and the Art Museum, Institute of Chinese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Bat Cave: Treasures of the Day and Creatures of the Night is on until 3 January 2016 at the Chantal Miller Gallery, Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty, Hong Kong.
As is often the case, I found the MTR the easiest way to get there. Take exit C1 from Admiralty station – through Pacific Place – and then it’s a short stroll up the hill. Admiralty station is on both the Island (blue) and Tseun Wan (red) lines. If you don’t like hills, catch a cab. Trust me! It’s hot in Hong Kong…
Want to share your own adventure? I would love to hear about any unusual exhibitions you have been to? The more weird and wonderful the better… 🙂
Until next week,
PS – Big thanks to the Asia Society for allowing me to use their photographs, as no photography is allowed inside the exhibition.