Two tall, narrow, rectangular paintings hang in a gallery space. Each painting consists of thick white, grey, and black brushstrokes put together in vaguely humanoid shapes.

‘Another State of Man’ by Zheng Chongbin: Choreographer Allen Lam Responds

When visiting an exhibition, we all remember that one work that inspires us the most—that we respond to in some way. For The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+, we asked people outside M+ to respond to an artwork of their choice from the exhibition, right here on M+ Stories. First up: Hong Kong choreographer and dancer Allen Lam, who created a performance inspired by The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+ to be performed multiple times at the M+ Pavilion throughout the exhibition period.

To complement his performance, we asked him to respond to an artwork from the exhibition in blog post form. Read his response below to find out how the artwork he chose inspired his dance performance, his understanding of himself, and his dialogue with his body.

I used two artworks to develop a conversation for the beginning of my dance performance. The works I chose are the series of Another State of Man by Zheng Chongbin.

Video clip of a man dancing with slow, evocative movements that will occasionally speed up or slow down. He interacts with a metal fence next to him in his choreography.

Part of Allen Lam’s performance at the M+ Pavilion on the 28th October. © M+, Hong Kong.

In Another State of Man No. 24 and No. 19, two materials—black ink and white acrylic paint—are mixed together. At first, I couldn’t believe that they were two different materials, especially ones that you think wouldn’t work together. I was inspired by how they co-exist and show similar properties, despite being from different origins. It made me want to work with my movements in the same way.

The works are displayed across from the exhibition’s key work, Zen by Lui Shou-kwan. I love the way they’re presented in the exhibition. It almost feels like they’re looking at and talking to one another.

I actually see myself in this configuration, talking to my own body. I continue to mould this relationship, even during the performance at the M+ Pavilion. There are a lot of unpredictable elements. I cannot, for example, predict where the audience will be standing. All of a sudden the wind might be blowing from a different direction from a moment ago. The ground might not be flat. A lot of the time I have to follow the momentum in the surroundings. As dancers, we try to control these elements by rehearsing over and over again, to make it seem effortless. But sometimes it’s good to show the effort; to show the danger of losing control and being vulnerable. You are carried by the environment.

Video clip of a man dancing with slow, evocative movements that will occasionally speed up or slow down. At the end of the clip, the camera pans to show a crowd of people watching him.

Part of Allen Lam’s performance at the M+ Pavilion on the 28th October. © M+, Hong Kong.

When I first started working on this project, I had a lot of images in my head. I was visualising the motion of ink. Ink is not something that you can have total control of; you almost feel like it has its own life. But through experience, and knowledge, you can predict it. You always have to allow it to go its own path, but you can steer it. It’s a two-way dialogue.

That’s how I create my choreography. I have a very clear direction, but then I also feel the natural tendency of my body. I always reflect on it—it’s a dialogue between myself, my mind, and my body. I have learned that I can actually trust my own body. A lot of the times, it seems like the mind is the dominant element in life, but actually, we can trust our bodies. My body actually has breaths, and its own life.

All the experiences, all the traditions, all the trainings that I’ve had—they all stay in my body. All of my training was actually very Western in style, from classical ballet to modern dance. All my teachers were from the US, and I lived in New York City for many years. That influenced who I am, how I dance, and my rhythm, every time I move. But then, I moved back to Hong Kong, and this is home for me now. And I’m connected to Hong Kong. I’m always Chinese, no matter how different I feel from people around me at any location.

So I think this performance is about accepting all these experiences, allowing me to move forward. It’s not easy to let go of something you know so well, but I think it’s so important to take that step. My response to this artwork is about allowing myself to be in that space. It’s not about forgetting everything that came before, but about how important it is to be in this moment.

The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+ is on display at the M+ Pavilion from 13 October 2017 until 14 January 2018. Allen Lam will perform his ink-inspired choreography on 9 and 10 December at the M+ Pavilion.

Ink and acrylic painting on canvas of thick black, grey, and white brushstrokes composed in the vague shape of a human figure.

Another State of Man No. 24, Zheng Chongbin (1988). Ink and acrylic on paper. M+, Hong Kong. © Zheng Chongbin


Image at top of post: Another State of Man No. 24 (right) next to another work in the same series, Another State of Man No. 19 (left) on display at The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+ in the M+ Pavilion. © Zheng Chongbin. Photo: M+, Hong Kong.

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