Lightness of Being: Kwai Fung Salone

18 Mar - 18 Apr 2023

Kwai Fung Salone is thrilled to present Lightness of Being—a group exhibition of four outstanding female artists Rachel Garrard, Aigana Gali, Eleanor Johnson and Kristy Chan. Lightness of Being takes its title from the 1984 novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, which presents the philosophical discussion of lightness versus heaviness. Kundera contrasts the Greek Philosopher Parmenides'understanding of life as light, with Nietzsche's philosophy of eternal return (the idea that the universe and its events have already occurred and will recur ad infinitum, causing life to feel heavy). This exhibition is also our first collaboration with guest curator Claudia Cheng.


At this exhibition, four women artists through different approaches explore‘light’as a physical property and‘lightness’as a state of being. Some works imbue a sense of enlightenment, creating a space in which the viewer may contemplate the beauty of simply being, of living in the present moment. Other works explore the paradox or reconciliation of lightness and heaviness, presenting a sense of movement between light and shadow, depth and weightlessness.


Inspired by spiritual contemplation and rituals, Rachel Garrard (b. 1984, UK) explores light and perception in her practice. The artist collects natural materials on her travels, such as crystal quartz, ash, or rock, and refines them into pigment, which she uses to create the illusion of depth and bring out an inner light within her paintings. Garrard created four new paintings in light of the exhibition: After Again (2023), Genesis (2023), Manifold (2023), and Portal (2023). The works were created in her studio in Tulum, Mexico, bathed in natural sunlight. Each work is a portal: a window opening to the artist's inner world, or rather, the expansive landscape of universal connectivity. Accessed through meditation, the harmonious forms and symbols in her paintings are reminiscent of atoms, organisms, or solar systems. Her practice intimately connects the internal world with the cosmic and universal. Her meditative works present the viewer with the space to pause, breathe, and contemplate. These mesmerizing compositions portray the liminal space between the physical world and the mind, illuminating the connection that binds all living forms with the universe.


Rendering biomorphic shapes and symbols with a luminous application of colour, Aigana Gali (b. 1980, Kazakhstan) fluidly reconciles the opposing properties of light and shadow on her celestial canvases. Born on the ancient crossing of the Great Silk Road in Kazakhstan, Gali spent her formative years in the endless plains of the Eurasian Steppe. Gali explores ways to communicate her cultural milieu through her work, in particular the tonal shifts and vibrational quality of light found in the vast plains where she grew up. Her practice is also a manifestation of the artist’s inner landscape. Layering geometric shapes on infinite planes, the artist has developed a unique language that threads through all of her work. Khan Tengri (2022), KOZ (2022), and Meditator V (UAAS) (2022) not only embody the mythical quality of light found in nature and the cosmos, but also unveil the artist's enlightened state of consciousness.


Akin to portals to a higher state of awareness, Garrard's and Gali's harmonious paintings encapsulate the feeling of lightness of being. In contrast, the other works in the show move between lightness and heaviness, reconciling the tension between light and shadow.


Eleanor Johnson's (b. 1994, UK) gestural paintings weave together references from art history, mythology, Old Master paintings, and contemporary sources. The heavenly bodies in her work dance between abstraction and figuration, some portrayed in lightness—flying or floating amongst ethereal clouds, others cascading with tension and weight. The Panes Who Wreathe Their Horns with Pine (2022) is about the myth of Ariadne, the Cretan princess who helped Theseus to escape the Minotaur. After providing her assistance, Ariadne was unfortunately abandoned by Theseus, but she was later rescued by and married the god Dionysus. Full of moments of lightness and heaviness, twists and turns, this myth translates into a flurry of motion and movement between light and darkness on Johnson’s canvas. The oscillating shades of cerulean blue, olive green, luminous yellow, and fleshy pink create a sense of movement between lightness and heaviness, purity and sensuality. Symbolizing the lightness of flight, bees are a recurring motif in Johnson's work. Fluttering across the canvas, they invite the viewer's eyes to move around the tempestuous painting. The work was produced during the artist's stay at the GJG Residency in Northern Italy. Johnson's oeuvre is heavily inspired by Italian ceiling frescoes, and the way natural light fills historical spaces such as churches and museums. The artist mixes thick oil paint with a great deal of linseed oil to evoke light in her work. The resulting glossiness of her paintings' surfaces, combined with the fluidity of her brushstrokes, give her paintings a sense of luminosity and radiance.


Kristy Chan's (b. 1997, HK) kaleidoscopic paintings synthesise vibrant shades of colours to juxtapose the weight and density of dissonant sensations with moments of brightness. The visual and sensory abundance of her work is created by the artist’s gestural strokes and explosive use of colour. Allowing streams of light to burst through frenetic frames of dark colours, these psychological landscapes reveal that without darkness, there can be no light. Confronting the depths of one’s soul can in turn illuminate the brightest and most expansive experiences in life. Influenced by her experience of living between Hong Kong and London, Chan's practice navigates migration and displacement, reconciling Eastern and Western cultures on her transformative canvases. The paintings that Chan created for this exhibition are inspired by the dazzling sensation of bright city lights flashing by when looking out the window of a car dashing through Hong Kong’s dizzying traffic. Capturing the feeling of ephemerality and the nostalgia of homecoming, these works transcend boundaries to strike the chord of universal relevance.


Featuring artists from the East and the West, this exhibition shines light on a universal conversation. In a world that can sometimes feel overbearing–looming with dark clouds of the impending environmental crisis, increasing social divisiveness, and the uncertainty of political climates–it is through art that we may reflect and find silver linings. Bringing together artworks that reconcile lightness and heaviness, this exhibition invites the viewer to ultimately feel lifted by these paintings. Heaviness may be transformed into weightlessness–a change in perception can make possible a flight into a realm of lightness.


About Guest Curator


Claudia Cheng is an independent Art Advisor and Curator based between London and Hong Kong. She has curated exhibitions for galleries internationally, and has curated a collection as well as a benefit auction for Artsy. With an emphasis on bringing female artists' narratives forward, Claudia has published artist interviews and curated exhibitions focused on women. She currently serves as a patron of Tate as well as The Serpentine Galleries, and contributes to building a passionate art community that supports artists through funding, exhibitions, and events. She is also on the Board of AACE (African Art Contemporary Ecosystem), a foundation that provides educational opportunities to apprentices of the contemporary art ecosystem in Africa. She began her art career at Christie's, and she received her Bachelor of Arts Degree from Stanford University.