In 2017, Emily Allchurch began an exciting new collaboration with Karin Weber Gallery in Hong Kong. An Arts Council England/British Council ‘Artists’ International Development Fund’ Award enabled her to travel to Hong Kong in November 2017 for her first solo show with KWG, ‘Then is Now’. At this time she collated a vast image library of photographs from Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories, which she then used to create Babel Hong Kong, and Solitary Temple: Hong Kong, which launched to great acclaim at Art Central HK in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
KWG arranged meetings and guided tours with with local artists and academics which gave Allchurch invaluable insight into the challenges facing Hong Kong residents (lack of space, inequality of wealth, housing shortage, and pollution), all of which helped to inform her experience and ensure a relevant narrative in the resulting works.
Babel Hong Kong adopts the ‘Tower of Babel’ motif by the c16th Flemish painter Lucas van Valckenborch to depict a lively modern metropolis, whilst also paying homage to traditional Chinese painting techniques and compositional devices, exemplified in the shading of the distant mountains and the inclusion of numerous pathways to aid the traveller. Solitary Temple: Hong Kong draws inspiration from Song Dynasty landscape painting, in particular Li Cheng’s ‘A Solitary Temple amid Clearing Peaks’ (c.960), to present the more bucolic qualities of Hong Kong, which appear equally integral to its identity. Both works take the viewer on a journey from a leafy foreground and coastline, to the densely packed metropolis with commercial and residential properties jostling for position, whilst big corporations and the well-heeled seemingly rise above the pollution, and the clouds.
In 2019, Emily Allchurch received an Arts Council England ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ Grant to enable an extended period of travel and research in Mainland China and Venice; the start and end of the Silk Road. This collection of work, Trading Places, remains rooted in her signature link to historical artworks, in particular c16th Venetian narrative painting and Chinese Court painting, yet also draws inspiration from literary sources, most notably Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1972).
The series explores parallels between the ancient trading port of Venice, and historical and contemporary counterpart locations in China, such as Shanghai, Suzhou, Tianjin and Fenghuang and Xi’an in its exploration of themes such as globalisation, mass tourism and trade. There is a strong focus on symmetries and synergies, rather than contrasts and differences, between historically ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ locations. Allchurch says now that she could never have imagined, when she embarked on this project in March 2019, how uncannily pertinent this subject matter would become one year later amid the COVID-19 pandemic; her work capturing a moment in time, just before everything changed.
Mirrored Cities I & II are reflections on, and of, the ancient water towns: Venice, Suzhou and Fenghuang. Both works are inspired by Calvino’s description of the city Valdrada in Invisible Cities where “nothing exists or happens in the first Valdrada that the other does not repeat… every face and gesture is answered in the mirror.” Mirrored Cities I (2020) depicts the ancient water town of Fenghuang, in Hunan Province, with Venice forming its reflection in the water. Mirrored Cities II (2020) depicts Venice, with its reflection being its twinned town Suzhou, on China’s Grand Canal in Jiangsu Province.
Italian Style Town juxtaposes a c16th Palladian portico in Venice, with the Italian Style Concession Town in Tianjin, built by Italian architects in 1902. Based upon ‘The Disputation of St. Stephen’ (1514) by Carpaccio, this recreation is an exploration of former trade links and modern day tourism in both places.
The diptych, Leonia I & II, adopts Venetian narrative painting compositions to depict a contemporary retail outlet in China, where designer Italian brands can be purchased in a pastiche Venetian setting. With a similar theme of global consumerism, Venezia Land recreates Gentile Bellini’s ‘Miracle at the Bridge of San Lorenzo’ (1500), with one side of the Grand Canal depicting Venice in Italy and the opposite side a modern luxury designer outlet near Tianjin, built to resemble a Venetian streetscape.
The Lion & the Phoenix is based upon Carpaccio’s ‘Healing of the Possessed Man’ (1496), from the Accademia Gallery in Venice. In Allchurch’s recreation, the left side is a photo montage of Venice, on the right side is Fenghuang ancient town, in Hunan Province. The Lion is the symbol of Venice and the Phoenix the symbol of Fenghuang. Created in March 2020, amidst the unprecedented events of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent ‘lockdowns’, the resulting image is devoid of people. The shutters are down, tables and chairs are stacked, and tourist boats tied up. Draped from the Venetian window is the rainbow banner, ‘Andra Tutto Bene’.
There are further works in progress, and the full series will be available in Autumn 2020.