The Venice Questionnaire #11 – Samson Young

The artist’s project for the Hong Kong pavilion resurrects the age of the charity pop single

Palazzo Gundane (homage to the myth-maker who fell to earth), video still, 2017. Image: courtesy the artist We Are the World as performed by the Hong Kong Federations of Trade Unions Choir, 2017. Image: Dennis Man Wing Leung. Courtesy the artist Palazzo Gundane (homage to the myth-maker who fell to earth), design sketch, 2017. Image: courtesy the artist Palazzo Gundane (homage to the myth-maker who fell to earth), animation still, 2017. Image: courtesy the artist


ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2017 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening (13 May – 26 November). 

Samson Young is representing Hong Kong. The pavilion is at Campo della Tana, Castello, opposite the main entrance of the Biennale’s Arsenale site

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

For Venice I have created a new body of work that attempts to reframe the popularization of ‘charity singles’ – purpose-made recordings for charitable causes, featuring a super-group of artists – as a historic ‘event’ and a culturally transformative moment. Charity singles were most widespread in the 1980s, and coincided with the rise of neoliberalism and the global popular music industry. In 2014, Bob Geldof and a different group of artists attempted a remake of the iconic 1984 single Do They Know It’s Christmas?, to support West African nations in their fight against Ebola. The ‘out-of-timeness’ of the contemporary remake left an impression, setting me on a research that informed this exhibition.

How is making a show for the Venice Biennale different to preparing a ‘normal’ exhibition? Or another biennial?

The theme was not necessarily a response to the context of the Biennale. I have a bunch of ideas in my head and I pick one to realize when the appropriate setting arises. The point of departure here is the 2010 remake of the 1985 charity single We Are the World. The remake’s production details, its musical arrangement, and its promo video were all pretty similar to the original.  Where it differed from the original was the application of newer production technologies, such as auto-tuning. My immediate response was that the remake sounded out-of-time. Something was difficult to swallow, yet I was not able to put a finger on the source of my discomfort. I have a hunch however that this deserved exploration, and so this is how the project started.

There are a huge number of biennial exhibitions across the world nowadays. Do you think the Venice Biennale still has a special status, and why?

For all the obvious reasons, and I guess it’s a really big show with really very many artists!

What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country? Do you find it an honour or is it problematic?

It’s an honour, and I am very grateful, but as for it being problematic - I constantly remind myself and others that I am not a local informant.

Did you visit the last Venice Biennale? What’s your earliest or best memory from Venice?

I have never been to the art biennale actually – I saw some of the architectural biennale when we went for a site-visit last year.

You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?

I honestly haven’t thought that far ahead yet!

Click here to read all the Venice Questionnaires so far

13 April 2017