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Hong Kong Inside Out

The fierce individuality of anonymous urban life

Artist and photographer Michael Wolf exhibits the works from two previous collections, Architecture of Density and 100 x 100 in 'Hong Kong Inside Outside'.

Artist and photographer Michael Wolf exhibits the works from two previous collections, 'Architecture of Density' and '100 x 100' in a new exhibition 'Hong Kong Inside Outside' at the University of Sydney's Tin Sheds Gallery.

Born in Germany, raised in the United States and Canada, returning to Germany to study photography before spending the vast majority of his career in Asia, his unusual background has allowed him to make Asia his home. It was in Hong Kong and China that Michael Wolf’s study of contemporary life in the city began.

Having lived in Hong Kong for over 15 years, the city naturally became his visual playground and the subject of several of his series. In Architecture of Density, he focuses on the unique architecture of his adoptive city. Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities on the planet with most of its population living in skyscraping concrete tower blocks. The city’s architecture is driven by function, not form and one tower block can only be distinguished from the next by the bold colour schemes of its façade. For this series, Wolf created a “no exit” visual style by flattening the perspective and cropping out the sky and the ground. The resulting images transform these urban skylines into seemingly infinite abstractions that uncover the beauty in the city’s monotonous, brutalistic architecture.

Architecture of Density is more than a series of architectural abstractions, however, it is a reflection on the nature of contemporary urban life. This Hong Kong with neither ground nor sky becomes an imagined, symbolic city, where density is pushed to its limits. Although the city represented in these large scale photo prints is all but deserted, these images act like cross-sections of an urban anthill, encouraging the viewer to wonder about the thousands of lives contained within these structures.

A companion piece to Architecture of Density, 100 x 100 goes beneath the surface of Hong Kong’s vast tower blocks. The series is a typological study of one hundred interiors in Shek Kip Mei Estate, one of Hong Kong’s oldest public housing complexes in which each apartment measures exactly one hundred square feet.In stark opposition to the formal refinement and distance of Wolf’s architectural photographs, these images have an immediate, quasi-journalistic style. These photos are presented in the exhibition within a constructed room that shares the same proportions of the Estate.

Whereas Architecture of Density is a macroscopic view of the skin of the city, 100 x 100 takes the viewer into its veins. It is a study of how life manifests itself underneath the city’s concrete shell. Although the inhabitants of these spaces are present in each image, these are not so much portraits of people as of the extraordinarily diverse environments that they have created for themselves in these standardized spaces. The series highlights how fiercely individuality manifests itself despite the surface monotony and anonymity of urban life.