Get to know Hong Kong-born, media artist Ellen Pau and her unique journey to becoming one of the world’s most prominent video artists.
Lauren Gee | Ed Francesca Gransden | 15 May 2020
Self-taught, video art pioneer, Ellen Pau
© Courtesy of the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery
The leap from radiologist to artist may seem farfetched, but in the world of media art, technology is never too far away. It was during her full time radiology studies at Hong Kong Polytechnic in 1982 that Ellen Pau first pursued her love of video, the instinctive curiosity behind medicine translated into Pau’s exploration of this relatively new genre of art.
Producing her first super-8 video, ‘Glove’ (1984), alongside her studies in radiology, Pau’s fusion of art and technology was emblematic of her own identity at the time, existing between two worlds which were becoming increasingly relatable to one another in their capacity to harness technology. Her three-minute debut film explored desire, showcasing the power of video to distil the intensity of human emotion to such impactful effect.
© Courtesy of the artist and @dennydimingallery
‘I enjoy exploring the little moments… it is not my intention to discuss grand topics concerning humanity.’ Though humble in her articulation, Pau has been a pioneering force, bringing video art to the fore during a time when contemporary art was still emerging in 1980s Hong Kong. Tracing personal emotion and human feeling, Pau has used the medium of video to process anxieties on a national level. Capturing the tensions present in Hong Kong before the historic Handover in 1997, Pau’s work responds seamlessly to the moment when China regained control over Hong Kong after decades of British administration. Her film ‘Blue’ (1989-1990) and ‘TV Game of the Year’ (1989) relate to this period of unrest and the government’s controversial handling of the Tiananmen Square protests that occurred in 1989. Pau’s deft ability to capture these significant moments and shifting national attitudes within her filmic abstractions, have made her a household name in the media art world.
Ellen Pau, The Great Movement (2019) at Edouard Malingue Gallery © Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Pau started out simply making videos and since then has transformed her projects into more immersive installations. This progression is most evident in one of her most notable works, ‘Recycling Cinema’ (1999), which has been shown worldwide. Projected onto a 150 degree curved screen, automatically set to move back and forth on a 120-degree axis, Pau was able to create a panoramic illusion, blurring the boundary between viewer and art such that they become a part of the action itself. The busy, Hong Kong highway presented in the film cleverly transports the fast-paced essence of urban life to each gallery setting it inhabits. With an emphasis on the viewer’s experience of the art, Pau’s installations often look to challenge and interrogate the viewer’s space in order to curate an intense and memorable viewing.
Go to 5:48 for an comment in English about artists and technology
Perhaps Pau’s most notable and exciting contribution to media art is Videotage. Hong Kong’s first archive and collective celebrating media art, Pau co-founded this establishment in 1986 with fellow artists Wong Chi-fai, May Fung and Comyn Mo. Videotage has not only become a cultural hub within Hong Kong and South East Asia, but a globally recognised institution on the media art circuit. In creating a place for video art to be viewed, engaged with and shared, Pau and her team facilitate a unique opportunity for cross-cultural engagement, elevating and diversifying this digital genre. Building upon the success of Videotage Pau started the Microwave International New Media Arts Festival in 2007, creating an annual event for a growing community of artists, collectors and enthusiasts to enjoy and explore the latest developments and talent in media arts. The festival boasts an impressive program from screenings, performances to interviews with emerging artists.
Ellen Pau, Drained II (2012) © Courtesy of the artist.
Pau has nurtured a medium which has historically been undermined in the art world, fighting to be recognised as a valid and valued practice. Media art’s recognition, in the art world, is largely down to individuals like Ellen Pau who have developed accessible cultural platforms for media art to reach new and loyal audiences. Pau showed her infamous piece ‘Recycling Cinema’ in the 49th Venice Biennale, demonstrating her commitment to injecting stage video art into the global art scene.
Ellen Pau, ArtBasel series © Courtesy of the artist and ArtBasel
About the Artist
Ellen Pau is an artist, curator and researcher based in Hong Kong. She is also co-founder of Videotage and founding artistic director of the Microwave International New Media Arts Festival. The artist’s first retrospective exhibition in Hong Kong was organized by Para Site in 2018. The exhibition included major video installations ranging from the 1980s to the present.
In 2001, Recycling Cinema, as one of her most significant video installations, was first presented at Hong Kong Pavilion in the 49th Venice Biennale.
Past Shows and Film Festivals
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), MoMA PS1, Dallas Contemporary.
- Hong Kong International Film Festival (1990, 1993, 1997, 2000),
- 8th International Film Festival for Women (Spain, 1992),
- Copenhagen Cultural Capital Foundation, Container 96 (Denmark, 1996),
- Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (Lisbon, 1996),
- Johannesburg Biennale (1997),
- Gwangju Biennial (2002),
- Liverpool Biennial (2003),
- Sydney International Film Festival (2004)