Return Flight has landed for its third iteration at Melbourne’s Blender Studios until August 25 before departing for Hong Kong’s Floating Projects this September.
The exhibition, curated by Elizaveta Maltseva, pairs twenty artists and writers to facilitate a creative exchange across borders. This year, in Return Flight MEL>HKG, Melbourne and Hong Kong creators assemble to respond to the theme ‘away.’
Blender Studios’ gallery entrance is a garage door at the end of a graffitied laneway. For an exhibition conceptually focussed on place, the space is quintessentially Melbourne. The gallery is stylish and open; natural lighting allows the polished cement floors and white walls to frame the procession of art–text–art–text around the room. While the exhibition’s space feels grounded in Melbourne’s art scene, the works’ alternating origins and multilingual aspects gracefully bring me to and from the room.
Observing the exhibition, my attention shifts between seeing visual works —a mix of prints, photographs, paintings and sketches—and then reading their accompanying text—usually poetry. The exhibition begins with Wong Pui Yi Heidi’s A letter from the airport and Kim Hyunji’s Sorry, I’ve been away, which is a sketch on Instagram, used as a tool that enables and confines communication with loved ones when away. While each art–text pairing is a response to the theme of ‘away,’ their meeting point can be traced to a word or notion – hook, fairy lights, grainy, city, drooping ears, war, blue, family.
The relaxed theme makes the overall exhibition somewhat opaque. The works, in isolation and as a group, don’t beckon toward a rich conceptualisation or interesting questioning of ‘away.’ Rather than it being an idea for robust group dissection and presentation, the theme feels like a guiding tool binding the collaborators together.
Ironically, before moving on from the first works, this subjective flaw is referenced within Lai Wai-Leung’s poem 白日隨想 Day-(Mind)Drifting: ‘The process of conceiving and / producing the work is all that matters. As for how the beholder / makes sense of the work, and / whether or not they understand / it, this is left open.’ Whether or not I agree, I take Wai-Leung’s instructions to trust the group’s process, deprioritising my own intuition. The show freely drifts into a broad conceptual outline with a primal focus on the way the artists and writers have their works dance in tandem with the theme.
How did Maltseva pair works and creators so seamlessly? As I ask myself this, her curatorial note appears halfway through the exhibition as a textual work itself. Maltseva conceptualised Return Flight in Edinburgh, when she was immersed in collaborative ventures. She wanted to foster a cross-cultural project with a blind exchange of new works. She explains that artists from two cities create an artwork responding to a theme which is passed onto a creative writer, from the opposite city, without contextual details. After the writer completes their work, the pair are introduced. The first iteration paired Melbourne and Edinburgh with a focus on ‘place’, and the second with Christchurch focusing on ‘home.’ ‘Away’ creates a poetic trifecta.
In Melbourne, many exhibitions come and go. It’s refreshing to see a concept nurtured over time, developing its own identity within different countries and pockets of Melbourne. Luckily, the series finale is not too bittersweet – its producer, Melbourne-based literary journal Going Down Swinging, has published a book which serves as an archive to the final stage of the three-year endeavour. The sleek black book is an engaging read, with copies of the exhibition’s works, artist & writer interviews, a poem by Floating Project’s Dr Linda Chui-han Lai and Adrian Doyle’s nostalgic essay Artistic Communities in an Urbanised World. It can be ordered from Going Down Swinging’s online store.
With poise, Return Flight MEL>HKG spurs artistic intimacy between Melbourne and Hong Kong. The exhibition once again flexes—while also forever solidifies—its exploration of transnational creative collaboration under inspired curatorial ingenuity.
Melbourne: August 9-25 at the Blender Studios
Hong Kong: September 14-29 at Floating Projects
Launch: Saturday September 14, 5-8pm
Curated by Elizaveta Maltseva
Produced by Going Down Swinging
Edited by Magenta Sheridan & Renata Carli
Designed by Jacqui Hagen
Andy Li / Jacob Boehme
Rona Green / Ding Cheuk-Laam
Lee Kai Chung / Laura Jean McKay
Olivia Mròz / Winnie Yan
Lai Andio / Joel Ma
Kim Hyunji / Wong Pui Yi Heidi
Jess LAU Ching-wa / Saskia Doherty
Michael Peck / Lo Lai Lai Natalie
Kinchoi Lam / Eleanor Jackson
Hugo Mathias / Lai Wai-Leung