Behind the Scenes: The Many Lives of Aenon Loo

Photo: Aenon Loo (left) with fellow ACC alumni Kam Wing Chong, Sandy Leung and Vivian Qu during a rehearsal of 'The Light of Hidden Flowers', a piece written by Aenon in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of ACC's Lady Fung Music Fellowship.


ACC fellow Aenon Loo is Director of Gallery EXIT, an award-winning composer and co-founder of the HellHOT New Music Festival. He was awarded an ACC fellowship in 2001 to partake in the Aspen Music Festival and was given a full scholarship from Columbia University in 2002 to pursue a Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) degree in composition and electronic music. He received his D.M.A. in 2008 and later returned to Hong Kong to establish Gallery EXIT, a gallery that exhibits progressive and ambitious works in all media that seek to go beyond all boundaries of nationality and discipline.


Behind the Scenes: The Many Lives of Aenon Loo

by Christina Chung


Whilst it is not uncommon for people in the arts to take on multiple roles, rarely do they carry it with such quiet aplomb as Aenon Loo has. When one asks him of what he does, the answer is firm: “I am a gallerist”, referring to his role as Director of Gallery EXIT - an art gallery in Sheung Wan that represents emerging Asian artists. Nevermind the doctorate in electronic music and composition that he received from Columbia University or the fact that he has co-founded and organized the wildly successful HellHOT New Music Festival which has just concluded its second year. With Aenon there is no sense of a grandiose scheme to turn Hong Kong’s cultural tide. His eye is simply trained on doing what he does well, but he is making waves and people are noticing.


Although Aenon only established Gallery EXIT in 2008, it has quickly gained a reputation for presenting exhibitions that push the envelope and showcase artists from the immediate region who are often hidden gems. The Hong Kong art scene first caught Aenon’s attention when he met fellow ACC alum Tozer Pak in New York during Tozer’s ACC trip abroad. “I found out, through Tozer Pak, that there was a bunch of very strong artists in Hong Kong and that his is the first generation who very consciously wanted to become full-time artists. So that led me to think that maybe I could do something here in Hong Kong.”


The importance of this local focus has been made all the more pertinent with the sudden influx of international gallery giants such as the Gagosian Gallery who is now in Central’s Pedder Building and White Cube which is due to open in Hong Kong early next year. Whilst many have expressed fear that the local artists would be swept under by the city’s love of all things international, the growing buzz for Aenon’s gallery stands as testament to the growth of the indigenous art scene in delivering not only an alternative but quality artwork.


On another front, the HellHOT New Music Festival is also gathering steam. The festival was originally the brainchild of William Lane, the Artistic Director of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble which was brought to fruition after he approached Aenon and another active local composer Samson Young about this project. Hong Kong's lack of music festivals during the summer and the availability of musicians during this season made for perfect conditions to establish HellHOT. The festival premiered in 2010 and seeks to present contemporary music by living composers and provides a platform for musical experimentation in the region. Although participants in the festival are a mix of overseas and local performers, they are all required to play a piece either written by a Chinese composer or a local Hong Kong composer to ensure that the festival is not simply a ‘transplant’ event that is disconnected from its local roots.


And remarkably, even in its inaugural year, HellHOT caught the attention of the Financial Times which published a review of the festival in New York. Local press has also widely covered the event and audience rates have doubled for its second year. However, the strongest indicator of its success may be the atmosphere at the actual performances. For a city that still predominately favours more classical and conservative forms of music, Aenon noticed that people were embracing what they heard at HellHOT:


“For example the first concert that we did at the University of Hong Kong this year, the program was Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Milton Babbitt who are all composers from the early 20th century who wrote hardcore, twelve-tone music that is extremely complex, but 350 people attended and hardly anybody walked out of the performance. The audience was quiet and attentive even during the most challenging pieces. I remember going to new music concerts in Hong Kong in 1998 or 1999 and people were hissing, coughing or moving around uncomfortably in their chairs.”


Although it may be too early to judge how HellHOT has contributed to this expansion of cultural tastes in Hong Kong, the festival can claim to have successfully reached audiences beyond the music community. William, Samson and Aenon have strategically marketed HellHOT to the visual arts community and to the growing group of culturally adventurous individuals. The result has been surprisingly positive. Apart from the usual throng, families have shown up to the performances and children were thoroughly engaged with the music. Whereas many cultural programmes strive to reach out to families and introduce the public to culture by creating special family-oriented concerts and workshops, it is remarkable to see that HellHOT held its appeal to people across the board even without these features.


With these successes behind him, Aenon is now prepared to think bigger both for HellHOT as well as for Gallery EXIT as he plans for the years to come. The constant stream of work from the gallery and his festival involvements have not buried his life as a composer, however. In his own time, he still prolifically writes music and he has been commissioned to create a new multi-media ensemble piece which will premiere next year at the opening of Asia Society’s new Hong Kong center. In the face of all this, Aenon exhibits his usual calm although he protests that he really has been working too hard. But like the many other Hong Kongers who utter the very same words, fatigue won’t stop him any time soon.


Current exhibition at Gallery EXIT: "LAM Hoi Sin: Interpretation" August 19 - September 10, 2011

For more information on Gallery EXIT, please visit: http://www.galleryexit.com/


Date: September 5, 2011