The King of Ghosts | 鬼王
The King of Ghosts
alloy metal, resin and plastic
45 x 34 x 13cm (edition of 100)
In 2019 Oscar Chan Yik Long exhibited a series of ink drawings on paper, together with a wall drawing executed in just three days, at the Paris International art fair. The cycle is meant to become an artist book titled Rendez-vous avec la peur (‘An Appointment with Fear’, a reference to the 1957 horror film by French director Jacques Tourneur).
Some of these drawings are re-exhibited here, notably the one titled Fear of Fear. It is based on the legend of Chung Kwei, an overachieving scribe and intellectual who had his extraordinary exam results overturned by the Emperor because of his ungainly looks, whereupon he committed suicide by repeatedly hurling himself against the Palace gates and ended up commanding thousands of ghosts in Hell.
Images of this tragic but transgressive character, who in the afterlife managed to turn his own grievances and fears into a superior position, are traditionally used to protect valuable goods and are often seen around the lunar new year. Chung Kwei is popularly known as the King of Ghosts, and this is also the title Chan has given to the limited-edition figurine that reinterprets his own drawing and the legend that inspired it.
Chan’s fascination with his topic is to do with both fear and ghosts, and ultimately with what connects them: the impressionable human subject – who may or may not be the artist himself – and the realisation that objects and subjects of fear may be interchangeable. It is somehow soothing to contemplate that the ghosts or demons, to whom humans pay their respects through fear, are in turn subjugated to a creature capable of inspiring fear in them.