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Venice Biennale 2011: Frog King

We meet Kwok Mang-ho, Hong Kong’s unique performance artist who re-created his studio at the Italian art festival

The Hong Kong Pavilion at the Venice Biennale - entitled 'Frogtopia - Hongkornucopia' - celebrates the Chinese artist Kwok Mang-ho, a performance artist aiming at revolutionising the world through his picturesquely ordered chaos of colours and objects.  Kwok, aka Frog King, recreated his studio inside the Pavilion, coming up with a high-density living environment crammed with discarded objects, photographs, gigantic frog origami, straw hats and Frog King bags, in a nutshell a forest of bizarre mixed materials, perfectly reflecting Hong Kong’s contradictions but also our consumer society.

In the next room videos showcase images from Frog King’s Froggy Sunglasses Project aimed at recording his audience’s complicity at playing his game of identity switch by donning his colourful sunglasses and immersing themselves into the role of the creative artist. The Pavilion is in constant transformation as people are invited to join in as it happened during the opening days when Benny Chia, the Pavilion Chief Curator and founder of Hong Kong Fringe Club, the Pavilion commissioner, journalists, visitors, locals and kids were dragged by Frog King into a multi-cultural performance in celebration of art’s participatory nature.

Dazed Digital: What is Frogtopia?
Frog King:
Frog King likes to play. In 1970 he turned life into art which means that he turned into a living art piece and, after spending a period of time in New York – from 1980 to 1995 – he gained a lot of energy and experience that has now turned into “Frogtopia”, a cross-cultural bridge that joins the East and the West, culture, froggy eyes and communication!

DD: Why did you conceive the Pavilion as a space in constant transformation?
Frog King:
The Frog King is a scientist, he likes studying and putting things together in the “Yum Dimension”, reuniting everything into a multi-layered situation that doesn’t have any order apart from the Frog King order and that combines everything in the universe, left and right, yin and yang, front and back.

DD: What is the main aim of the Froggy Sunglasses Project?
Frog King:
One of the main principles behind’s the Frog King’s order is playing with everybody, turning them into frogs by asking them to wear “froggy sunglasses”. When they accept to wear the sunglasses, they create One Second Performances. The project has been going on for ten years now all over the world and everybody who hasn’t worn the sunglasses yet can participate.

DD: In which ways has your work changed throughout the years?
Frog King:
In the ‘70s I was doing set design for the Cantonese opera. I worked on very extreme experiments with traditional roots and the opera actors were very disturbed by my work. The Frog King’s current projects are instead about searching for a new direction and level of life that reunites calligraphy, sculpture, installation and performance arts that involve ordinary people.

DD: The theme of this year’s Biennale is “Illuminations”, will you be enlightening the visitors with your big froggy eyes?
Frog King:
As I said ordinary people end up turning through my performances into my main art material and, as a consequence, into a piece of my art. Sometimes people forget they are an art form, so the main purpose of Frog King’s art at the Biennale will be waking them up and bringing them back to nature, act like a dinosaur genie and bring them back to a primitive time.

DD: Your attire has got some strong connections with traditional and tribal costumes, what inspired it?
Frog King
: I lived in New York for 15 years in a multi-cultural environment and I absorbed other tribes and cultures, turning them into the main ingredients to create the fusion Frog King.

DD: Does the Frog King belong only to the Hong Kong art scene or is he transnational?
Frog King:
Hong Kong is a very busy and very commercial city and while the Frog King is happy to be living there, he is also happy to go to other places, blend in and help people chasing spiritual energy through art.