Review: Return Flight MEL>HKG, Blender Studios (VIC/Hong Kong)

The third and last stop in Going Down Swinging’s international project has resulted in an intricate, optimistic, and multilayered exhibition and anthology.
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Image: Duramatwo, Matto Lucas, 2017, courtesy of Return Flight.

Across its three year voyage, Return Flight – a cross-cultural artistic exchange and print anthology from literary journal Going Down Swinging has traced the significance of ‘place’ in Edinburgh, explored understandings of ‘home’ in Christchurch, and for its final flight to Hong Kong, its contributors have delved into the dichotomies of ‘away’. It’s a theme which feels like the perfect closing note to what has been an exceptionally unique project.

In addition to the book, each piece in this year’s Return Flight collection is also being presented at Blender Studios’ Dark Horse Experiment gallery until 25 August, after which it will make its way to Hong Kong for its September launch at Floating Projects. 

Curated by Elizaveta Maltseva, alongside Melbourne literary journal Going Down Swinging, each year Return Flight has paired artists and writers from Melbourne and a different international city, to create ten original artworks and ten accompanying written responses. What distinguishes these collaborations however, is how they reverse the traditional artist/writer partnership. Instead of asking visual artists to create in response to written pieces, Return Flight has stimulated intriguing literary explorations of their themes, by challenging writers to produce a ‘blind’ creative written response to an artwork. Return Flight’s contributing writers are digitally sent an assigned artwork from the opposite city without being given any context for the work, such as the title, or who the artist is.

The opportunity to see each of the third edition’s featured works next to the words they inspired, in person, should not be missed. The beauty and fragility of each written and visual work can still be fully appreciated in the printed edition but pausing for a moment in a surprisingly intimate warehouse space heightens one’s consideration of the ethereal that Return Flight’s final chapter is hoping to achieve. In particular, pieces such as Olivia Mròz’s print ‘Number Three’ or Michael Peck’s intricate ink portraits, ‘Grid’, have a greater power when they are viewed at their original size.

Experiencing this exhibition, as someone who had no prior familiarity with this project, gave special emphasis to how inherently subjective interpretations of creative works are. The print edition offers the stories behind each piece, yet the exhibition does not – a clever framework which places the viewer in a comparable position to the writers who must first create meaning without relying on context. The contemplative atmosphere encourages creating one’s own internal meaning, before later reading the conversations in the print edition, between Maltseva and each contributor, and gaining an intricate awareness of the layers and motivations shaping these works. Similarly, Adrian Doyle’s essay, also featuring in the anthology, allows patrons of the exhibition a deeper understanding of the venue itself and how it too ties back into the theme of ‘away’.

Maltseva believes that above all, this final series suggests that ‘our global creative community is tighter than we think’. This description perfectly encapsulates the optimism one feels seeing two entirely unique pieces tied together and mutually expanding the other’s story. Although it is unfortunate that this marks the final journey for Return Flight, walking around the diverse forms that these examinations of ‘away’ have taken, it is clear Return Flight is leaving on a high.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Return Flight MEL>HKG
Curated by Elizaveta Maltseva
Edited by Megan Anderson, Magenta Sheridan & Renata Carli
Artists and writers:
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


Return Flight MEL>HKG
9-25 August 2019
The Blender Studios
Free admission


Return Flight MEL>HKG
Publisher: Going Down Swinging
ISBN: 9780994367457
Format: Soft cover
Categories: arts, fiction
Pages: 67
Release Date: 9 August 2019
RRP: $10

Ellen Muller
About the Author
Ellen Muller is a Melbourne-based writer. Follow her on Instagram: @hello.ellenmuller