The main reason I have (been lucky enough to) come to Asia, is for the continuing AHRC funded project ‘Culture, Capital and Communication: Visualising Chinese Borders’ (CCC-VCB), specifically the third and fourth research networking lab meetings in Hong Kong and Tainan, Taiwan respectively. I have contributed to the project since it’s start in November 2014, today in Hong Kong for the third lab session in the Jockey Club Innovation Tower, School of Design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. I realised when I arrived there that it was designed by Zaha Hadid. I can’t wait to see her work in Beijing too, and by chance my hotel there is literally round the corner!
It was an incredibly rainy morning so Beccy Kennedy and Ming Turner (the leads on this research project), curator Lu Pei-yi and I jumped in a taxi from our Fortress Hill hotel to get to the university. Greeted by Phoebe Wong, we started the research lab session quickly with introduction from Phoebe Wong and Siu King-chung two of the four members of the Community Museum Project (CMP). Beccy Kennedy (project lead), met King three years ago through an introduction from Kwong Lee, Director of Castlefield Gallery and CCC-VCB network member, inviting King and CMP to be involved with the CCC-VCB project specifically relating to contexts of Hong Kong. Participants at the third research lab session included Beccy Kennedy (project lead), Ming Turner (project lead), Lu Pei-yi (Curator), Kwong Lee (Director of Castlefield Gallery, UK), Frank Vigneron (Department of Fine Arts CUHK), Angela Su (artist), Wang Dong (curator), Tina Yee-wan Pang (Curator of Hong Kong Visual Culture at M+), Morgan Wong (artist), Phoebe Wong (member of CMP), Leung Mee Ping (artist), Siu King-chung (CMP member), Tse Pak Chai (member of CMP) and Joe Yiu.
The session began with King and Phoebe discussing the projects key words “Visualising Chinese Borders (VCB)”…not entirely sure what this phrase means where discussions today will conceptualise some of the issues here. Through artefacts to make sense of VCB…we need to open up politically and see what we can coorperate into the art, to identify something which is happening now, seeing it from an artistic or cultural perspective. Protest objects…can Occupy Central be included as artworks…some could if they were included as “agitprop”…could all artefacts from Occupy Central be up for discussion in visual terms. The morning session was to be an open discussion about border issues…how should we identify relevant artists to be included in future discussions?
Ming Turner introduced the research project, it’s aims and developments to date, including the construction of a database of artists put together through the research lab sessions, an ongoing building document. Beccy Kennedy then went on to more critically talk of the research.
“[borders] are being both multiplied and reduced becoming the object of protest and contestation as well as an unremitting reinforcement.” (Balibar: 2012)
Borders are interesting because of their literal limits in relation to territories of governance and physical place and because of what is symbolised to the communities which they contain, in terms of identity and negotiations of space. We see borders that are physical as much as symbolic…artists are researching the restriction of these borders. They can be open or closed. Sometimes they are fluid in a globalised world, sometimes too fluid wanting them to demarcate. Sometimes we want access to the other side, sometimes we want to keep ourselves to ourselves. Beccy cited previous questions and thematics:
- What are the political problems faced in relation to the representation of identity within the OCTS infrastructure, in terms of ‘Chinese-ness,’ ‘Hong Kong-ness,’ ‘Taiwanese-ness,’ and political beliefs?
- Are borders obsolete in a globalised world? Or in what ways do borders create limitations to artistic practise in Greater China? How do we tackle these issues?
- How to identify relevant artists and works from the context of political and cultural activism in Hong Kong?
She referenced themes and outcomes from the first and second lab sessions, and Para Site’s recent exhibition ‘Imagine there’s no country. Above us only our cities’, which closed yesterday (read my review here). She questioned, how do we interpret political issues in Hong Kong and China? Hong Kong’s Occupy Central and Taiwanese Sunflower movement looks at these issues. Beccy cited the talks from the first lab session on border issues within greater China from herself, Ming Tuner Lu Pei-yi, and me…artists including ‘Wishing Knots’ (2014) by Ye Yun and Nozomi Kanemitsu, Wu Mali, ‘The Pusher’ (2007/2014) by Chen Jieh-Jen and more.
“Deterritorialisation, Reterritorialisation of ‘stratified systems’ (of control)” – Deluze and Guattari (1972)
The second lab session looked more into the spaces which support these artists in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China and the relationship to the art market. Beccy cited the work of Jen Wu…who is Taiwanese originally, growing up in Queens/NYC now living in Salford, Manchester, UK. As an artist-activist, she did a residency in Taipei looking at the Sunflower protest through social art practice.
“Sometimes artists don’t make art they are part of social movements…they are part of bigger social challenges. It takes an artist-activist to move into areas where other artists don’t have the freedom to move.” – Kwong Lee
This third lab is looking at, as King and Phoebe said, artists who are looking at border issues within Hong Kong focussing on “Hong Kong-ness”…do borders create limitations and how to we tackle these issues in relation to the paradox of borders?
The recent Para Site exhibition ‘Imagine there’s no country. Above us only our cities’ made Beccy think about when are borders with us, against us, futile…the relevance of national identity in Hong Kong, partially part of an imagined construct in Hong Kong. It also focussed on Britain and China’s influence on Hong Kong’s landscape…how has this impacted our identity, freedom of speech. Citing the work ‘Speech from Qiao xiao yang on 24th March 2013)’ by Elvis Yip Kin Bong’s work …he talks about keeping Hong Kong economically stable and prosperous focussing on the border between Hong Kong and China. The show also looks at Hong Kong as a post-colonial place. Sometimes in Hong Kong you want the border to be there to China, and it no longer exists in relation to Britain. In ‘OK’ (2015) by Lam Hoi Sin he focusses on how the digital can break down borders.
We think we are living in a digitalised, global world…yet the physical restrictions are still there. To what extent is the digital borderless? The border issue of the rural and urban in mainland China and Hong Kong.
Phoebe Wong presented the dynamics between Hong Kong and China, and Hong Kong and China conflict citing influencing happenings in Hong Kong including:
- The Umbrella Movement, the protest against universal suffrage relating to Hong Kong’s democracy movement since the 1980s…the Lennon Wall. The barricades create boundaries with the Occupy Central site, made from found materials…manifestation of the strong will of people;
- The locust-ad put on Chinese newspaper regarding protest against non-local pregnant women to give birth in Hong Kong;
- The tainted milk powder incident of 2008 and the transportation of milk powder across borders. There was news this morning of yesterday’s demonstration…it goes on every day;
- Anti-parallel trade protest at New Town Plaza, Shatin (15 February 2015)…the groups who are asking for independence;
- ‘Progressive, selfless and unified ruling party’ versus ‘democratic centralism’ (problematic tern in Hong Kong);
- The allegedly ‘brainwashing’ national education;
- The announcement of the art criticism competition organised by the HKADC caused controversy…from mainland China living in Hong Kong;
- ‘Framed: Ai Weiwei and Hong Kong Artists’ at Duddell’s in 2013…Ai Weiwei portrayed as a celebrity artist vis-a-vis with Hong Kong artists;
- ‘Cross-strait four-regions artistic exchange project’ (2012) by He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen…works suggested not to be shown in the exhibition; including ‘Faces of Representatives’ (2014) by Otto Li;
- Frontier closed area…the demolishing of this area discussed through social media;
- The rise of “localism” – Hong Kong Nationalism/independence and city-state/polis/autonomy – referencing the group ‘Hong Konger Front’ (f.2004) to overthrow the regime. They have over 35 links related to this and different groups relating to this.
- Hong Kong Autonomy Movement at July 2011 rally and ‘Hong Kong: City State Theory’ (2011) China Wan (the opinion leader of the localist movement…China taking sovereignty of Hong Kong is a form of imperialism;
- Passion Times/Civic Passion is a populist anti-communist Hong Kong political group. If they identify themselves as a political group, they are not in the mainstream and get less support
- Hong Kong Language Studies – since November 2013 identifies itself as a political organisation. The relationship of language to Hong Kong – Cantonese versus Mandarin. Simplified Chinese being mocked as “butchered” Chinese characters.
- Through mode of transportation you change your idea of borders..high speed rail not accepted by Hong Kong people…High Speed rail determines time borders.
Tse Pak Chai (member of CMP) followed to speak of Hong Kong’s North East New Territories. Activist artists integrating with local people to develop projects in resisting this kind of New Territories development. He spoke of the conflict between the right-wing and left-wing people in Hong Kong and how it is represented online. He presented a mapping of the borders in Hong Kong on the North East New Territories area…art projects on this disputed land.
- The border between Hong Kong and Mainland China – Frontier Closed Area. Existed for the past 60 years; and North East New Territories (NENT) Development Areas Planning planning to demolish a series of villages in the areas of Kwu Tung North (450 hectare/4,500 population) and Fanling North (166 hectare/population 3,900) to make way for new development areas;
- Artists and groups working in NENT including YMCArts, art projects in affected villages in NENT areas during the anti-high-speed rail movement and Tsoi Yuen Village resistance movement also working with farmers and activists in Ma Shi Po; Today Video Production through commercials…”what I want it to be not what it is” (trailer shown below); Style of the Northeastern New Territories, mostly photographers and historians, also ex-journalists…looking at the work of outsider artists; EmptySCape examining empty space; SoIL run by teachers of secondary schools as well as undergrad/postgrad students; Searching for the Village of Happiness (trailer shown below)…move from working in urban area to rural area. A lot of attention is about urban movement(s)…a new imagination of activists, wanting to infiltrate some of the community. Artists (30+ and growing) feel like they have a long-term commitment to local communities. It is a time of change within the last ten years. Before then people saw communities as places of crimes and poverty.
Kwong Lee asked how do artists resource the community projects? Usually it is voluntary and there are NGOs that support the projects. Such as the YMCA, and the community rural projects are a spin-off from them. There is the idea of “gifting economy”…the sake of preserving, the idea of other kinds of craft and production, and that it’s not just economic. It is about redistributing resources…creating an alternative economy coming out of a broader resistance…if there is not the imagination of resistance then perhaps Hong Kong-ers aren’t that active about living there at the borders themselves. It has become a negotiation of discourse…negotiating process of a new lifestyle. Using performance as a demonstration as to what was happening in the villages. Tse Pak Chai finished his presentation by showing the work of photographer John Choy who lived at one of the border sites.
After a dim sum lunch in the university’s staff restaurant…my second dim sum since being in Hong Kong…it was time for the afternoon to begin with a presentation by Frank Vigneron (Department of Fine Arts CUHK) on ‘Chineseness and Hong Kongness’.
Although we think of cultural identity as an independent object, it is made of a million things, that can, over term and from a distance seen as a coherent whole…a better representation would be schools of fish in the ocean…the way a culture behave and change may appear like a coherent even logical whole, can be compared to a school of fish: it is made of a multitude of individuals all acting according to their own will, but they also have to make way for other fish. Referencing theory of Pierre Bourdieu…”HABITUS”…
“The construct of cultural identity becomes so deeply integrated into the consciousness of the actors of a local culture that they are not aware of the arbitrariness of its construction. It becomes HABITUS” – Pierre Bourdieu
Sometimes institutions produce cultural identity in positive and negative ways…it can fosters violence, hatred for the outside…it is an element of cultural identity shaped for example, by the government. Flux and fluxes of desire by Deleuze…Auguste Lumiere…BwO (body without organs), the way in which the components of a particular system or assemblage can be rendered consistent…cultural BwO. He questioned, what is Asia? referencing the ads produced by the tourism board to promote Hong Kong…attempting to define the culture of Hong Kong. “Hong Kong values are central values”. Art activists will create interesting work…but it only those who are interested that will see it. How do you get the government to see it. How do we as artists and activists interact with them? There are no mechanisms that are straight forward. Frank spoke of his forthcoming book ‘Hong Kong Soft Power’. The cover image for the book references “harmonious society” as a cultural representation of the mainland (shown below).
‘East meets West’ and Hybridity – an annoying discourse, used and used and used again. Hybridity is used a lot to describe Hong Kong. Give me one culture…language…something that doesn’t have roots from more than one place. A lot of this has to do with mainland China and how they manipulate academic discourse. Every culture is a hybrid…its not a question of ontology, it’s a question of perception. Hong Kong is not more hybrid than China. ‘What happens in Hong Kong, for instance, in the constant use of English words local elites are making, is a simple situation of greater visibility of a process of hybridisation.’ There are forms of hybridisation in art that we do not see as much anymore…they are no longer visible. He spoke of the conservatism of “Chineseness” in mainland China…a “pure” Chinese culture…a discourse of ‘nativist’ to detach from postmodernism and post-colonialism. ‘Hong Kong should not talk about democracy because it was never a democracy’…the fostering of a xenophobia. He references ‘The origin of Tao’ exhibition in Hong Kong curated by Pi Daojin (Pi Li’s father)…fostering a conservatism to not question the communist party. The revival of Confucianism in mainland China in academia has ideological support from the government in China…giving it to the party, in the hands of the party…ultimately has nothing to do with Confucius. It is all about power.
Following Frank was Leung Mee Ping (artist) talking of her recent project ‘Made in Hong Kong’ (a great PDF from her show here), a project conceived in 2006 examining souvenir paintings from 1970s Hong Kong, specifically investigations of the various, shifting relationships and mutual infiltration between the cities of the Pearl River Delta: Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen…now with a collection of hundreds. She completed visits to Da Fen Oil Painting Village and Dafan Village in China, sites of artistic production in mainland China…where 60% of the worlds reproductions are produced. Artists there seen themselves as painters…not producers or copyists. She is bringing into question consumption, copyright and authorship. Also looking at the Hong Kong post-city scape. Leung was artist-in-residence there, engaging and painting with artists. She wanted to turn it into an issue-based performance. The first painting she asked the artists to copy was of Mickey Mouse…then of religious statues, gold, political books, a film still, anniversary of June 4, event scenes, and more…the same image on different sized canvases.
“The present moment reflected in Leung’s ‘souvenir’ paintings, and in the process of their manufacture, represents not only an economic moment and a social moment, but also the claim to a certain kind of ownership of place that souvenir paintings implicitly contain. Multiple gazes, multiple images, multiple claims.” – Osage Gallery
Installation is based on the contextuality of the painting…it is like reading a street. The project has been shown in a street booth display in Yau Ma Tei (2015).
After the session Leung Mee Ping and I chatted about her practice and my recent and ongoing research ‘Replicas and Re-imaginations – Curating China’s Copyists’ (a second post on this to come after recent discussions), very much looking at themes deeply part of her artistic practice. She told that when she was exhibiting in Shanghai she was given a contract that stated she could not duplicate works, when the entire nature of the project is to duplicate. It is about duplicating…accepting or rejecting…accepting it as an art form in its own right by a “real” painter with validity in an art museum…or rejecting it as a simple copy by a an unknown artist.
The final speaker for the day was Morgan Wong, friend and artist who I met with on Saturday in this studio (read about it here). He talked through his practice from 2012 until now. In 2012, the Moral and National Education (MNE) was proposed and rejected by Hong Kong citizens where there were protests across Hong Kong. This proposal was hijacking…attempting to implement a nationalistic education…national and civil to moral and national education. He stated how he tries to talk about issues of this kind in a minimal way.
Through the use of Taobao (China’s ebay), he searched for stickers of encouragement that children use to promote progress. He came across Chinese nationalist flags…infiltrating the market and a child’s younger years. He wasn’t interested in using a symbolic flag instead using a flag that has no stars, just colour…stacking the stickers into a tower, mounting and framing the blank sticker sheets with the stack in front. He states the government wants him to be patriotic so through these stickers he pats himself on the back being patriotic. Through removing the flags it leaves white flags, a symbol in their own right. This series was called ‘The Remnant of My Volition Series’ (2013)…then expanded into a larger installation ‘The Remnant of My Volition (Force Majeure)’ 2014 totalling 50,00 flags being peeled off, stacked and displayed. This installation also displayed cushions embroidered with fifty years calendars, starting from 1st July 1997 until 30th June 2047. It was a place to contemplate rather than be reactive to the circumstances. This installation was then developed further into a recorded performance piece responding to the announcement of the white paper in June 2014 – one country two systems, the constitutional principle formulated by Deng Xiaoping. Morgan is offering audiences…the past (the performance), the present (the presence of the audience), the future (the future is within the frames).
He presented ‘Demolishing Rumour’ (2010), a video piece about the rumours surrounding the destruction of Caochangdi Art District, Beijing…the side effects of the rapid growth of Chinese economy and its imbalance over cultural development or conservation. However, this sacrifice of cultural progress with common interests behind can be observed all over the world. “To eradicate a rumour, then fulfill the belief in the rumour.” By demolishing an architectural model of a gallery building in Caochangdi Art District, Morgan wants to destroy the rumour through this symbolic and absurd gesture. The performance is both sarcastic of as the destiny for the art district remains unknown as well as pointless and a desperate wish in the situation.
One of his most recent projects ‘Untitled – Expressway’ (2015) (I recently cited this project in a blog post here) looks into the suburban development in Hong Kong, originating in the UK in 1900s through the Garden City Movement by Ebenezer Howard…to think about developing new territories. He tries to connect the present heart of Hong Kong and a satellite ‘new town’ embedded in the city’s prehistoric history focussing on the area of Tuen Mun. He references the borders of Shenzhen-Hong Kong, Tuen Mun’s archaeology, landscape (Greenery Hill) and it’s development. There are historical and mythical elements to the work…digital and physical, visual and aural.
The final work he cited was his most recent piece on show as part of the Para Site exhibition ‘Imagine there’s no country. Above us only our cities’. He sees it as a sculpture not an installation…taking the elements from a 1970s border building. He tried to create a scent that when you cross a border you can smell it. Interestingly, the scent has been diluted into Hong Kong. The inspiration for this work came from a want to make a scent of Shenzhen or the border for a long. Any material border for Hong Kong…how people have been travelling across borders. As he has been teaching at Hong Kong Baptist University based in Shenzhen, he has been crossing the border as if a routine. He wanted to be more theatrical with his work. Working with a scent making lab and perfumer he made the scent, he talked about what should be in the scent…human oil, sweat, grass, particles from the oil…chemical and natural. He was questioned as to how he authenticates it. He bought the scent with him to pass around the group for a whiff…Beccy is holding the small bottle below.
“You never know when the border will go and all that will be left is the scent…A “scentscape” of crossing the border.” – Morgan Wong
The day finished on an open discussion…how do we understand the illusion of borders? How do we see art travelling across borders such as Shenzhen to Hong Kong? The idea of scent, finding the roots of Hong Kong’s early infrastructural development…art works on the Internet that share the same sentiments and perspectives…how do we deal with these? Are there any disagreements in the conversation from the day regarding Hong Kong identity? Is it an imagined construct? Does it need to be endorsed?
- Frank stated identities are always constructs…people seldom agree on what it means. People that don’ts want to endorse it do it for political reasons. Are you Chinese enough to be represented as an artist?
- Kwong Lee raised the subject of devolution in the UK…the dissolving of power, specifically the potential of Scotland and England separating. Is Hong Kong in the process of that swing that Hong Kong shouldn’t be British, and yet not Chinese…Hong Kong has its own identity. It is a cycle of people with collective thinking. How does Hong Kong feel to be aligned with other places that are Chinese such as Shanghai (Shanghai-ese) and Taiwan? Where is Hong Kong in the cycle of being identified?
- Frank responded saying dialect and language are part of this….The most interesting work comes from the study of languages on the borders of places….What do we need borders for? It is always for manipulated. It is about liberating yet reinforcing.
- Kwong stated, as much as language helps to reinforce identity or history or local heritage, in a globalised market, the currency (in reality) drives political processes. What do those who live in Hong Kong think about this currency? How has art been used as a pioneering frontier for pushing issues forward…potentially as a soft power?
- King stated that the M+ and West Kowloon cultural district was supposed to be this “soft power”.
- Kwong – Do we know how many artists go from Hong Kong to mainland China? Or from China to Hong Kong to work? Why is Ai Weiwei so famous…is it because of his “Chinese” identity?
- Wang Dong stated that when we talk about borders, we talk about our own identities…it comes from our own identity. There will always be some issues or problems happening. He realised that he was the only person in the room from mainland China and the importance of this position (I questioned whether he felt a responsibility because of this)…others from Taiwan, UK, Paris, Hong Kong. Identity changes in different contexts…definitions and meanings also change accordingly. We look at identity more clearly because of borders and frames. As Wang Dong is doing a future research project in Manchester, conversation turned into discussions about borders in Manchester and its “Chinese” identity…Kwong appeared with this book (thanks Beccy for the photo).
- Wang Dong’s not interested in the political side of borders…it is about the people and citizens and whether their life has been disturbed.How do you work as a professional and practitioner in this field? What is the pioneering role of art and the social practice? As social movements, can it be called art? How can we identify these artists and give an identity to these artists? In his view, they are social activists not artists. He said that if CCC-VCB was discussed in China, totally different perspectives would come through, at which point I stated that in relation to Occupy Central, it was expected that China would have a reaction to this, especially from artists, when in fact they did not have much to say. Hong Kong itself was colonised by Britain and China compares this to their communist rule.
If the CCC-VCB event took place in mainland China, how would it take place? Would it be “official”? Would institutional members attend and contribute? Discussion unfolded into the power of the translator and how they can become a censor in these situations. Where do you say you are from? Ultimately, that comes back to your identity – “Chineseness”, “Taiwaneseness” and “Hong Kongness”.
The day focussed, in the morning, on broader contexts of artists and artists groups examining borders-borderlands-border crossings and in the afternoon, more personal understandings and perspectives of our (changing) borders and (changing) identities. We are brining a lot of sentiments with social, artistic imagination into our discussion…we are not experts in political issues, yet artists have this sensibility to highlight some of these issues and make some work around us. As a research lab, we perhaps need to identify some form of practices among our artists and then later on classify them as forms of practice within border issues. Is this now the time to map some of this practice as a framework? (This relates to my recent research on “agitprop” that I have previously discussed and presented in conversation with Wang Dong as part of the Transnational Dialogues event in Rome last year.)
The fourth research lab session will take place in Tainan, Taiwan on 12 September 2015…look at for the blog post to follow the research as it happens. Also find out more on the CCC-VCB website.