JOLENE MOK, YoKnow Where to Find Me, 2014, single-channel video: 5 min 1 sec. Courtesy the artist and Mur Nomade, Hong Kong. 


Mur Nomade
Hong Kong

Recently, on the subject of my grandmother’s passing, someone told me, “Death, especially of an immediate member of the family, affects people in so many different ways.” The experience of witnessing the processes of an individual’s death is often a personal one that taps into visceral and vivid memories unique to the beholder and their relationship with the departed. This connection causes each encounter with death to be an intimate, if not individual, involvement that leaves one questioning how to remember the deceased.

“Away,” at Mur Nomade gallery in Hong Kong, not only showcases how four local artists deal with the passing of respective loved ones, but also how they regard their own mortality. They are processes through which the artists reveal their personal relationships and ways of remembering those they have lost. The show, curated by artist Yip Kai Chun, is the winning project of the gallery’s first Open Call for Young Curators program that took place earlier this year.

The subject of death particularly resonated with Chun, who, upon the passing of his mother, found that the topic is still considered taboo in Chinese culture. Not only does death create an invisible barrier deterring people from grieving openly, it is also believed to cast an ominous shadow of bad omens and misfortune around those affected. Yet in “Away,” Chun’s own work in the show, entitled Incomplete Finale (2012), a rectangular metal tin containing and playing audio recordings of conversations with his mother from her last days, allowed the artist and his family and friends to share their feelings on death and the cancer that claimed his mother’s life. “Only by then, I [had] realized many around me were experiencing or had experienced the dying and death of their close ones. The death that we could not speak out [about] immediately connected us,” Chun professed in his artist statement. 

Installation view of “Away” at Mur Nomade, Hong Kong, 2015. (Front) FOON SHAM’s Vessel of Hope, 2006, pine wood, paper, ink and tea leaves, dimensions variable. Courtesy Mur Nomade, Hong Kong. 

Furthering this newfound freedom toward the discourse surrounding death, Chun searched for artworks and artists pursuing the remembrance of loved ones, bringing them together in “Away.” Entering the cold concrete space of Mur Nomade, one encounters experimental filmmaker and artist Jolene Mok’s five-minute video, You Know Where to Find Me (2014), dedicated to her late grandfather who passed away while she was abroad. Itinerant since 2011, Mok left her birthplace of Hong Kong for the remote and rural landscapes of Iceland and Finland, searching for a more personal definition of “home.” There she participated in artist residencies and also filmed certain sections of You Know Where to Find Me, cinematically capturing the contrasting circumstances of being alone abroad and “home” in Hong Kong at the time near her grandfather’s death.

The centerpiece of the show is Vessel of Hope (2006) by Macau-born sculptor and University of Maryland professor Foon Sham. Constructed out of blocks of pine, Sham’s ark sculpture carries a cargo of black tea leaves, which many believe has cancer-preventing antioxidants. Sham’s mother passed away from cancer, and it was with her in mind that the artist created this wooden flagship, along with a fleet of paper boats made from personal messages written by people with loved ones suffering from cancer. Each white paper boat bears a cone of tea leaves as they trail behind the main vessel—a metaphor for the artist’s mother in her journey to a peaceful afterlife.

AMANDA CHENG, To Myself 100 Years After, 2010, paper and fabric, 51 × 68 × 38 cm. Courtesy the artist and Mur Nomade, Hong Kong. 

It was this projection into the afterlife that is alluded to in the work of Amanda Cheng’s To Myself 100 Years After (2010), a model paper-house that Cheng custom built for herself, which stands on a plinth in the gallery. The sculpture is intended to be burnt after Cheng’s death, as per the Taoist tradition of burning paper offerings in the form of models, and duplicates of daily goods as gifts, to the departed for a happy and prosperous afterlife. In the gallery, a paper key hovers above Cheng’s construction, seemingly supernatural in its suspension. A commissioned work by Cheng, this key, titled Come Back (2015), is a replica of the one that accesses the home of the client’s deceased loved one.

Through these diverse and creative conduits of conversation, Chun’s vision is achieved as both artists and viewers experience, share and divulge in the discourse and dispelling of the taboo of death.