LEUNG CHI WO, Suck/Blow, 2001, still from black-and-white video: 4 min. Courtesy Videotage, Hong Kong.

CHENG CHI LAI, The Doors, 2008, still from color video: 5 min 59 sec. Courtesy Videotage, Hong Kong. 

Both Sides Now—Somewhere Between Hong Kong and the UK

Osage Hong Kong
Hong Kong

In mid-Autumn, Hong Kong-based nonprofit artist collective Videotage and the United Kingdom’s Videoclub collaborated with the Osage Art Foundation and the British Council to host the touring group show “Both Sides Now—Somewhere Between Hong Kong and the UK,” which featured a total of 32 video works. The white walls of Osage Hong Kong were transformed into screens on which the moving images were shown. Projected on the wall were national flags, cityscapes, as well as celebratory scenes of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong’s sovereignty, and many other images. Viewers of the exhibition were invited to sit on one of eight sculpture-like white cuboids placed in the middle of the gallery’s large space, which served as a starting point for a visual journey into the complex relationships and dynamics between Hong Kong, mainland China and the UK.

When talking about the tie between these places, the “refugee” mentality and post-colonial history of Hong Kong is unavoidable. In the exhibition were videos showing the reunification of Hong Kong with China, which capture the worries and hardships of the local people during that time. Also on display were several works focusing on the demolition of two heritage sites, Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier, in 2007, reminding people of the time when public participation in the political field, such as protests and demonstrations, began gaining popularity in Hong Kong. Elsewhere were works documenting the birth of the city’s local identity and culture after the handover to China, including Suck/Blow (2001), created by Para Site Art Space cofounder Leung Chi Wo. The four-minute video, which starts with the sound of breathing, pieces together photographs of the sky and local buildings that Leung took with a pinhole camera. On screen, the dimensions of these images change in accordance with the rhythm of the inhaling and exhaling sounds. Various architecture are seen overlapping one another, creating small windows through which views of the sky can be seen. While enjoying the poetic video, one could feel the thriving energy of the city that surrounds us.

Also playing with musical rhythm is Hong Kong mixed-media artist Cheng Chi Lai’s The Doors (2008), which is set in a public housing estate. At first, after seeing seven floors of empty corridors, one may think this is a boring documentary video illustrating the crowded living environment of Hong Kong. However, as people start to walk into the frame, turning their keys and slamming doors, viewers will soon realize they are wrong. Soon, doors are opened one by one, and then in groups, and across rows and columns of the apartment floors, which create playful visual patterns and rhythm. Meanwhile, the sound of banging, jangling and clicking accelerates, and later turns into an orchestral performance of gates, keys and doors being opened and closed. The clip ends with a dimming light, which indicates sunset and the passing of time. Warm, yellow lights shine in through the darkness, reminding viewers of the long-forgotten intimacy that brought together neighborhoods and local communities, and how people nowadays have their doors constantly closed and locked, because they care more about privacy and personal space.

A more contemporary concept is explored in Ho Sik Ying’s two-channel video, A Woman in A Flat (2013), which is aimed at raising audiences’ awareness of the growing number of single women in Hong Kong. The work documents a day in the life of a single woman living alone in a tiny flat, doing daily practices like peeling an apple. Playing on an accompanying headphone set is a touching confession by the protagonist, who discusses her innermost thoughts about being single and criticized by society for her personal situation.

Ho Sik Ying, A Woman in A Flat, 2013, still from color video: 5 min 16 sec. Courtesy Videotage, Hong Kong. 

The videos made by the Hong Kong artists focused either on political or cultural issues, which, ironically, seemed to limit their creative potential. On the other hand, It appeared that the work of the UK artists were more experimental overall. Glasgow-based animator Jonathan Long created For A, C, P & W (2010), a shocking animated video that focuses on the eye. A single eye that is continuously blinking, its dilated iris, flowing curtains and moving shadows—everything included in this two-dimensional stop motion animation come together to create a creepy and nervous atmosphere. Another surrealistic video, Splashy Phasings (2013), was shot on a painted film set, where artist Heather Phillipson performed random, childish acts—such as deliberately knocking over a cup full of paint, throwing around swimming goggles and playing piano on a piece of paper with keys drawn on it in light blue and pink—in the colorful artificial world surrounding her. The paint leaking out of the cup also alludes to the overwhelming emotion that is evident in Phillipson’s voice-over that accompanies the film.

The majority of the videos made by the Hong Kong artists that were in the show are based on fact, while the work of the UK artists tended to feature their original stories. Yet, through creatively montaged footage and carefully designed soundtracks, all of the artists effectively demonstrated their individual attitudes toward the complicated relationship between Hong Kong and the UK.

HEATHER PHILLIPSON, Splashy Phasings, 2013, still from color video: 2 min 39 sec. Courtesy Videotage, Hong Kong. 

“Both Sides Now—Somewhere Between Hong Kong and the UK” was held from August 14 to August 20, 2014, at Osage Hong Kong.