Installation view of “Imagine There’s No Country, Above Us Only Our Cities” at Para Site, Hong Kong, 2015. Courtesy Para Site. 

“Imagine there’s no country, Above us only our cities”

Para Site
Hong Kong

As an autonomous region within the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong has maintained a largely independent political and judicial system. However, ever since the 80-day democracy protests dubbed the Umbrella Movement, which took place between September and December last year, numerous local citizens have started to question their identity, both as a Hong Konger and as a Chinese national. This situation of feeling lost and not knowing the future forms the main theme of “Imagine There’s No Country, Above Us Only Our Cities,” held at Para Site art space in Quarry Bay. Curated by the gallery’s associate curator, Jims Lam Chi Hang, the exhibition brings together more than 16 works by 12 Hong Kong contemporary artists. The exhibition—whose title is inspired by the 1979 novel My City by the Shanghai-born, Hong Kong-bred writer Xi Xi—takes a pertinent and timely look at the current social position Hong Kongers are in, wedged between the heated bureacractic debates of one state ruled under two political systems.

Immediately noticable upon entering the gallery is Elvis Yip Kin Bon’s Speech from Qiáo Xiǎo Yang on 24th March (2013­–15), a display of 260 newspaper clippings that the artist painstakingly cut and reassembled to form his own texts, which use humor to tackle the city’s unending social issues. This is a thought-provoking creation, as the characters and figures from the newspaper cuttings are those that are related to a speech given by Qiao Xiaoyang—former chairman of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Basic Law Committee—in which he declared that a person who is not on the same page with the Chinese government would not be permitted to become chief executive of Hong Kong.

Near this installation is another similarly constructed newsprint collage by Yip, Absent of Speech from Evening Post Series (2014–15), which measures 190-by-120 centimeters in size. The collage consists of multiple window-like frames that are each accompanied by small, cutout images of desktop microphones, but nothing else. It is as though there had been some kind of speech event that just finished. The artwork leaves the viewer pondering what the missing speakers had been saying; as the name of this work implies, the collage is absent of words and is intended to denote the notion of freedom of speech.

There is an expectation for equilibrium when it comes to the implementation of judicial policies and its correlation to people’s rights. Inevitably, when people are dissatisfied by the policies set by authorities, they start to question the legitimacy of current laws, which causes a shift in the political atmosphere. Tang Kwok Hin’s Cold Plank (2015), which is inspired by such societal shifts, comprises eight chairs taken from the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (Legco). They have been placed in an unorthodox manner against one wall of Para Site’s gallery, and the seat of each chair displays a different small item taken from Legco. In the work the Legco souvenirs are used to protest against the actions of the authorities. These items, including cartoon-themed paper clips, notebooks, bookmarks, ties and pens, are seemingly pleasant symbols that, in fact, carry a hidden meaning.

ELVIS YIP KIN BONG, Speech from Qiáo Xiǎo Yang on 24th March, 2013–15, 260 pieces of newspaper clippings, dimensions variable. Courtesy Para Site, Hong Kong.
ELVIS YIP KIN BONG, Speech from Qiáo Xiǎo Yang on 24th March, 2013–15, 260 pieces of newspaper clippings, dimensions variable. Courtesy Para Site, Hong Kong.

NG KA CHUN, Found Object, 2015, metallic structure, digital print, dimensions variable. Installation view for “Imagine There’s No Country, Above Us Only Our Cities” at Para Site, Hong Kong, 2015. Courtesy Para Site. 

Fences are often used as a defensive or protective barrier. During the Umbrella Movement, barricades were set up to split the pro-democracy activists and policemen. However, in Ng Ka Chung’s Found Object (2015), model-sized fences are chained together by miniature locks—the message brought forward through the work is that our protection as citizens of Hong Kong is less of a priority than the safety of the HKSAR government. Dogvane (2015), another work by Ng and arguably the most controversial piece of the show, portrays two flags—that of the Hong Kong SAR and the People’s Republic of China—as though they are communicating to one another. Installed on the roof of Para Site’s building, the idea of two flags corresponding outdoors in the open and under the sky appears serene at first glance; it almost seems like it’s hinting that the relationship between China and Hong Kong is peaceful and stable. However, when one comes across the live CCTV footage of the flags shown inside the gallery, there is an instant realization that a third party is actually monitoring the communication between the city-state and communist country, and that the exchanges between Hong Kong and China are, in fact, under strict control and observation.

Elsewhere in the show is a discussion regarding people’s ethnic identity that avoids political agendas and instead engages with an individual perspective. In OK (2015), Lam Hoi Sin takes a personal approach in pursuing social relationships that overcome geographical constraints. Her work takes the form of a lit-up “OK” sign hung in the middle of a wall, with numbers in kilometers printed onto the space around it to represent the distance between certain people. In her artist statement, she discusses the hypothetical concept of the numerical gaps (such as distance in kilometers) between strangers on the online dating site OKCupid as offering a sense of gaining worldwide motility. “It creates the fantasy and tension of intimacy alongside geographical identities. Everyone becomes an equal virtual body until one attends to the physical presence. Distance then becomes a sensual factor in relationships, facing challenges in legality and practicality.”

TANG KWOK HIN, Cold Plank (detail), 2015, office chairs, souvenirs from LegCo of HKSAR, dimensions variable. Courtesy Para Site, Hong Kong. 

LAM HOI SIN, OK, 2015, lightbox and vinyl, dimensions variable. Installation view for “Imagine There’s No Country, Above Us Only Our Cities” at Para Site, Hong Kong, 2015. Courtesy Para Site. 

Through this exhibition, viewers are urged to reflect on issues of ethnic identity by creating, reminiscing, appreciating and discussing their origin, and understanding the thoughts of the artists that created the artworks. In Hong Kong, our presence and identities are tightly connected to the city, as if seeing a reflection of ourselves in the mirror. The exhibition enables one to find a place in the uncertain political situation of today’s Hong Kong, while also hinting at its unclear future.

“Imagine There’s No Country, Above Us Only Our Cities” is on view at Para Site, Hong Kong, until September 9, 2015.