LEUNG CHI WO, Sign Read (still), 2008, HD video, 13 min. Courtesy School of Creative Media, City University, Hong Kong.

LEUNG CHI WO, Depot of Disappearance, 2009, C-print mounted on Dibond, dimensions variable. Courtesy School of Creative Media, City University, Hong Kong.

So I Don’t Really Know Sometimes if it’s Because of Culture

Leung Chi Wo

Run Run Shaw Creative Media Center
Hong Kong

In the event of the book launch of Hong Kong-born artist Leung Chi Wo’s project “So I Don’t Really Know Sometimes If It’s Because of Culture,” an exhibition of the same title opened at the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre on April 24. The show brought together four of Leung’s recent video works under the theme of “foreign culture,” which mainly relied upon the fact that all of the works were made for an overseas exhibition or during an international residency.  

The work sharing the name of the exhibition and book was the most prominent in the venue. Commissioned for the Marrakech Biennale in 2012, the two-channel video So I Don’t Really Know Sometimes If It’s Because of Culture investigates the notion of diaspora. Leung interviewed two women living in the United Kingdom, one French-born the other Moroccan, and then had their transcriptions recited by two Hong Kong-based artists also from France and Morocco. In the interview, the women describe their experiences and discomforts with life as an immigrant. Their words, translated to Arabic, appearing synchronized on a diptych screen, over projections of the Victoria Harbour and the Peak. 

Lapses in understanding is a theme that Leung tries to emphasize by adding his video work Sign (2008) to the exhibition. In the first part, an instructor explains how to communicate with your baby in Australian sign language, demonstrating the basic signs. The second part is a fictional video of a mother communicating with her baby. Her gestures start off mildly—we see her signing words like “happy baby” and “beautiful girl,” but get increasingly heavy as the video continues. The transition is subtle yet uncomfortable; you know that the mother is communicating hostile words, despite her loving expressions. 

Ironically pushed to the corner of the exhibition space is Depot of Disappearance (2009), a video piece that presents Depot, an independent arts organization in Vienna. Operating from 1994 to 2001, Depot was popular among artists and art professionals and the convivial atmosphere is conveyed through the video’s abstract cinematography. Only the bright white inner walls of the building and decorations on the ceiling are revealed—as the camera pans from left to right—while Leung reads out different memories recalled by people who used to work there, or who regularly visited. The recital reflects feelings of nostalgia while the empty walls intensify the melancholy.

At first sight, the assembly of these diverse artworks seems almost random. But upon taking a closer look, they all examine the phenomenon of culture in a distinct way. By making the viewer foreign to the world represented in his videos, Leung reveals particular aspects and congruencies that might otherwise be overlooked.

Leung Chi Wo’s “So I Don’t Really Know Sometimes If It’s Because of Culture” was on view at Run Run Shaw Creative Media Center at City University Hong Kong through May 17, 2014. His book of the same title is available at ArtAsiaPacific.

Kitty van Leeuwen is a writer based in Hong Kong.