Installation view of HO SIN TUNGs “Swampland” at Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, 2020. Courtesy the artist.

Hit, Fall, Fail

Also available in:  Chinese

On January 9, your solo exhibition “Swampland” opened at Hong Kong’s Hanart TZ Gallery with drawings and installations that reflect on failed personal and collective utopias. Have you continued to think about this topic? 

What I Saw On Top of The World (2019) was a wall-mounted installation at the show. It comprises three Chinese characters,‬ 打落弊, rendered in large, gold script. The nonsensical phrase is a Cantonese transliteration of the Thai word for “forever.” My poet friend described the work as “an eternity carelessly sworn in a foreign language.” I thought I was going to be condemned by the gods for my blasphemy. At the same time, the individual characters literally translate to hit, fall, fail. Sure enough, like a self-fulfilled prophecy, since 2019 and throughout 2020, I have experienced the pain and bitterness of failure in public and in private. Instead of continuing to “think about” the topic, I would say experiencing failure is inevitable in daily life. If one is willing to do whatever it takes to reach one’s goal, besides fight, one must also endure. 

What has been your experience of Covid-19 in Hong Kong?

The pandemic has messed up all my plans. I thought I had a grasp on the future because I have imagined countless possible scenarios. But the pandemic has restored the future to what it is: unknown, uncertain. I’ve resisted the unpredictable and detested it with a passion but now I find comfort in going with the flow. As a Hong Konger, I have long been riding on a derailed train without any brakes or seatbelts.

What artworks, exhibitions, or other cultural productions have been important to you in understanding the events of 2020?

I have been rewatching Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s 2018 film Netemo Sametemo. Its bizarreness, mutations, ruptures, and relentlessness speak to my experience of 2020. On the surface, the movie is about a woman running into two men who look identical, but the English translation of the title, Asako I & II, suggests that it is the female protagonist who is split. Many of my friends think that the story is so absurd that it could only be interpreted as a fable, but that might be because most people haven’t encountered ghosts before or lived with a spirit.
The narrative’s turning point is the Tohoku earthquake on March 11, 2011. I understand it as a story of Japan before and after the catastrophe. At the end of the film, both of the main characters look at a river. The man is disgusted by the turbid water, whereas the woman says, “it’s beautiful.” Eventually we will have to find some kind of reconciliation with this deformed world. I wonder whether we will be able to say something like “it’s beautiful” when we finally arrive at a post-pandemic era.

What has Covid-19 surfaced about the arts infrastructure in Hong Kong?

I was originally concerned with whether my income would decrease during the pandemic, but then I thought, did I earn a lot of money before the pandemic? There’s no difference. I have always been poor.

Screenshot of HO SIN TUNG’s online exhibition “I’ve often sailed in her,” a part of “Post-Human Narratives.” Courtesy the artist.

In July, you presented the online exhibition “I’ve often sailed in her.” What was it like preparing a virtual show, and what is it about?

Preparing for an online exhibition requires working closely with web technicians. It doesn’t feel too different from negotiating with handlers at a physical exhibition. Both require hard work. I’m very grateful to those who help realize my works, whether in the two- or three-dimensional world.

I’ve often sailed in her” is part of a group project titled “Post-Human Narratives,” which stems from Donna Haraway’s seminal essay A Cyborg Manifesto (1985). Curated by Kobe Ko, it is an initiative that explores hybridity and border-crossing—of course, the borders being crossed include those between classes, ages, races, or genders. My featured work is primarily a writing project that extends from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary. First published in 1988, this dictionary reflects the norms and trends of the time, and naturalizes them in a rational manner. I extracted sentences from the tome that use “she” as a subject, and copied them onto colorful cards. I then grouped these phrases under headings such as “Hole to Hole,” “Miss Mystery,” and “Shut Up.” The categories might be odd but the acts of renaming and reorganizing are ways to retrieve power. I also transformed some of the fragments into short poems and stories.

How are you imagining the future, for yourself and for the people and environment around you?

I imagine a world where the unseen and intangible become increasingly pivotal.

HO SIN TUNG, Full Dark, No Stars, 2020, still from HD video with color and sound: 46 min 26 sec. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Exit, Hong Kong.

In the video Full Dark, No Stars (2020), you cut together scenes of illumination amid the dark. The work seems to speak of hope. What does “hope” mean to you?

Sometimes the lights in the work do represent hope, but at times a void, disasters, disguises, and despair are also mixed in. In regards to hope, a few lines from the cartoon Midnight Gospel (2020) have been reverberating in my mind. In the episode about reincarnation, a character says: “The moment you accept things as they are . . . You don’t need to hope anymore. Because you realized where you are is kind of okay. Hope tortures your fucking ass. Now, hopelessness sounds really rotten when you – If you haven’t really explored just how much you’ve been using hope as a flaw. ‘Ooh, I hope tomorrow . . . ’ Smack! ‘Oh, I hope she comes back.’ Smack! ‘I hope I can forget . . .’ Smack! Just beating yourself up with hope. Not one fucking second you let yourself be hopeless. Let go of hope. Let go.”

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