Vancouver: Christopher K. Ho
By Steff Hui Ci Ling
Full text also available in Chinese.
Christopher K. Ho’s site-specific installation CX 889 (2022) is a composite of architectural elements and surfaces recalled from Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport, which was razed in July 1998. Seen from the street, it appears vaguely cubist. A reproduction of the double ramps from the former airport’s arrival hall lead from the city sidewalk to a pair of suspended stop signs, one of which is illuminated, as well as an off-kilter Bulova-branded clock, which is melded to the site’s gridded backdrop. Other subtle details, like an errant baggage cart and cigarette bin, round out the scene. Surrounding the diorama is an ever-present shallow layer of water that reproduces a post-heavy-rainfall effect characteristic of Hong Kong’s tropical climate, not unfamiliar to Vancouver’s passersby. On a sunny day, the uncanny wetness and urban textures make the structure seem like some sort of enigmatic water feature. With these architectural quotations of Kai Tak, CX 889 serves to jog and honor the interstitial memories of being in transit, from one life chapter to another.
The curatorial writing about the installation speaks directly of the period of migration from Hong Kong to Vancouver between 1989 and 1997. Within that timeline are major political events that can be said to have triggered such a movement. 1989, for instance, marked the start of Hong Kong’s solidarity movements with the pro-democracy protestors who died that year on Tiananmen Square, under Beijing’s crackdown. Furthermore, the text describes the clock face reading as a minute before midnight on July 1, alluding to the eve of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from Britain to China—an exchange from a waning imperial power to one on the rise.
Perhaps obviously embedded in CX 889’s fragments of Kai Tak airport is an ongoing history of “flight” in an aeronautical, as well as diasporic, sense. The title CX 889 itself refers to the code for a recently canceled Cathay Pacific flight connecting the financial capitals of New York and Hong Kong with a stopover in Vancouver—a route symptomatic of globalized finance and commerce. More broadly, CX 889 signals the paths of those who sought refuge from the threat of an encroaching authoritarian regime in the past—an arc that continues under the current political atmosphere after China passed the National Security Law, which significantly erodes the democratic right to public assembly and dissent that Hong Kongers should retain under the “one-country-two-systems” framework in place until 2047.
But because Hongkongers have always profoundly understood and have asserted their right to self-determination and cultural identity upon threat of displacement and erasure, those who come to the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples inherit the responsibility of acting in solidarity with Indigenous liberation and Land Back. Because of its pointedly geopolitical site specificity, CX 889 is enormously complicated by its display on settler-occupied, unceded Indigenous land that the installation foregrounds as a destination for émigrés of Hong Kong, so-called “Vancouver.” What a history of flight confirms repeatedly is that imperialism and colonialism aren’t things you can fly away from, but that resistance and complacency are paths that are chosen in the politics of staying or going.