Review
A Living Space: A mythology of self governing
By: Tang Siu Wa / Translation: Matthew Kwan

“A Living Space” was a named after a small private residential situated in Kowloon Tong, artist Ki Wong and her team used it as the name for their art project. This is a project about Pak Sha O, a remote rural Hakka village in Sai Kung. The project was finally completed after two years of research; the works were gathered to become an exquisite publication.

Artist Ki Wong was born in the 70s, with much early achievements such as starting up the bold and new magazine “CREAM”, co-founded the independent publisher “29s”, published her own photo book “collector”, and later founding photozine “KLACK”. I have always took notice of her, because she could always abstract the stylistic and sensitivity of contemporary art through her keen acuity, as if the present was connected through daily experiences and feelings, contemporary without feeling too tacky.

Mythologies in Daily Lives

How did art groups in the 70s went about doing things? I could almost smell them: keen on association, grounded, a certain desire to be with the masses, yet quiet, detailed, while associating delicately and emotionally; which takes a huge amount of efforts. Down to earth, yet valuing mythology and fiction, subtly subjective with a certain kind of humbleness towards reality.

The mythology about “Holy Water” was amplified in the book. Behind Pak Sha O was a stream, and it was said that on the seventh day of the seventh month, seven fairies would descend to bathe in the stream, therefore cleansing the water. The water on that day is said to have medicinal properties, therefore every year villagers will collect the water from its source and use it when they are ill. Everything goes still when you collect the water and all the animals will disappear. The chapter was accompanied by photographs of fishes from the stream, the clean background created a certain kind of mythical clarity, with a hint of Japanese minimalism. Ki Wong even sent the water from the stream to Masaru Emoto, the author of “Water, it tells us precious things” for analyse.

Thorough and Open

A Living Space can be seen as an archive of local community history. Whereas “community” themed projects are popular nowadays, a lot of the time it is about bringing in more visitors and encouraging consumption, which I believe was not the intention of A Living Space. The project hoped to explore the community through an artistic approach, while conveying the history, geography, ecology, and individual’s life history in immaculate details. Most importantly, the book communicated through an angle, a method that touches; soft, magnified, tranquil, and emotional, a wish to keep the village as it is. Like many other beautiful Hakka villages and old communities in Hong Kong, Pak Sha O is under pressure of development. The project did not encourage people to visit or to exploit the situation; it simply wanted to state the facts of this village as it is in as much details as possible, and hoping to you can feel the importance within. The way the book was designed using different papers for each set of photographs was not merely an aesthetic concern, but conveys an intimacy and urgency to the matter.

Two years was spent completing this delicate project and requires a huge amount of trust from the villagers. There are usually interests involved with landowners in an old community facing development, but the team approached the situation without any conflict of interests, which is easier compare to other community authorities. Ki Wong stated that her main goal was not to keep or conserve the buildings, but to open up space using an artistic approach, and encourage the reunion of indigenous villagers. By allowing them to discover the importance of their village, perhaps they will feel the need to keep and preserve their own village as it is. The book launch at Pak Sha O lasted two days with many activities (including sketching, book reading and concert, guided tours, nature tours and bird sound games etc.), also opened up a chance for villagers from overseas to return for a family reunion.

While working with such a diverse art team with literature, history and ecological knowledge, Ki Wong felt the importance is to not set any boundaries, let the artists feel through their hearts, flowing naturally. While reading the book, I felt that it wanted to connect everyone through imagination. In “KLACK”, Ki Wong kept trying to temper with the artistic values of non-artistic images, including meteorology images, images of wedding banquet halls, family photographs etc. She had found a humorous way to transform these into imaginative and emotional images without people knowing and through their own gaze. Ki Wong is herself very sensitive, she feel that the nature of art is to communicate, the process to discover, understand, intensify and transform.

The Biggest Dream Of This Era

“A Living Space “ not only carries a paradoxical merge between facts and fiction, but also paradoxically deep and external. Images and pages of the book show depth through provoking the viewer’s internal emotions while exhibiting and wrapped in the beautiful exterior; but to be able to do that requires cooperation and intertwining of designs and contents. Ki Wong had to be careful when she tried to find the path that connects everything together. When I pointed out to her that “A Living Space” felt ‘unreal’, she confessed that human need fantasies. And indeed, emotions and dreams are what make us human.

The most significant fantasy behind the project is that “we can handle a space and take rule of our life”. “A Living Space” retained the hand written manuscript ‘Emporers Through History’ by Mr Chan Sam-chyun, the all rounded teacher who taught in the village school many years ago and inserted the manuscript in form of a small booklet within the pages. Perhaps there are always such versatile people in the epoch of beginnings, to be small but complete and be able to pass on the virtues down many generations. To be able to take rule of our lives is sometime easier then lifting a finger, or it can sometime be an unreachable dream. Living in Hong Kong doesn’t make things easier. Under the corruption of core values and political oppression, to be able to take rule and self govern in Hong Kong seems like utopia. Or this is indeed our biggest fantasy and dream of our age.

It’s most intriguing that such dreams must be fulfilled through exploring history, that our dreams were once real. And, because they were once real that we find these utopian dream unreachable. This is the sentiment of this era, reminiscing the book “The Second Year of Jianfeng: An Alternative History of New China” by Chan Koonchung. A liveable place which connects us with our ancestors, connected through dreams and history, to break the seal via this remote village and explore profoundly the outward appearances of what we rely our life upon.

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