Leung Chi Wo 2: Clip 2
In this second part of the interview, Leung Chi Wo discusses the connection of architecture and localized history as an agent for his artwork. He then comments on the evolving and shifting coastline of Hong Kong, and how the pace of urbanization tends to overlook the historical context of the land—engaging with the complex relationship between urban development and preservation.
MultiplicityPhysicalityArchitectureHistoryReincarnationHong KongUrban DevelopmentDevelopmentLand ReclamationPreservationPolitical ChangePowerWaterMemoryVictoria HarbourMigrationPhotography
Leung Chi Wo
Dr. Joanne Leow
Run Run Shaw Media Centre, Hong Kong
0:06 Joanne Leow: So, I’m going to ask you just to rewind a little bit to talk—not completely—but about that idea of that politics of disappearance. So you were saying, you were reading a lot about identity in that period… Leung Chi Wo: Right. Joanne Leow: …but there was that gap in history, so you could just talk a little bit more about that. 0:23 Leung Chi Wo: I really think that there was not such official platform to have that local history here, so I started to look at more—as I say, personally I’m interested in physical objects, things—so, I started to create things where…so like physical surroundings, I was interested in architecture, so I started to look at all these old buildings that I was not told or taught to learn about them, and, in a sense, because their age was old. So, somehow, it’s kind of interesting, yeah, generically they were called as historical buildings, but somehow it was almost empty of history, because nobody really mentioned and taught and considered about that. So it becomes a very interesting agent for my practice, almost like I started to look at all these things which apparently looked very quietly, but I tried to uncover or relay certain kind of context to…almost like I would reincarnate all this body. 1:47 Joanne Leow: That’s really interesting, this idea of reincarnation. So you really became a kind of artist of the city, in a sense, in that idea. I wanted to ask you a little bit more about—I have questions related to my own research, just what in terms of I’m interested in, and there are two things. First, maybe since you’re talking about the city, to just think a bit more about the changes that have been wrought in terms of reclamation, and the expansion of Kowloon, for instance, like in the cultural district, the new West Kowloon Cultural District. What are your thoughts on that evolving and shifting Hong Kong coastline there, and how do you think it might affect your work? 2:29 Leung Chi Wo: I have very strong emotions in that it was really the beginning of my work, like I did have a job before I really could…spend a lot of time on art, it was right after my graduation, so I worked in a publishing company, and it was before ‘97, so it was a direction to really publish a lot of books on Hong Kong history and cultures, and that was the time that I learned a bit about Hong Kong, because I didn’t have it in school. So, it was very interesting when I look at all this—for example, we produced a book on the historic postcards of Hong Kong, so you could see all these beautiful architectures. And that emotion came because I learned it so late, because it was already the ‘90s. But somehow I found that they were only demolished in the ‘80s; that means I could be still able to see it if I was told to do it. So it was such…almost like a time lag, that the change of the city was so fast that nobody could cope with it. Even…it was so late when you started to miss it. So it’s kind of very interesting, you didn’t miss it when it was demolished, you only miss it when it was many years later. So, I think it was really the pace of the urbanizations here, and the substance of meaning and history was somehow…it is not neglected, but it was definitely overlooked so much. 4:25 Joanne Leow: So it’s a kind of belated reaction… Leung Chi Wo: Exactly, it’s belated, yeah. Joanne Leow: Does it…for me, coming from Singapore, and I just did some research in Vancouver, it’s this idea that the coastline isn’t stable, so Hong Kong itself, the ground, isn’t stable. So much of it is built on reclaimed land, very much like Vancouver and Hong Kong, and all this new development. How do you relate to that new development in relation to the old buildings that you’ve lost? 4:51 Leung Chi Wo: I mean, new developments didn’t respect the old at all, I really found…and referring to that reclamation context, actually it happened so late, like the law to protect the harbour only came, I think like ten, fifteen years ago. So now, basically, within the Victoria Harbour, we couldn’t reclaim anymore. So, that new highway, or the underpass along the harbour, was the last bit that can be reclaimed. But nowadays a lot of people still calling for reclamations beyond the harbour, so the other side of the harbour, or outside the harbour, mainly for the reason to have more space for housing and so on. And that’s the problem, because I think that what we’ve lacked from this idea of urban planning here, it was the official account always offer to you very limited choices, and they always thought that, for example, like development was almost hundred percent opposite to preservation, so they thought that if you have to develop, you cannot do preservation. But it’s not true, I mean, there’s the official account created all the time, or bit by bit very slowly we started to see sort of civil movement to counter this, but it’s taking so long, and I think that also happening alongside, with the political movement, and it actually, I find, they really parallel or relate. But at the same time, when you see all this call for political change, it has been suppressed so much, and that call for preservation of the old part of the city was almost suppressed at the same time because actually, very often, there would be the same group of the people asking, because I think this is the oldest idea about the future of the city. And then everything is related, you need this political power to support the preservation. 7:14 Joanne Leow: Yeah. And obviously urban planning, spatial control and authority in space, is also a way to discipline the population. Not just in terms of housing, although that’s a huge part of it, but also in terms of urban memory, like what you preserve. Totally true. Maybe one last question on that work on water, the one entitled So I don’t really know sometimes if it’s because of culture, which really really moved me because there you really engage with the harbour, but you also engage with some transnational connections as well. Can you talk a little bit more about that work on water, for you in terms of Hong Kong being this archipelago, really. You know, what does water mean to you and your practice? 7:54 Leung Chi Wo: Okay. A few years ago I read—it was very interesting discovery, it was almost like a myth, because it’s this kind of discovery in the biochemistries. So there’s a French scientist, he found an indeed kind of…organic fluid in the cells, somehow water-based, it actually has a certain kind of memory. So, in terms of any change of the body fluid, and it record, no matter how much the dilution it could be. So I actually took this almost like a metaphor for my interpretation of the water, and it’s also along the concept as of silent witness. And along history, think about that, so many things had happened, but the water looks similar, but there’s—apparently looking similar. If I could apply that idea that water can remember, indeed, it really witness, or there’s change as well. So, in that sense, almost that is the most powerless gesture I could do is to make use of the water in front of all this historical change. So, returning to that project, I mean the image of the Victoria Harbour, it’s actually somehow like a very silenced protest. 9:31 Joanne Leow: That’s so interesting. So, just going back to the image as this kind of silent protest, how do you see, then, those—I’m usually interested in that connection to migration as well. Leung Chi Wo: Right. Joanne Leow: What was that connection, then, in terms of the water? 9:46 Leung Chi Wo: Well, I mean, definitely, you really pass over all this ocean. And also, on the other hand, I like this notion of photography. This image of the water tells you nothing about its location, right, but because of the process of photography, it was almost like evidence that a particular part of the water was taken somewhere, you know, particular. So it was the image of the Victoria Harbour, but at the same time, it could be really shared by people who thought that that could be the Mediterranean, you know. So, it has this multilayers reading possible for people without losing my original intention, yeah.