What you see is not what you get: Siu Wai Hang’s Unreasonable Behaviours
Courtesy of hkcnews.com
Unreasonable Behaviours demonstrates "negation is creation”1 in the continuum of social movements that cleave to the hearts of many in Hong Kong through Siu Wai Hang’s distorted images. Inspired by British war photographer Don McCullin’s same-titled book, the exhibition pierces the systematic attack with the spirit of emancipation, on the cusp between what we see and what we remember.
Siu’s work calls to re-examine the received sociopolitical landscape and the collective memories of a city that is progressively foreign in both form and spirit. As the recipient of the Hong Kong Human Rights Art Prize (2018) and the WYNG Masters Award (2014 and 2016), Siu taps into the intimacy of photography to capture the entrenched Hong Kong identity that has been thwarted in so many ways by unbecoming legal, economic, cultural and educational developments. Ironically, the social unrest in 2019 gave birth to an unexpected rejection of being
photographed and photography at large, which made Siu’s practice come to a halt.
From the infringement of civil rights to hesitation to create, what Siu finds unreasonable in his various identities threads the exhibition, toying between objectivity and subjectivity to reconcile the unhealed trauma that is not to be seen, but observed in the room.
刷上刷落 - Courtesy of Line Today
《刷上刷落》, for instance, centres on the scratching effect he made to the photographs. The erasure becomes “traces of rain”, gradually washing away the picture planes, which are sequenced into a blinding crescendo that rejects the chronicle of struggle against democracy. Hung next to the final emptied frame is the actual brush used to remove the visual score, a painterly device that blurs personal expression and reality in an attempt to take away the
tangible receptacle for imagination and feeling. At close range, what remains is the remnant of physical evidence. At a distance, what remains is decorative emptiness that lulls you into a paralysing reverie where identity once sits.
Clean Hong Kong Action - Courtesy of The Stand News
The stripping pattern continues in “Clean Hong Kong Action”, the work that earns Siu the First Prize of The Hong Kong Photobook Dummy Award 2021, finding empathy and liberation in distortion. By punching holes onto protestors’ faces, Siu was setting free his photographs as objects, and himself as a photographer and a protestor. On one hand the tedious hunt for every single protester in the photo mirrors the unreasonable investigative approach by the law enforcement these days, on the other it obscures the dishonouring potential and reinstates the
power of fellow demonstrators in the midst of censorship and suppression. Just as scroll painting introduces the narrative capacity of painting, such that the artist can transmit particular concepts to culturally literate viewers2, so too is this photo book exposed to story progression which only spectators with collective consciousness can understand. One challenge that Siu excels at solving is the aesthetic concern over the double-sided display of the book. If only he had carelessly arranged the sequence of the photographs, the punching process would have destroyed the book and influenced the overall artistic value. Where materiality, displacement and power dynamic are concerned, Siu keeps the head of police officers in the photographs intact, a testament to his teasing attitude that walks thinly at the political junction.
Courtesy of Line Today
Of a different viewing experience are the photographs on acrylic. While those on paper exude a dark tonality for narrative reading, these exquisitely lit images allow light to pass through and create a candlelight vigil sensation, which commemorates harbingers of change in another time and space to meet the hushed gaze of Hong Kong people. As such, the enlarged selection provides a gateway for viewers to travel within and revisit the lost moment that runs deep in our veins.
籠橋 - Courtesy of Line Today
Coming to the dark room at the back greets the video installation of 《籠橋》, a 4-panel panoramic recording of the unusually caged footbridge above one of the city’s busiest roads, paradoxically, at its quietest time. Placed at eye level, this piece is designed to immerse viewers in the muted cadence of change in quotidian details, forcing us to slow down and pay attention to how democratic aspirations are collapsing around us. To the shorter ends face the slow-going loop of despairing abyss against capitalist promises; to the longer ends face the truncated passing of vehicles outside the fence. This vignette — the juxtaposed spatio-temporal relationship between adjacent panels, between the real world and the frozen world, between what we know of and what we are known — culminates a melodrama-like visual disruption that reclaims Siu’s art. Solemnly distant and eternally still, it anchors a subjective contemplation in time, political correctness and own associations through a continuous camera movement in its
Another recent work of Siu exhibited at WMA Space, among other artists to examine the weakened human connection and the strength in parenthood during COVID-19, “Hot Shots” asks the hard-hitting question of the tipping steelyard between public health and privacy. The many thermographic images confront the new norm in its full vexation, which, along with the government’s peddling of vaccination, trackable mobile application, and compulsory testing, feels stunningly powerless. Desperate times call for desperate measures — at a time when
pandemic and its products get woven into the fabric of our existence, our bid to fight cyber warfare is nothing but brutal. Coming into this echo chamber, there is a sense of unease that leaves one thinking — “Did you exchange; A walk-on part in the war; For a leading role in a cage?”
It is a blessing and a curse to be living in an image-driven world where visual stimulation is constantly facilitated by catchier presentations and more outraged subject matters. This project, on the contrary, provides Siu leeway to create within boundaries, by ways of vicissitudes of photography methods — the experimental tool and photograph handling techniques — while offering the audience a safe dimension to observe and ponder. Likewise, Siu intentionally excluded the exhibition catalogues, as well as making the introductory statement barely visible, another unreasonable behaviour to challenge viewers’ understanding of normalcy, art space, artwork, and survival. Such is the power of his practice, going beyond what we see and leaving us symbols to find our answers.
1 Groys, B. (2013). Adon: MIT Prt Power. Lonress
2 Green, A. (2013). Rethinking Visual Narratives from Asia. HKU Press