Leung Chi Wo “So I don’t really know sometimes if it’s because of culture”, 25.4.-17.5.2014 CMC Gallery, Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre, City University of Hong Kong
Leung Chi Wo’s solo show contained 4 works, all video-based, some combined with photography. The first work to catch a visitor’s attention was “Sign” (2008) a single channel video installation, depicting baby sign language – first in an instructional video, and second as a mock-enactment of a mother using sign language communicating negative keywords from a daily newspaper (unemployment, radicalism, terrorist attack, etc.) to her child. In front of “Sign” there was “Sign Read”, where the same negative keywords were used to generate images via google image search, which were then played back (in image form) to a group of students who were then instructed to write down their impressions. These impressions were engraved in school desks, exhibited together with the google image sequence embedded on a small monitor in the desk. Another work was “Depot of Disappearance, a photo slideshow of empty corners of a room, accompanied by an edited voiceover where the artist read edited memory fragments of people who used to frequent that room (an art project space). The main work which gave the title to the show was a 4 channel video installation combining video and sound of interviews of two anonymous Moroccan women who moved to Hong Kong recently and two western artists (Cedric Maridet and Laurent Gutierrez) who moved to Hong Kong long time ago.
The handout text describing the works, and the works itself were separated by an order of meaning. The texts was rather prescriptive in what the works mean, however the works itself, in my opinion were documentary-like, representing a piece of the world, with a certain framing, but without much directing of the viewer’s line of thought. “Sign” (a child learning sign language) “explores the idea of non-mainstream communication and meaning of human reality overloaded with mass media” – according to the text. “Sign Read” (school desks with keywords) “contemplates the meaning and value of education” – according to the text. “Depot of disappearance” (empty room shot with voiceover) “addresses issues of memory, space and cultural policy” – according to the text. And finally, according to the text “So I don’t really know…” (4 interviews with HK immigrants) “explores the notion of diasporas”.
The videos on display were all between 10 and 20 minutes and contained either talking heads or long static shots of waves on the sea and trees. They were more like placeholders to fix visitors eyes onto something than carriers of meaning. “Sign Read” (the school desks) was an exception. It did not require a lot of time to grasp and associative thinking could go in many directions. The direction proposed in the handout text was just one of many.
The negative keywords used in “Sign” and “Sign Read” pointed towards the assumption that something is wrong with our world. But where can we go from the statement “Mass media uses negativity to manipulate us”? It is simply an opinion, nothing more and nothing less. “Depot of disappearance” followed a similar line that could be transcribed as “personal recollections are unreliable”.
“I don’t really know….” concludes the series in the same style: Two immigrants talked about their first experience of Hong Kong, pointing out basic cultural differences. Two artists talked about their life story and how they came to live in Hong Kong. The interviews with Cedric Maridet and Laurent Gutierrez were the most interesting part of the show for me, simply for their informative context. They presented a candid view into the life of artists I bump into at openings from time to time. This was a personal value for me. The interview with the two Moroccan immigrants was on the other hand meaningless to me – repeating stereotypes, they illustrated a simple fact that we all face same problems when encountering another culture.
At face value, the exhibition was stating a number of generally acknowledged situations and facts. The depth of the artwork was appropriated from the depth of the “social” and each visitor became an ethnographer left to his own interpretation. The lazy visitor got the explanation served in the handout booklet. The super lazy visitor did not even need go to the exhibition – he just needed to get catalogue containing transcribed versions of all the videos and explanatory texts.
Leung Chi Wo appropriated the “social” and presented it as an artwork in a gallery context. The social is a very ambiguous and undefinable thing. Things are further complicated by the fact that we are part of it and cannot distance ourselves from it. Can the social be successfully appropriated? Can the appropriated social be successfully communicated? This circular loop which created a difficulty in the exhibition: Communicating the social fact of cultural/ideological difference through the social occasion of a video exhibition to the social milieu of exhibition visitors by appropriating the social process of migration/education. The work became caught up in a never ending loop of explanations and explanations of explanations etc. The final conclusion whether this is a bug or a feature shall be left open to each visitor.