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Feature: RT @ APT3 & MAAP99

Hong Kong—rebuilding on disappearance

Grisha Dolgopolov

Hong Kong has not disappeared. It has rebuilt. It has rebuilt on disappearance. It has replaced utility with images. Images are now the utility. Images in frames and covered in layers that disappear in a layer of images compressed in frames.

Self-Made Cinemas is a one of these layers. It is a program of ten independent screen works from Hong-Kong curated by Jo Law and currently touring Australia. These dynamic and diverse videos are united by a common city rhythm and a fascination with HK’s multiple layers of change. In her curator’s notes, Law says that the actual experience of a Hong Kong no longer recognised by its inhabitants is disappearing. She claims that “visual images have lost their ability to represent. They have become mere mis-connected signs pointing to a mirage.”

Perhaps this is why these independent video makers try to capture the images of their city to stop its disappearance. But these images are not archives, or documents. They are highly personalised video essays that present the vagaries of remembrance in different forms. In these Self-Made works, HK is not a mirage or a ghost but a colourful, pulsing, busy shawl woven of different threads that are connected by their disconnectedness to stasis.

These videos were made either before or after the ‘hand over’. In some ways, this theme is pervasive, if not in the films then in the way in which we will watch and make sense of them. The granite gray skies of that wet July day in 1997 may have replaced the enduring images of exotic hybrids, British imperial jewels and martial art films, but it is images that shuffle off and disappear, not cities. These works reveal HK transforming through the rainbow of memory and the exigency of speed and need. They are ephemeral, personal paintings in time with little attempt to capture the whole.

Mr Salmon is a dazzling animated symphony of salmon swimming up river and across sushi bars. It is vibrantly textural and colourful. It could be an urban metaphor for swimming against the flow of history as a vital death impulse only to become an appetizing visual delight for video voyeurs.

The ingredients of Hong Kong’s cultural hybridity are far more potent than just Western modernism or traditional Chinese narratives. The vitality of HK is the piquancy of innumerable cultural influences. Fuelled by hyper internationalism, it resists homogenisation in the drive for new taste experiences.

Exquisite video techniques are common to all these works. This manifests the “survival myth” of Hong Kong: life springs from hybrid fusion. Dave Hung’s Love entrances with modern primitivist images set to the incredible driving rhythm of the Balinese ketjak chant. Traditional grotesque hybrids flicker in a ceaseless dance of erotic transformation in this sublime appropriation of the trance chant.

Urban repulsion is combined with morbid fascination with the city. This makes for an uncanny contemplation in the video format. There is an obsession with motion and different forms of communication and transportation along roads, footpaths, depoliticised landscapes, internet sites and city sights. The new flaneur in HK experiences detached contemplation at high speed.

“The road is the same every day. But could I still recognize it tomorrow??”

The drive time of Makin Fung’s Hong Kong Road Movie was exhilarating—my personal favourite. It combined a roaming road video with a memorial to the personalised passage of time in HK, global internet and email interfaces and non-stop textuality. This delicate diary with endless road signs and screen directions about movement, roads, politics and change was incredibly inventive. A virtuoso display of the potential of the screen—split and layered in amazing configurations with a ceaseless polyphony of motion. Any stillness was surprising. The personal became vital. The work was rhythmic and tactile. This was total screen art and a tiger’s leap into the future.

In Frederic Lichstenstein’s One Minute Project an agitated eye peers through its veiny membrane at us. A disturbing offer. A different way of looking—both for the eye looking out and for us looking in on the eye. The challenge for us is to look at this eye with disinterest. To look at HK and not see a reflection of our cities in its myriad mirrored skyscrapers. To see something new and as yet unnamed.

All of the Self-Made films are startling in their originality of vision and readiness to use the video medium in fresh and unpredictable ways. They explode the potential for re-viewing screen space and the texture of editing. The excess of speed, information and image flows did not create a sense of clutter. These works present a completely different cognition of space and pictorial organisations of the moving image. It must be the rhythm of moving freely in small ever-changing spaces. Discordant frames within frames, layers across frames in perpetual motion create an unpredictable harmony of vision. Their highly personalised essayism reveals new ways of seeing that will not disappear in the future rebuilding.

Self-Made Cinemas, curator Jo Law, State Library Theatrette, September 4, MAAP

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg.

© Grisha Dolgopolov; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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