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HONG KONG — The cockroach, rust-hued, bulbous-bodied, fuzzy legs akimbo, that most dreaded of pests, awaits me near the entrance of Luke Ching’s solo show, Liquefied Sunshine, at Blindspot Gallery in Hong Kong. Indiscernible at first, save for the spotlights that shine on them, these insects lie incapacitated, arranged in triangular formations. Nearby is a theatrically lit black and white video in which two hands (Ching’s) mime gestures of tying, folding, and squeezing between fingers a small unseen object. Every few seconds, the picture glitches; we see a fleeting still image of the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) at the site of recent rallies, in which civilians protest for universal suffrage and independent investigations into alleged police brutality, among other demands.
Luke Ching, a Hong Kong-born and -based artist, began making cockroaches two decades ago, fashioning the critters out of double-sided tape. These fabricated creatures, each one unique, are manifestations of Ching’s pathological phobia and hyper-awareness of cockroaches in daily Hong Kong life. In the context of Hong Kong’s current political climate, however, the insect sculptures and the video, in which Ching mimes the creation of one, invite another reading: earlier in the summer, the HKPF labeled some protestors as siu keung, a Cantonese colloquialism synonymous with “cockroach.” This fed into the government’s repulsion by and fear of these civilians, who might also be seen as ubiquitous, untraceable, and inexhaustible.
Liquefied Sunshine and a concurrent solo show at Blindspot Gallery, South Ho Siu Nam’s Force Majeure, are abundant with metaphors about politics in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The two artists’ bodies of photographs, installation, and video works are their attempts to, as written in the press release, “reflect on the coincidence of natural catastrophes and socio-political failures in the current moment.” This premise is promising, and there are indeed many parallels to be drawn between the raging typhoons and muggy showers of these regions and the unpredictability of authoritarian policies and resulting civilian uprisings, most eloquently in the works of Ching, who focuses on the phenomenon of rain. However, the proposition falls short in areas, simply because rain and storms eventually pass, yet the political movements referenced here are palimpsestic, built on decades of tension and history with no easy end in sight. Take Ho’s multicolored ping pong balls, shaped like the beanbag rounds that have injured and allegedly blinded multiple civilians (reports are unconfirmed by the HKPF). As a critique of the HKPF and government’s handling of instances of police brutality, the work is all too neat and convenient — and by now, outdated, given that a protestor was shot recently — unlike the increasing violence, chaos and collective fatigue surrounding the ongoing political movement.
How does one sensitively discuss a protest or a movement that has not yet ended, and whose outcome is unknown? Two works by Ching, one brand new, the other from 2014-15, reflect on the past, present, and future of these contested areas. A folded Ming Pao newspaper on a shelf, dated August 31, 2019, contains a photograph depicting a water cannon firing streams of blue-dyed water at protestors in Hong Kong, ostensibly to stain and mark them; the rest of the paper has been painted over by Ching in glyph-like white and blue strokes that resemble rainfall. Opposite this paper is a wall of nostalgia postcards of Hong Kong and Taiwan subject to the same treatment of “rain” — in some images, the scene is obscured, but in others, the glossy surfaces repels the paint, and a tree or a block of building comes through, resisting suppression or erasure. Through Ching’s simple manipulations, we see the tensions between the truth and fictional, politicized narratives, such as propaganda in mainstream media and the Orientalist image of the “East,” perpetuated in these postcards.
However, even the most politically sensitive of artworks can appear coolly hypothetical and distanced from social movements — especially those that keep changing — without added context. Bridging together the works in both shows are Ho’s unedited videos of protests and the Cantonese chants that develop within these movements: Do You Hear the People Say? (2019) shows a mass of people resisting heat, rain, tear gas, and protracted conflicts with the police and the government. These scenes, flashed repeatedly on screens, phones, and news segments over the last few months, seem fresh here. They are unadulterated, presented without motive and, even, at times, tedious to watch. Intended as an open-ended work, with additional videos being added as the uprising continues, Do You Hear the People Say? might be the most literal of all the pieces in the show — the artist simply set up and monitored a camera for hours — yet it fully captures the ephemeral fluidity and mobility of a people, echoing the movement’s message of adaptation: “be water.”
Luke Ching Chin Wai: Liquefied Sunshine and South Ho Siu Nam: Force Majeure continue at Blindspot Gallery (15/F, Po Chai Industrial Building, 28 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong) through November 2.