[Mending Years 縫補歲月 2023.-06.28-07.12] Five artists dig into the backstage of HK's economic success in the 1960s: they find not only a manufacturing phase preceding HK's evolvement into a financial centre, but women's massive domestic labor to fuels the pathos of struggle, never accounted for in statistical success stories. Curator Ying-chi Tang sees the present in the 5 stories of the past that harp back onto the 1960s-1970s, arguing that the public and domestic are integrally one, as the artists in the group show present. The Mending Years of the 1960s-70s, the other side of Hong Kong's manufacturing golden ages 五位創作者分別向那上世紀香港經濟起飛時期的勞動階層作追遠、緬懷和致意：女性勞工的創業精神，身心的勞累，她們的娛樂、創傷以至疾病 ...。 策展人鄧凝姿眼中的「縫補歲月」不單是上世紀的六七十年代，也是構成今天的一部份；透過五位創作者的視野，她看見公共領域和家居細活之間的千絲萬縷。
The Past or the Present: on the Exhibition “Mending Years”
Curator: Dr. Ying-chi Tang
English translation: Shan Luk, Linda C.H. Lai
The exhibition “Mending Years” (28 June to 12 July 2023, Gallery L0, JCCAC) brings together artists from diverse mediums and directions to showcase the unforgettable handmade era in Hong Kong. Starting with personal impressions/records of previous generations of parents or grandparents, a new interpretation is presented, revealing not only nostalgia/emotions towards the past generation, but also the impact of this glorious industry on daily life and society. Five artists integrate technology and ready-made/remanufactured materials to share this long-lost topic in a diverse and multi-faceted display.
Remembering the Past – from personal to public level
The 60s and 70s in the last century saw the rise of home-based manufacturing in Hong Kong, then marked the so-called “golden era of industrial development.” For many, it was a memorable period of self-sufficiency. Whereas those who experienced it firsthand are in their senior years, or have departed, the younger generation may remember that period from different perspectives. The artists in this exhibition have witnessed their (grand-)parents' tireless work at home, the changes that came with growing up, and the harsh realities of life and mortality. Looking back, they cannot help but sigh, “What kind of life has it been?”
Evans Chan, for example, grew up watching his mother sewing women's bras on a sewing machine, who only later succumbed to breast cancer, thus his installation Sewing Breasts. Linda Lai earned a bit of pocket money helping Mom with stringing beads. Watching her grandmother hand-making ropes for Chinese scales was one thing, she actually ended up practicing letter writing while reporting regularly on grandma’s doings to Mainland relatives. Rather than dwell on sentimentalism, Lai objectively delves into the economic realm, finding the production output of home-based industries in the 60s to be 57.5 million kilograms, or 94.7 million RMB, and highlighting the contributions of women to the economy during that time in her composite sculpture Domestic Moonlighting. Shan Luk never got the chance as she had wished to directly experience her grandmother passing on her exceptional skills in making 'Siu Fung Sin’ Cheongsam; she decides to overlay images of her blurry memories in her work Siu Fung Sin (“little phoenix dress”), in the form of a projection apparatus. Through no more than piecemeal fragments in scanty conversations, Winsome Wong is able to learn of her grandmother's making plastic flowers and being a factory worker in her younger days, and that her grandfather was once a barber. She seeks to fill in the blanks in her family's history through geography and found historical images. This attempt of recovering what is absent gives the title of her work – Blanks in the Picture. On a similar note of contrastive circumstances, Elaine Wong, without the privilege of an eye-witness, imaginatively connects the mental states of women who stay home alone to those who work at home all the time, inviting herself to feel what it is like in their situations, feeling I’m Here in the Cold Wind.
What brings the artists of the show together is their personal experiences and efforts in making sense of what happened. Their personal sentiments conjoin, calling our attention to the social, and as issues that are worth negotiating through discussion.
The Display of Art, Present Tense
The exhibition's theme and combined content may seem to express events of the past or emotions that no longer exist, and yet artistic re-interpretation of the past is always commentary for the present. The rich details of the exhibited objects or images can be considered as found readymade material of the past transformed into present-day artifacts, such as sewing machines, family photographs, hemp ropes, bamboo slabs for carrying loads, brassieres, the “little phoenix” dresses, old songs and images of old movies. These objects themselves have their own symbolic meanings, reflecting a range of production purposes or usage of a certain period. Through reorganization and recreation, artists imbue a shared moment of the past with new understanding and personal affective responses. Some artists even bring in sociological, anthropological, or other critical perspectives. We are then convinced that "history" could never be a conclusive account of a static past, but must be understood as the manifestation of dynamic possibilities of time, space, location, and complex relationships. Therefore, every interpretation by an artist is a moment of learning and unlearning, affective as well as critical reflections. Take Linda Lai’s piece as an example: when first exhibited in 2012-2013 in Shanghai, it was meant to explore the relationship between Hong Kong and China; now her 2023 reconstruction for this show re-focuses on Hong Kong's domestic livelihood to encourage more local participation and discussions. In fact, what is dealt with in this exhibition are no private histories: each artist holds a unique fragment or version of the same period, varied by their personal experiences. History understood this way is constantly extendable and reinterpretable. And this exhibition particularly embodies a rich, thick view of women’s domestic manufacturing labor as unique, negotiable histories.
The exhibition “Mending Years” features a multitude of intricate details and information that play a crucial role in conveying thoughts and sentiments. According to York Gunther’s distinction between “conceptual content” and “non-conceptual content” (2003). the former should complete the concept it seeks to define whereas the latter exists independent of the concept it refers to, emphasizing, instead, the use of perceptual details to supplement a concept, thus inviting viewers to exercise their perceptual capabilities. Nonconceptual content seeks a concept’s associative expandability, thus also data collected from multiple sources. Indeed, in this exhibition, assembled images from a range of locations, geographical environments and observational activities, each pertaining to unique emotions and experiences that inhabit the creative process. While the works in the presence of the visitors are not exposé making explicit their original intentions or concepts, viewers can still find their way to the perceptual core through the material details, the very location of contemplative imagination. Our perceptual consciousness varies, and sometimes intuition alone can take us a long way, which is also a characteristic of art. This exhibition begins with a specific theme, but does not draw any conclusions, impose any mandatory thinking, or overindulge in emotions. It simply allows viewers to revisit the past through the exhibits and examine this "history" in the present. The manufacturing era of the 1960s and 1970s is now a thing of the past, and for some, their previous generation has also passed away. What do we do to cherish this period of time? This is the question that the exhibition seeks to explore.
Gunther, York H. (ed) 2003. Essays on Nonconceptual Content. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
昨天還是今天 - 《縫補歲月》展覽
《縫補歲月》展覽 (2023.06.28-07.12 石硤尾賽馬會創意藝術中心L0展廳) 集合了不同創作媒介及方向的藝術家，展出有關香港難忘的的手作歲月，由個人對上一代父母親或隔代祖父母的印象、記錄開始，作一次全新的演繹，透露的不單是對上一代的情感與懷念，表達的內容更觸及這昔日輝煌的「手工業時代」在日常生活及社會層面所彰顯的種種。五位藝術家融合科技及現成/再造物，以多元展示的形式分享這久違的議題。
展出作品有很多細部和資訊，這些創作元素在表達以至接收信息上有甚麼作用？在這裡不妨試借用知覺哲學中有關「概念性的內容」相對於「非概念性內容」(conceptual content versus nonconceptual content) 的討論 (York Gunther 2003)去進一步說明。近年來，「非概念內容」的提出主要是補足在感知上許多的未知素。簡單來說，有關概念的「概念性內容」必須能應用到其所訂定的概念之內，使概念的論點得以完成。至於「非概念內容」可以是獨立於其牽涉的概念的；讀者可根據自己的感知能力去理解事物。因此，「非概念內容」可以是跟原來概念僅有關連而已，更重要的是延伸出來的、可能只作參考的各種資料。例如，是次作品中有從多種來源搜集得來的實物、影音圖像，或從走訪或地圖觀察而來的地理環境的不同面貌，包裹著種種情感和時間的經歷，隱藏在眾作品內。這些細膩的發展未必能完全直接陳述所牽動的事件，但欣賞的人可從不同資訊、視覺元素中接觸作品內裡的情感和意義；這些物理的層面開放了思考和想像的空間。人的意識和感知是多方面的，有時單憑直覺也可能解決一些事情，其實這也是藝術的特質。是次的展覽，由一個議題開始，但沒有在這個議題上作結論；沒有強迫性的思維，也沒有濫發的情緒，只是讓觀眾透過展品去憶記或聯想昔日的事情，在「當下」檢視「歷史」。