Linda Lai / Minor histories… the poetic and the discursive / preview notes #5 for FPC’s 1st exhibition

Linda Lai / Minor histories… the poetic and the discursive / preview notes #5 for FPC’s 1st exhibition

Linda Chiu-han Lai 黎肖嫻

Linda Chiu-han Lai 黎肖嫻

發表於: 22 May 2010

**feature image: video still from Linda Lai's Voices Seen, Images Heard (2009)



Voices Seen, Images Heard (2009), which will be shown for the first time in Hong Kong, tonight at FPC’s inauguration, has been shown in two different festivals in April, 2010. I have been most enlightened by the various ways audience, critics and curators communicated back to me about my work. It opens up new angles for self understanding. In this short preview, I’ll cite some of these views…


No single story; collecting, collating, and ‘writing’ history


Voices Seen, Images Heard is an alternative historiography written in the form of visual ethnography and travelogue. The director tries to write the history of Hong Kong with a variety of her collections including photos, paintings, movies, and newsreels, but these visual materials contrastingly distract our understanding about Hong Kong. The location of a Hollywood movie which pictures Hong Kong people in a ridiculous manner, is not Hong Kong but Shanghai. Visual materials have great effect in understanding a country, but none of the visual materials about Hong Kong here show Hong Kong as it is. Maybe, being torn apart and scattered, those materials per se are the history of Hong Kong which was returned to China after 100 years of English occupation. The director says Hong Kong is the fragments that are secretive, fragile, and distorted.”


CHO Hye-young, Programmer/Juror for the 12th International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul (IWFFIS) 2010


”Helga and I were fascinated by your film Voices Seen, Images Heard. I liked every facet and truly enjoyed your stubborness in elegantly inviting (and tempting) the audience to entertain the notion that there does not exist a (“one”) story we just can or have to unearth: truly excellent!”


Prof. Alf Luedtke, Social Historian, Germany, Author of The History of Everyday Life: Reconstructing Historical Experiences and Ways of Life (1995) and Unsettling History: Archiving and Narrating in Historiography (2010)


“A historian, also an interdisciplinary artist, engages in a self-dialogue of how to write the history of her city, Hong Kong. Drilling the disparate mines of sights and sounds, she re-examines the power and limitation of ocular epistemology, which favors visual perception as the dominant form of knowing. As she makes her way through the scanty and homogenous visual documents available, she re-imagines a city that has a precarious history of holding onto its look or preserving its architectural integrity at the interest of real estate development.”


– from the program notes for the “Avant Travel” session in the Athens International Film+Video Festival 2010



The viewers demand…


The editorial team for the IWFFIS 2010 newsletter, a group of university student volunteers from Seoul, asked me the following questions and wrote about them in a feature article:


Voices Seen, Images Heard (2009, Linda Lai)


* What incited the project of “Meditations on a Minor History,” of which Voices Seen is a part?
* What is the artist’s fascination with the 1930s of Hong Kong?
* Explain the extended use of fast and slow motion.
* Comment on this work as a ”Collage Film”…
* What is role of “collecting” in this work and what was the process like?
* Is this work meant to propose “another Hong Kong”?
* What is the work’s position in “identity” issues?


Cover story, IWFFIS 2010 newsletter (in Korean)


In two Q-&-A sessions, audience posed to me the following questions:


* Can you explain the disrupted sound and images in your work?
* Why did you reverse the motion of the trip along the harbor shore?
* Explain what ‘collage’ means to you. What kind of strategy is it?
* Since this work is also a found-footage film, how did you decide what images to include in your video?
* Any there any symbolic meanings or use of metaphors in the choice of your images?
* Why found footage?
* Do you see any differences showing this work in a cinema/film festival setting and in the contemporary art/galley space?
* What’s the difference in pursuing history in writing and via imaging?
* Is it really possible to be both a video artist and a historian?


The poetic and the discursive: beyond ocular epistemology, liberating the fragmentary


Voices Seen, Images Heard is a work of experimental visual historiography based on visual ethnography.  I have always been an earnest image-collector – photos, newsreels, movies with real location shots, drawings, found texts and graphics.  I attend especially to the less noticeable details of these found objects, and I realize there’s a lot to the ‘surfaces’ of things handed down to us from the past.  I naturally find collage a relevant artistic form and strategy, and have adapted it to videography.  In the process of it, one intriguing creative problem is how to embed still images in a video work; the other is what to do with available fragments that do not immediately form a rational whole.  What I have done in Voices Seen is to liberate the fragments of found sounds and images from the domination of discourses, juxtapose them with my own video diaries, so as to let each fragment speak and perform to us.


Voices is the first of a series of meditation notes in the form of video essays on the thought process of a historian attempting to re/un-cover the lost sights and sounds of a city whose ‘appearances’ constantly ‘disappear’ by the logic of progress and development.  I have been driven by a strong desire to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ for myself… What did people look like? Who walked on the streets? How did they talk? What did they sound like?  Why do I see more men than women on the streets? What habits and norms of photographic culture prescribed the kinds of images considered worth taking and how reality could be framed into images? Did that have to do with the types of camera popular in those days? Who had the right economical status to own a camera? What did they usually do and in what circumstances would pictures be taken? What general visual culture framed the photographic aesthetics — postcards, travel literature, or…?


In the light of phenomenological thinking, I highlight the historian’s desire to gain access to, and the impossibility of, sensual perceptual dwelling in the past — even in the presence of a huge (audio and visual) archive! The irony is – a lot of the Cantonese sounds I’ve found are not comprehensible to me. I look at them and listen – much like a stranger in the midst of a land of foreign tongue.


*          *          *          *


What drama on the floor?


Floor Drama 2 (2010 Linda Lai)


I assume Floor Drama to be a series and a work-in-progress. Floor Drama (I) was made and used for the grand opening of Experimenta (September 2008), my first experiment in dynamic art association. I expect more floor dramas each time I launch a new incentive, which I very much like to see myself doing.


I haven’t quite found all the words I need to explain why floor drama. It’s an obsession to begin with, something that grabs my sensibility that has no space elsewhere to articulate. Perhaps a therapy through scrapping/rubbing/disrupting/punching, kneading… images? Perhaps I need a space to just leave image-collection without a purpose, unlike all my other found footage works?


Floor Drama 2 (2010 / Linda Lai / video floor projection)


Floor Drama 1 (2008) was a documentation of the 200-sq-ft floor space of Experimenta before and after its renovation. It also quotes many images I happened to have taken of objects on the floor in our house in Spain, which I needed for another ethnographic exercise.


For Floor Drama 2 (2010 / 25 min.) … A personal fantasy of mine of stepping on images or walking through light and shade becomes a floor projection by which memories, desires, histories and footprints of travels shower on passers-by — to leave nothing but visually textured traces of impermanence. I have used images from the past 6 years.

(Linda Lai)


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