Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Collab in Hong Kong 1

Arrived here on Nov 3, Which makes it 2 weeks since I’ve been here, and in spite of my intention to keep a daily blog, I’ve failed miserably, slamming into bed nightly into a stygian sleep that my body has been demanding as its right.

First things first. “Here” is Hong Kong, where I’m on another artistic residency, six weeks long this time, half the duration of last year’s ISEA gig in Singapore. I’m being hosted by the Hong Kong Art Centre (HKAC for short) in Wanchai, old Suzie Wong territory, and still the place where expats can chat up dancers in the girlie bars (lotta Mainlanders, Pinays, Thais and Indonesian girls) on Lockhart, though as a supposedly kind of raunchy district, it’s pretty tame. Clean, prosperous, good air. Easy to get decent or even really good food cheap even late at night, as is supposedly the case in all girlie districts of the world. Nothing like Binondo or even Geylang Lorong in Singapore. Apparently, the HKAC was the first center for independent art in Hong Kong, when it was put up in the seventies (?). Previous to that, all art spaces were government sponsored. So this was where the Hong Kong independent art scene was born. Indie films, experimental films, performance, etc, you name it. Though as indie spaces go, it’s not only venerable, but spectacularly chichi by the standards of the Philippine art scene. It’s a building, some 20 floors high, has its own accredited art school (named the Hong Kong Art School, what else, and I’ll refer to it as HKAS hereon) that gives out full university degrees in the arts, and rents space out to a raft of clients that include the Goethe Institut , for god’s sake. Rent gives them money, but they’ve attracted some pretty spectacular sponsorship as well. Might just be that corporations here are richer or have more discretion, but I get the impression the arts are a more credible target for funding over here than in the Phil or Singapore. There’s a theater built/donated and named by Agnes B, for example, and labs/workrooms everywhere bearing the names of donors.

Anyway, I’ve been tapped as half of a collaborative partnership. The other half is Tse Ming Chong, a lecturer at the HKAS, one of the pre-eminent photographers here. Founder of Lumenvisum, the first gallery in HK devoted exclusively to photography. He focuses on ideas of history, and how history is generated as narrative, specifically via imagery. He’s the one who wanted to do something that focused on the Philippines, which is a blind spot in the cultural landscape of HK. In spite of their proximity, both countries know very little about each other. Filipinos living in the Philippines see HK as a kind of shopping playground and Hong Kong residents are aware of Filipinos mostly as the Sunday spectacle of DHs thronging the streets of Central. Ming Chong and I are getting along quite raucously these days, now that we’re on the second week of our artistic blind date, although it wasn't too long ago when we were wondering what the hell we were going to do together. I’ve never worked with a photographer, and was not quite sure what to do with still images. Further, the last couple of years I’ve been thinking about machines and robots and how to use machine intelligence, and it seemed an interruption of the investigations on that front to turn back to cultural and historical themes, especially as they have to do with Philippine domestic helpers. It seemed like 70’s Social Realist territory, whiny/strident Leftist NGO photojournalist stuff: musty, littered with cliches and platitudes about Exploitation and the Tribulations of the Philippine Worker.

Lastly, there is the contrast in our artistic approaches. Ming Chong’s approach/sensibility is founded on the reticience of traditional documentary. Although he acknowledges that he frames the photograph in order to express his perceptions about the world, he does not manipulate or stage things for the camera. On the other hand, I’ve come to realize that I reach for the tools of science fiction whenever I deal with cultural/historical/social themes. I thrive on extrapolation, hyperbole and distortion. On using technological devices or conceits to juxtapose disparate realities (eg: SF has used time machines to point up the differences between cultures seperated by time; alien societies as a way to describe surreal aspects of the everyday present, and cloning to explore ideas of individuality, personhood and consciousness)

However, as I said, Ming Chong and I have been getting along like gangbusters the last week. It’s possible my mood has also improved since as a result of designing and building this mobile timelapse lab that runs off a car battery. The photo shows it an intermediate stage, before I'd tidied up the cables and tucked them into convenient corners of the cart. The Hong Kongese are amazingly blase about a guy walking around the city at 4 in the morning with something like this. Making stuff always calms me down. I’ll write more on that in the next update, where I’ll talk more concretely about what I've actually been doing, and how Ming Chong and I took the HKAS students for whose edification we are doing this collaboration, to this Pinoy birthday party on Lantau island.