Set in a murky dimness, the dialogues simmer about Ellen Pau’s retrospective practices at Para Site. As you sight adjusts to the dark, in a gradual awakening, one could be found very torn standing in a bifurcated misdirection– to the left or the right? The indecisive mind keeps perambulating and reminds you to pace back and forth. The more you drift, the more your mind is at war. Both Pau’s latest and oldest works are clamping the entrance/exit. Upon you are aware of the sequence by production dates, hardly still could you decide on the direction. Both imbued with complexity, the aged meet with the fresh, and it is ridden on the unknown amid to open the door of the future.
Curator Freya Chow aptly stated:’ This exhibition is not aimed to be only a retrospective.’
Disenchantment of the Statue (1987) and I Don’t Have Time to Deal with Fear (2018) convey a thematic presentation of warfare in juxtaposition. Against a google-map wallpaper marked with underground channel signs, I Don’t Have Time to Deal with Fear (2018) marries an iPad with the augmented reality technology to explore the post-World War I myth in Hong Kong. Gin Drinkers Line was the British military defensive front across Kwai Chung and Sai Kung, Hong Kong to defend the Japanese invasion in the early 1940s. At the centre of the backdrop of the defensive line lays an iPad. You can interact with the AR technology by filming the space around the artwork. It enables audiences to re-interpret the site with AR technology, which continually floats with the eponymous clause ‘I Don’t Have Time to Deal with Fear’ on top of the filming images. It seems serving as a conspicuous effort to warn off beholders about their fear to the defensive front.
The application of the defensive front is inspired by the discovery of a wartime bomb at Wan Chai from a large scale railway construction project in early 2018. Sha-tin to Central Link– this grand scale train line that connects the north to the commercial hub of Hong Kong, facilitating the intra-city flow of commute and vitalising the economy and community of the worn-out districts. Concern and fear, however, grew in society about the safety of the train line and the continuity of the project. One of the officers then stated:’ I don’t have time to deal with fear,’ It is the response that triggered Pau. There was no time left for fear in the face of a grave need of development. The project has carried on ever since and weaved its way through the wartime battling line to touch down the central business district.
Disenchantment of the Statue (1987) dovetails the warring atmosphere and translates it into a theme pertinent to culture and customs. It criticises the use of television as a predominant medium that legitimises and propagates the logic of capital. The reappearing arrows in the video echoes that printed on the wallpaper behind. It belongs to a plate of street name inspired by the UK. The Gin Drinker’s Line is as intricate and complex as an ant nest. Therefore, the British army orientated themselves in the maze with locations in names of the streets in England. With some time exploring the defensive line and its configuration with iPad and AR, we now arrived Oxford Street and behold a transformed battleground that contemporary world takes. Through its arrows, wallpapers and thematic presentation, Disenchantment of the Statue (1987) bridges with I Don’t Have Time to Deal with Fear (2018) and brings our attention back to the phenomenon of warfare, reminding that our everyday life is still a battleground rife with combats in amorphous forms and contexts.
Walking across the site of warfare, we touch upon a soft spot of the exhibition with the introduction of a classic series in Pau’s dedication. Pik Lai Chu (1993) lies in a separated compartment filled with household paraphernalia: books, accessories, documentary/political/drama DVDs, and the eponymous cleaning spray – Pik Lai Chu (Cantonese) or Pledge (English). Two video displays are shoehorned into a tiny upper bunk, showing the frontal and back views of a crouched female figure as if she is cramped inside a domestic ditch. In the videos, the stranded figure yet takes an unrelenting attitude banging her head upon the room ceiling. Each pounding accompanies an amplified piling clang. The repetitious playing remarks her perseverance and resolution to break out of the enclosure. The interior confinement of Pik Lai Chu situates itself to a wider context of social, political and historical phenomena. Pledge, as a verbal pun, then directly hinges on the idea of promises on many levels. The artwork channels an eventuality of promise unfulfillment and also the attitude one should uphold.
As the emotional undercurrents extend to the partitions of Song of the Goddess (1992) and She Moves (1988), the curating interrupts with a technological detour into Pau’s latest experiments. She dedicates herself to ongoing research into the botanical field and intermingles it with her media investigation of sound and image. In Emergent (2016-present), the genome of Bauhinia is assessed and rearranged. The microscopic images of Bauhinia’s genes are regenerated and output for an inter-media exchange between the visual and audio patterns. The genetic images of Bauhinia are analysed under a translation programme, which generates and broadcasts melodic soundtracks alongside the kaleidoscopic image of Bauhinia. Pau’s technological and intermedia experiment uplifts the city emblem flower of Hong Kong– Bauhinia and extends the reading and reception of video art from dominantly the visual to auditory purview.
Pau’s radiology studies at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and her upbringing in a family of medical doctors have honed her sensitivity in the relation between bodily functions and images. Recycling Cinema (2000) is a sublimation of Pau’s examination in the logic of video media, exhibited at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. The video installation shows an experimental panoramic screen arc in a 150 degree. A video projection glides horizontally along the arc showing a 24-hour surveillance video of a Hong Kong highway with cars. The image constantly shifts the focus on different automobiles on two opposite car lanes while the whole video projection is panning horizontally between left and right. The experimental video Pau breaks down the mechanism and functionality of image reception and recognition. Pau explains human eyes tend to focus on a clear object and following a moving image. Upon the reception of an image, the analysis and recognition of visual subjects and content consume time, which leaves a brief lag in between. Leveraging on the visual logic, Pau exploits the time-lag and challenge mechanism with contradictions in the video subject and the entire video image. The image’s sharp focus will change in between opposite running car. Sometimes, the parallel panning of the video image will run into the opposite direction to the car within the video. With the eyes tracking on a clearer car running to the left, your sight and face turn to the whole panning image moving right. The time-lag in visual recognition is prolonged and confusing your mind with which the direction the visual presentation is going. Symbolically, this work with an orientation confusion in mind adapts to a wider level of confoundment about the direction to take socially, politically and economically in Hong Kong.
The exhibition ensues Pau’s technological experiment with her emotional and sarcastic reflection of social affairs. Blue (1989) and TV Game of the Year (1980-1990) reflected her psychological and conceptual responses to the Tian’anmen incident with two box television sets. Light a Little Dusty Wind Field (2018) is a performance piece that concludes the exhibition with a touching and honorific act of Pau dedicating to her endeared friend Pik Yu. This performance seeks to culminate Pik Yu’s last research into Chinese ‘Weight and Measure (度量衡)’ with a poetic and multi-media performance with sutra chanting, metaphorical measuring of conducts and water installation that illustrate sound wave in ripples. The ephemeral performance remarks the transience of life and a continuous flow of time, faded into a robe of memorises and significance that concludes the exhibition.
What about Home Affairs as a retrospective presents 18 artworks that seek to encapsulate the multifarious and dedicated exploration of Ellen Pau in Hong Kong’s video art. The pieces speak not only of their time but also the contemporary society and livelihood in Hong Kong. The exhibition never attempts to only portrait Pau’s spirit in the past, but open dialogues with audiences and question the present and future of video media as well as of the city of Hong Kong.
Photos courtesy to the artist and Para Site.
Ellen Pau: What About Home Affairs?– A Retrospective
9 December, 2018 – 3 March, 2019
Wednesday to Sunday, 12:00 – 19:00
Closed on Monday, Tuesday, and Public Holidays.