As part of Moderation(s), the year-long
collaboration in 2013 between Witte de With, Rotterdam, and Spring Workshop, Hong Kong,
curators-in-residence Latitudes have invited artist Nadim Abbas (Hong
Kong, 1980) to develop a public tour of Hong Kong on Saturday, 19 January.
The day-long itinerary plots a course through a handful of sites in
the city, which have in one way or another influenced the form, content,
and processes of Nadim’s practice. Since Hong Kong has been his home
for most of his life, some of these places have been all too familiar to
him since childhood. This project now offers him the opportunity to
spring fresh surprises on unsuspecting “tourists”, and possibly on
himself as well.
To complement the tour, check our twitter, facebook and SoundCloud, as well as the text "The Pathology of Hong Kong in the work of artist Nadim Abbas", an account of the tour by Zoe Li on ArtInfo.com (includes a slideshow).
Follow future events on Twitter: #IncidentsOfTravel #Moderations
Nadim Abbas introduces his tour to 16 participants in the Wah Fu Estate, Aberdeen.
Incidents of Travel: Hong Kong
by Nadim Abbas
19 January 2013
I usually speak about my work in terms of images and the imaginary,
there is always an equally important component that describes an
encounter with external
space. By that, I am referring to the heterogenous space in which we
live, which we rarely have time to reflect upon except in a state of
distraction. But just because there is no time to reflect doesn’t
mean that these spaces don’t affect our thoughts, subtly
penetrating the internal space of our imagination; in some cases to
the point where one can no longer distinguish between the internal
and the external, or between dream and reality. It is these moments
of uncertainty that interest me the most, and which, in my own
experience transforms art-making into a perpetual balancing act on
the threshold between banality and oblivion.
itinerary outlined below plots a course through a handful of sites in
Hong Kong, which has in one way or another influenced the form,
content, and processes that define my practice. Since Hong Kong has
been my home for most of my life, some of these places have been all
too familiar to me since childhood; waiting for the right opportunity
to spring fresh surprises on this unsuspecting tourist.
Wah Kwai Estate block.
Wah Kwai Estate water feature (with no water).
Around the Wah Kwai Estate. Photo: Heman Chong.
Bay Park, Aberdeen, Hong Kong
Waterside "resort" used by the local community to swim and exercise by the side of the South China Sea.
Waterfall Bay is said to have attracted Portuguese and British ships to its
shores to collect fresh water from its namesake as far back as the
16th century. Today, about 30m from the falls lie the ruins of a WW2
military pillbox and petrol powered searchlight referred to
officially as “Beach Defense Units” by Allied troops during the
Japanese siege of Hong Kong in 1941. A few minutes walk from the
rocky beach along the coastline, residents of a nearby public
housing estate have over the years converted what looks like a
disused pier into a veritable seaside resort for the local
community. Despite numerous government placards warning against
swimming in ungazetted waters, residents eager for an early morning
dip in the South China Sea have gone so far as to add ad hoc steps,
pool ladders and even freshwater facilities for an after-swim wash.
Looking towards Lamma Island from Waterfall Bay Park.
the less adventurous, there are shelters and seating areas where the
elderly gather every day to play chess/cards, chat or simply watch the
boats passing by. But perhaps the most endearing aspect of this site
is the hundreds of porcelain statues of various Chinese deities
clustered along the hillside and shoreline. I don’t know what
started this particular outdoor collection; perhaps a makeshift
shrine to protect local fisherman, or to commemorate a traumatic
event? Or because it is considered unlucky to throw away statues of
deities, they were quietly transferred to this idyllic setting
instead. Needless to say, this latter aspect lends the whole site,
already steeped in history, with a certain sacred quality. In a city
like Hong Kong, where the regulation of land use usually falls into
the purview of one-dimensional governmental policies or market-driven
real estate developments, such elaborate appropriations of public
space are a rarity. They represent in my mind a kind of fragile
heterotopia or an unwitting piece of relational art par excellence.
Offerings to deities, Waterfall Bay Park, Aberdeen.
Hillside covered with porcelain statues of various Chinese deities.
and more... Photo: Nadim Abbas
...some with their own shelters.
The waterfall of Waterfall Bay Park!
Looking the other direction an abandoned WWII beach-defence unit.
Inside the WWII beach defense unit.
Exploring the bay.
Nadim Abbas, Cataract (Iguazu Falls), 2011. Kinetic lightbox with Duratran print and aluminium window frames. 70(h) x 85(w) x 15(d) cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Walking through the Wah Fu Estate in Pok Fu Lam. Photo: Heman Chong.
Photo: Trevor Yeung.
Concrete Islands, Eastern Street, Hong Kong
fascination with marginal spaces in the urban landscape began with
this network of concrete islands that are located beneath the
Connaught Road West flyovers next to the Western Harbour Tunnel (WHT)
entrance. It is a site that I regularly pass by on bus rides to
Kowloon side, and it became the model for a 46sq/m sandscape that was
built-in a warehouse space as part of an installation titled
Photo: Trevor Yeung.
Nadim Abbas, Afternoon in Utopia, 2012. Mixed media installation (sand, concrete, pigment prints, painted wall text, red-tinted lighting). Dimensions variable (sandscape coverage approx 46 sq/m). Courtesy of the artist.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of this particular
set of islands is the uniform grids of solid concrete trapezoidal
prisms that were set into the ground either by government departments
or the government-franchised company that operates the WHT. The
usual explanation for this strangely monumental arrangement of blocks
is to discourage the homeless population from sleeping on the
islands. I see it also as a way for the authorities to mark their
territory, much like a dog urinates on a lamppost. A couple of
questions remain: are concrete islands private or public spaces?
What are the laws and jurisdictions that regulate the use of these
spaces? Much like the status of homeless people, it seems that these
anomalous zones occupy a certain legal grey area, perpetually
overlooked because they exist on the boundaries of function and
Photo: Heman Chong.
break at the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade, site of the West
Kowloon Cultural District development, to host the future M+, a museum for visual culture to open in 2017 with a focus on 20th and 21st-century art, design, architecture
and moving image.
Cheong Street Housing Complex, Jordan, Kowloon
we all know, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in
the world. This is typically illustrated via descriptions of crowded
streets in districts like Causeway Bay, Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok, or
of the ubiquitous high-rise public housing estates around the
territory. This latter aspect is indicative of the tendency, which
began under colonial rule, to build upwards rather than outwards to
meet the demands of a growing population. Ackbar Abbas, in Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (1997)
is partly the result of limited space, but it is also the result of
how this limited space could be exploited for economic gain. On the
one hand, the colonial government deals with the problem of
hyperdensity by constructing cheap housing estates. On the other
hand, the government policy of releasing crown land bit by bit at
strategic moments and its prerogative, which it duly exercises, of
designating land as rural (where strict building restrictions apply)
or urban, ensure that building space remains scarce and property
prices remain high."
Cheong Street Housing Complex, a case study in hyperdensity.
Photo: Trevor Yeung.
Stuck in traffic conversations (Left: Mimi Brown and right: Nadim Abbas).
the experience of living in a hyperdense milieu is often talked about
disparagingly, it has also been argued that the close proximity
between the commercial and the residential actually encourages
diverse, dynamic communities and a vibrant street culture (in
contrast to the bland homogeneity of suburban sprawl).
the early 90s, a group of Japanese architects conducted an in-depth
survey of the city, extolling the virtues of hyperdense living, and
going so far as to liken this still existing complex of apartment
blocks off Man Cheong Street (another regular sight for me on weekly
cross-harbour bus rides) to the infamous (now demolished) Kowloon Walled City:
inside the apparently solid block is not horizontal but vertical.
Each slab-building is actually a grouping of towers, separated by
slender slots. [...] Within these slots of space, like everywhere
else in Hong Kong, however, residents have built illegal elements.
Thus, although at first glance this highly ordered building complex
looks nothing like the chaotic Walled City in Kowloon, it shares with
it many features, such as its density of use and its vertical
Wiring, piping, washing and air-conditioning in the Man
Cheong Street Housing Complex.
own concerns regarding the phenomenon of hyperdensity have to do with
the kinds of sub-cultures, or modes of (anti)sociability that emerge
as a result of extended inhabitation. This has translated into
research and immersion in otaku
culture, which carries with it stereotypes of socially inept male
subjects walled up alone in their apartments; as if the dense
accumulation of cramped interior space encourages introversion or the vacuum of mental space itself. Interestingly, the Chinese word for
naam), where 宅
short for housing (complex) or tenement (block), and 男
final leg of this tour takes us down a number of well-known streets
in Hong Kong, which are prime examples of the kind of vibrant street
culture that characterizes a hyperdense city like Hong Kong. They
also provide a historical cross-section of architectural styles in
the region, from pre-WW1 “Verandah” type buildings to modern-day
podium towers. Each street is known for its specific cluster of
specialized shops and/or stalls. Tung Choi Street, for instance, is
affectionately known as “Goldfish Street” since it is almost
exclusively lined with pet shops and aquarium suppliers. My choice
of these 3 streets, in particular, reflect my own interests as a
consumer as much as a producer. In fact, it is often the case that I
get ideas via shopping, or window shopping - there is always an
excuse to pick up another piece of useless junk...
Street, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon
(Kitchen and restaurant supplies)
Meat cleavers and teapots around Shanghai St.
Pots and pans galore.
Durian fruit in the Kowloon Wholesale Fruit Market.
Choi “Goldfish” Street, Prince Edward, Kowloon
shops, aquarium supplies, bicycle shops)
Goldfish of all size and variety sold at Tung
Choi “Goldfish” Street.
Aquarium supplies of all persuasions.
Aquarium supplies to decorate fish-tanks.
Mini red, blue and white lobsters, Tung Choi “Goldfish” Street.
Nadim Abbas, Marine Lover, 2011. Mixed media (Polyresin coral casts, fluorescent black lights, plywood, door frames, mirror), 300(h) x 100(w) x 1900(d) cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Liu Street, Shum Shui Po, Kowloon
components, consumer electronics, camera accessories, hi-fi & AV
equipment, hand/power tools & accessories, flea market)
Watches, lighting fixtures, cables, transformers, telephone chargers, wires, batteries, and all kinds of other hardware supplies.
...as well as fishing nets
...all sorts of magnets. Photo: Trevor Yeung.
...and mountains of second-hand drills in the Ap Liu Street market.
In his visual essay, On
Marginal Spaces: Artefacts of the Mundane (2011),
Peter Benz devotes a whole section to the discussion of concrete islands. For a fictional account, see J. G. Ballard’s Concrete
Island (1974), a kind of
Robinson Crusoe for the twentieth century.
See architectural journal, SD
Hong Kong: Alternative
Metropolis No. 330, March
Nadim Abbas (Hong Kong, 1980) is a Hong Kong-based installation artist. His work explores the intricate role that memory-images play in the intersection between mind and matter. This has culminated in the construction of complex set pieces, where objects exist in an ambiguous relationship with their own image, and bodies succumb to the seduction of space.
Abbas studied sculpture (B.A.) at the Chelsea College of Art and Comparative Literature (M.Phil.) at the University of Hong Kong. He currently holds teaching posts at the Hong Kong Art School and the City University of Hong Kong. Notable exhibitions and projects include: “No Longer Human”, Osage Kwun Tong, Hong Kong (2012); “Marine Lover”, ARTHK11, Hong Kong (2011); “Cataract”, EXPERIMENTA & Gallery Exit, Hong Kong, “FAX” Para/Site, Hong Kong (both 2010); and “Louis Vuitton: A Passion for Creation – The Hong Kong Seven”, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong (2009).
Soundscapes of "Incidents of Travel";
Social media archive of "Incidents of Travel";
Flickr album of the four tours of "Incidents of Travel";
'Incidents of Travel' tour with Yuk King Tan on 24 January 2013;
'Incidents of Travel' tour with Ho Sin Tung on 29 January 2013;
'Incidents of Travel' tour with Samson Young on 7 February 2013.
All photos: Latitudes | www.lttds.org (Except noted otherwise in the photo caption)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.