From April 2013 onwards, writer and curator Christina Li (HK/NL) takes up the role of a designated Witness to Moderation(s) the year-long programme of exhibitions, performances and residencies that unfolds between Witte de With in Rotterdam and Spring in Hong Kong. As such, Li is invited to post regular blog entries responding to the multi-faceted projects part of Moderation(s).
Christina Li has been a part of Moderation(s) since its inception, and participated in the research and development workshop that took place at Witte de With in October 2012. Li will also be one of the four curators –together with Lee Ambrozy, Amira Gad, and Xiaoyu Weng– organising the day-long conference Stories And Situations: The Moderation(s) Conference to take place on 5 October 2013 at Witte de With.
The interview published below between Li and Latitudes was originally published on Witte de With's website on May 2, 2013.
Christina Li: “Incidents of Travel” in Hong Kong is the second iteration of a project that you started in Mexico D.F in 2012, could you talk a little bit about how the idea of inviting artists to plan an itinerary functioning as both an artistic encounter an alternative studio visit came about?
Latitudes: The idea of the tour guide is of course not new. Back in 2009 while we were doing a year-long project in the Port of Rotterdam, we organised a series of bus tours to the port where we would present projects by Jan Dibbets, Lara Almarcegui or Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller, etc. Listening to the feedback of the group that took part during those tours, we realised there was something very valuable about the idea of being (kindly) trapped in a bus for a day and to be taken around with a group of people whom you shared interests or even friendship with. Some were co-workers and took the day to talk about non-work related issues, to admire the landscape, to listen to the soundtrack that accompanied the bus tour and basically to enjoy a day away from the keyboard. We wanted to repeat what we thought was a successful format and thought our trip to Mexico DF was a perfect occasion for that.
Tour with Lara Almarcegui and botanist Remko Andeweg around the Port of Rotterdam, 8 November 2009. Photo: Latitudes. More images of the tour here.
While preparing a small exhibition of our eight years of practice for Casa del Lago in México DF, we felt we needed to add a ‘here and now’ contribution, and suggested inviting five artists (Minerva Cuevas, Tania Pérez Córdova, Diego Berruecos, Terence Gower and Jerónimo Hagerman) to develop a day-long tour for us. The choice of artists was mixed, some we had met before (Jerónimo or Terence) but didn’t know their work in much detail, and others (Tania, Minerva and Diego) we had been following their work for a while, but never met them in person. Our invitation was very open, our idea was for them to develop an itinerary that helped us understand their creative world, and that included them taking us to their favourite (or hated!) museums, libraries, markets, monuments, housing states, shops, restaurants, etc. that were special to their lives or to their artistic practice. We offered all artists a fee, covered all food and tickets-related expenses and had a car to take us around 9am–6pm, after that, we used public transport. Experiencing any city accompanied by a local friend always offers a much deeper insight into any city, but navigating it with an artist whose work you admire, is even more meaningful as each site amplifies a personal connection.
Photo: Eduardo Loza
Li: Did you choose to adopt a different approach in your invitation to the artists in the Hong Kong edition? As far as I understood, Nadim Abbas’ tour was open to the public, while Yuk King Tan’s, Ho Sin Tung’s and Samson Young’s were conducted in a more intimate manner within a smaller group; what was the reason behind this decision? What were the responses to Nadim Abbas’ tour?
Latitudes: No, the invitation was the same in both occasions, though in Hong Kong we mostly used public transport. We also had more time to prepare and digest information, as were a month in residence at Spring. In the end it worked out as one tour per week as that suited best the artists’ schedule. Nadim’s tour was the first and was indeed open to the public, it has been the only tour so far with this aspect, although it was still a small group, initially of around fifteen people. We were interested in pushing the format and of course this meant that Nadim had to consider practical issues like distances and locations more carefully (ie. avoiding long walking distances, accessibility for groups, food availability…) in order to be realistic with the timings. A few people joined on and off, some engaged more actively than others. It was wonderful to see that Hong Kongers were also discovering sites they had never been to, like the Waterfall Bay Park or the nearby Waterfall Bay. Somehow we were all tourists for a day.
Nadim Abbas tour, 19 January 2013. Waterfall Bay Park's waterfall. Photo: Trevor Young
Li: Since these tours have always been meant for you both to converse privately with each selected artist and to get to know their practices and the city, has opening these tours up conjure a different perspective of how these tours could function for you both initially? How has this attempt challenge your thinking in mediating and presenting the immediate experience and documentation of these tours to a larger audience?
Latitudes: The tours were conceived from the point of view of research, and we haven’t wanted to necessarily burden the artists or the format with the expectations that they were participatory performances or some kind of touristic spectacle. We’ve tried to keep them quite casual and inconspicuous in this sense, and to respect the notion of hospitality in the same way that if we came to your house for dinner, you wouldn’t expect us to bring a group of strangers with us! Indeed this was literally the case in the day with Yuk King Tan, which concluded with a household of Filipina domestic workers making dinner for us – women whose trust and friendship she had earned through her personal affiliations and the concerns of her art. It is really not a question of us making the tours exclusive or private – we have not actually prohibited anyone else from coming along if the artist suggested it or was anyway okay with it. Yet it somehow seemed important to be able to commit to spending an entire day with them, and as soon as there is definitely something like an audience present (that might expect to be entertained or decide to leave) the dynamics and the logistics change.
The tours in México DF took place during five consecutive days right after our arrival, so the way we shared the photographic material was more direct via our Facebook at the end of each day. The exhibition at Casa del Lago opened only two days after we concluded the last tour, so had to come up with a fast solution to present our explorations: we projected a selection of 200 images as a slideshow, and displayed a selection of printed photos on the wall alongside a large map of the city with pins that located the sites we visited and the actual itineraries we followed written by the artists, which contained short descriptions of each site (we printed extra copies of these and made them available in the exhibition so one could pick them up and follow the route. These are now available to download from our website.)
Photo: Adrián Villalobos
In Hong Kong we were able to tweet during the tours, so it was an interesting process of documentation-on-the-go, of keeping a live diary of one’s journey, and to receive real-time responses from colleagues all over the world – the tweets have now been archived alongside some thirteen sound recordings, Facebook and blog posts. We also published blog posts of each of the tours which include extensive photo-documentation (by us and colleagues who took part) of the day interconnecting each photo with paragraphs of the itineraries are written by the artists and our own impressions.
Li: You also have been to some other more specialised tours on offer during your stay in Hong Kong, were there more specific aspects of Hong Kong you were hoping to explore which guided your choices in attending these tours as a sightseer and a cultural tourist?
Latitudes: We were interested in studying what kind of readings the city offered away from the usual tourist sites (the Tian Tan Buddha, Victoria Peak, shopping tours, a day in Macau,…). We wanted to see if we could find more ‘marginal’ sculptures or sites that presented vernacular displays far from the polished and pre-packaged tourist experience.
1km of floating boardwalks, Deep Bay, Mai Po Marshes. Photo: Latitudes.
We picked up hundreds of leaflets in the information office and found a couple interesting ones offered by the Walk Hong Kong company we thought were somehow out of the usual menu. We have always been interested in environmental issues and wanted to approach the high density of Hong Kong from another angle, from its relation to the surrounding nature. We visited the Mai Po Nature Reserve in the New Territories, a wetland on the Australasia migratory route, and ended the day in Long Valley in Sheung Shui, observing birds and farmers collecting large amounts of lettuces and watercress. This also tied in with another wetland we visited later with Ho Sin Tung, the Nam Sang Wai area, in the northwest of Hong Kong. This is to say that our own interests ended up tying in nicely with the sites, we visited with the artists. Samson Young took us to a nearby area on his tour, to the border fence that separates Hong Kong with mainland China where we listened to “Liquid Borders”, a soundtrack he has been recording placing contact microphones in the wired fencing and mixing it with the sound of water of the Shenzhen River.
Another tour we joined was the Feng Shui tour led by Susan Braun. We started visiting Norman Foster’s Hong Kong HSBC building in Admiralty built according to strict Feng Shui principles and finished at the Chi Lin Nunnery. The final one was with Martin Heyes, a former British Army officer and passionate World War II specialist, who took us to Devil’s Peak at the eastern extremity of Kowloon and to the Museum of Coastal Defence, to learn everything about the 1941 Japanese invasion of Hong Kong.
A group of Japanese tourists visit the battery on Devil's Peak. Photo: Latitudes
Li: As a whole, what would you say about the kinds of insights you have gained about the city from these tours, which might be seen as complements to the knowledge produced from the more casual encounters you have had through “Incidents of Travel”?
Latitudes: The Walk Hong Kong tours were an opportunity for us to specifically learn about birds, marshlands, Feng Shui and the 1941 Japanese invasion, but most importantly it was an opportunity to discuss with our tour leaders issues that went beyond the tour script so to speak, issues like immigration, recent historical events such as the 2003 SARS outbreak, the current economic climate, the relationship to mainland China, etc. Curiously, all of the tour leaders were expats that had lived in Hong Kong for many years, so for us it was very interesting to hear how it was to live there today. The same goes for the artists, we absorbed a great wealth of information from each other beyond discussing the sites we were taken to. We talked about books, films, about the art world, what it is to be an artist and a curator today, etc.
‘Incidents of Travel’ and our residency was very much in line with what Heman Chong, moderator of the Moderation(s) the program, explained during the January press conference: Moderation(s) is about stretching time. Not surprisingly, the image he chose to illustrate the long term collaboration between Spring Workshop and Witte de With was a clock. That image stood out very clearly during our time there. The offered time gave us the chance to generate conversations with the artists, to find a common ground, to generously share and exchange some kind of knowledge, and to engage in multiple and repeated dialogues with locals and expats, a rare luxury one is not often given.