A photojournalist inadvertently captured while taking a shot himself, the heel of his trailing foot lifting as he leans in to document the arrest of a protestor(note 1). A Japanese housewife scratching her back innocently seized in the recording of a street scene for a publication about the Ota Ward region in the 1950s and 60s.(note 2) In these two moments both figures do not notice their having been caught within the photographic frame. Their faces obscured, they would otherwise be footnotes in mass media history, if not for their reification in the series He was lost yesterday and we found him today (2010), a collaborative work by Leung Chi Wo and Sara Wong. The re-enactment and re-photographing of these nameless figures by Leung and Wong, provides us with a paradoxical discovery and acknowledgement, that leaves us still ignorant of these overlooked subjects, but that at least sensitizes us to our lack. The act of memory and its nature that recurs in Leung’s practice — the process of its fading, the traces in recall, and the interminable search to grasp and retain experiences as they disappear into the past — are presented in poetic fragments within his works.
Photojournalist With Two Cameras
speakers into commonly found tableware. Besides their domestic function and feature, Leung’s use of these otherwise banal objects is of note, particularly in relation to Napack and Muragishi, in how these inanimate forms are then brought to life by the work’s aural aspect.
The voices of Napack and Muragishi describe their personal spaces, and in the process transform an apparently ordinary account of spatial relationship — in part due to their absence — into a triangulation of the individuals as subject. Supplementing these self-conscious accounts are their contributions to the art world, and points to the traces they have left behind — Napack’s essay for Leung’s experiments with the aural presence of Napack and Muragishi began in 2011, with Voices Lapsed (2011), an installation of four armchairs with speakers embedded in their headrests. Viewers/listeners in this instance were brought into personal connection with the two figures whose voices would float unimpeded into their ears as they sat quite comfortably. With the added visual elements in this installation, the work may be read as commemorative of two individuals who have had significant impact in the cultural scene. Yet, unlike the earlier Domestica Invisibile series, it is more than subjective memory and the act of recall that is evoked. In Foster’s reflection on the archive, he suggests that archival art “proposes new orders of affective association,”(note 10) referring to relationships found in the assembly of archival elements, elaboration of the found, samplings, and associations among the “fragmentary and the fungible.”(note 11) While Leung’s ‘archival’ practice is not quite about the associations that Foster alludes to, herein is a significant character of Leung’s work and his practice. The fact is, Leung was neither personally close to Napack nor Muragishi. Their paths had crossed, their lives perhaps minutely changed in the process, and then they were gone. Brian Massumi describes ‘affect’ as ‘intensity,’ the rather elusive ‘propriocepted viscerality,’(note 12) being “a state of passional suspension”(note 13) that occurs before response or conscious recognition. Affect, or the experience of this intensity, is essentially of incipience, and it is here that Leung’s work operates. Undoubtedly in introducing Napack’s and Muragishi’s presence, one would either have the opportunity to ‘know’ or to remember them, an introduction that the act of ‘archive’ by object and sound facilitates. However it is the combination of these two in a (literally) ‘virtual’ and ‘synaesthetic’ form of assembled object and voice, that the intensity of these absent individuals is produced and experienced.(note 14)
Memory may be the beginning of Leung’s works, but it in the unconscious process inherent in experiencing, remembering as well as forgetting, that their persuasiveness lie. In his treatise on forgetting, Paul Ricoeur reminds us of the relationship between remembrance and forgetting. Describing the latter, he underlines the significance of the “passive persistence of first impressions (where) an event has struck us, touched us, affected us, and the affective mark remains in our mind.”(note 15) It is not the comprehensiveness aspired by the archival process of accumulation, that we begin to know and remember one another. Instead it is intensity of the moment: of the lift of a foot, the curl of an arm, the tone of a voice, and a turn of phrase — and these are the coy yet luminous traces that Leung presents to us.
1. Archival image used in the newspaper article, ‘Return of the radicals,’ by Gary Cheung and Tanna Chong, in the South China Morning Post (10 January 2010)
2. Historical image in 1952-1967 Ota Ward, published by Santousya Publishing, Tokyo, 2008
3. Hal Foster, ‘An Archival Impulse,’ October, no. 110, Fall 2004, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, reprinted in The Archive, Charles Merewether (ed), London: Whitechapel and The MIT Press, 2006, p. 144
4. In 3-site specific installations in the Hong Kong Arts Centre, Untitled (Names to Recall Memory but Not Exactly/ Drawing from Memory but Not Exactly/ Words about Memories but Not Exactly) (2012)
5. Monkeylove (2005), directed by Royston Tan, starring Royston Tan and Hiroaki Muragishi, Japanese with English subtitles, produced by Zhao Wei Films, in Royston’s Shorts, Asian Film Archive (2006)
6. Jonathan Napack, ‘Museum Fever Breaks Out in China,’ Art Asia Pacific, Issue No.56, Nov/Dec 2007, pp. 56-57
7. Jonathan Napack, ‘Cruel Cities: Interview with Mian Mian’, Tin House, Vol. 1, No. 3, Winter, 1999, pp. 15-25
8. Muragishi’s voice in Tan’s film is also sampled in the track Missing by Rennie Gomes in the album, Fade to Black (2006)
9. Open Home (2007) was presented at the private residence of Jaspar Lau Kin Wah, also known as mMK (mini-Museum von Kaspar), and highlights too Leung’s deliberate use of site in his sound works 10. Foster continues, “even as it also registers the difficult, at times absurdity of doing so.” Hal Foster, 2006, p. 145
11. Ibid., p. 143-144
12. Massumi, Brian, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Durham & London: Duke University Press: 2002, p. 58-61
13. Brian Massumi, ‘Autonomy of Affect,’ Cultural Critique, No. 31, The Politics of Systems and Environments, Part II, Autumn, 1995, p. 92
14. Brian Massumi, 1995, p. 96
15. Paul Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, Kathleen Blamey & David Pellauer (trans.), Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 2004, p. 427