A popular conspiracy theory in Hong Kong – known as Li’s Field – stipulates that the richest man in the region, Li Ka Shing, controls the weather; this is supposedly why the most severe typhoons only strike at weekends, so that no business loses a working day. Frequently used as a metaphor for political discourse in China, the weather provides the impetus for two concurrent solo shows at Blindspot Gallery: ‘Liquefied Sunshine’ by Luke Ching and ‘Force Majeure’ by South Ho.
In 2014, Ching wrote a letter to the Taipei City Police Department, asking to borrow their water-cannon truck for an art project. One of his arguments for the loan was the fact that, having cost an estimated GB£500,000, the vehicles were a waste of public funds since the police had deployed them only twice: once during the Sunflower Student Movement demonstrations, opposing a trade pact with Beijing, and once during anti-nuclear protests. Ultimately, however, the artist had to rent private water trucks to make Weather Report: Liquefied Sunshine (2014–15): a video diptych showing hose-wielders in yellow waterproofs shooting super soakers in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei and the Hong Kong Museum of Art, while passersby shelter under blue and yellow umbrellas. (Yellow is, of course, the colour symbolic of recent pro-democracy movements in both Taiwan and Hong Kong.) In the aftermath of the Umbrella Movement’s 2014 demonstrations, the Hong Kong government also purchased three Mercedes-Benz water cannons – capable of firing 1,200 litres of water per minute from a distance of 50 metres – to target protesters. Ching’s playful work, however, offers a theatrical reimagining of a hostile scenario.
While approaching Weather Report: Liquefied Sunshine, it’s easy to step on one of the trios of double-sided tape creations resembling squashed cockroaches (part of Panic Disorder, 2019) – a reference to the derogatory term Hong Kong police have adopted for pro-democracy protesters. During the show’s opening, however, Ching hired fellow artist Lai Lon Hin to ensure gallery-goers avoided treading on the critters. This gesture nodded both to Ching’s ongoing labour activism, in which he advocates for the rights of security guards working in Hong Kong’s galleries and elsewhere, and more broadly to the defence of those who choose to protest.
Pre-empting these works, Ching’s ‘Dark Night, White Cloud’ (2013) – made during a five-day stint as a night-time security guard at Hong Kong Railway Museum – is a series of 12 long-exposure images staged in the museum’s life-size train displays where the artist appears as a ghostly, blue-uniformed blur. Coincidentally, Hong Kong’s key public transport provider, MTR, is currently facing allegations of abetting police by suspending services when pro-democracy protests are planned and refusing to release CCTV footage of violent police action, prompting questions as to the fundamental nature of security and who is entitled to it.
A similar sensibility permeates Ho’s large-format, black and white photography series, ‘Whiteness of Trees I–XVIII’ (2018), which documents the environmental destruction caused by last year’s Typhoon Mangkhut: the strongest tropical storm to hit Hong Kong since 1983. These tender arboreal portraits were taken just before the fallen trees were unceremoniously cleared to enable traffic to resume as usual. In the middle of the space, surrounded by the photographic series, sit two halves of a split eucalyptus tree trunk reunited by a curved iron bar Daughter, Bridge and Two Mothers (2019).
Displayed in a secluded corner of the gallery, the series ‘Untitled’ (2019) also depicts typhoon-struck trees; set this time, however, against a sky of watercolour squares. Taken from the leftover stock of his late father, a graphic designer, the multicolour grid recalls Hong Kong’s Lennon Walls: public spaces covered in post-it notes bearing messages and drawings by protesters and supporters. The series is complemented by an in-progress video piece, Do you hear the people say? (2019), which documents the slogans shouted by the two million demonstrators who took to the streets in Hong Kong this summer.
Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement precipitated Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement and, in favouring increased autonomy from China, which views both as firmly under its rule, the fates of the territories are interlinked. Ching and Ho – two artists with longstanding political practices – meet at this moment of intergenerational dialogue, in which the invisible hand of political oppression makes its presence felt. Over the past few months in Hong Kong, protesters have adopted the expression ‘It’s raining!’ as code to indicate that someone needs help, and those with umbrellas will open them to protect that person from the eyes of surveillance.
Luke Ching’s ‘Liquefied Sunshine’ and South Ho’s ‘Force Majeure’ are on view at Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong, until 2 November 2019.
Main image: Luke Ching Chin Wai, Liquefied Sunshine, 2014–15, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Blindspot Gallery