Ashley Lee Wong
Daisy Tam Diers
Be Water is an exhibition about current events and perceptions in Hong Kong. The 9 artists’ collective contributions represent an interweaving of subjects and locations that emerged out of their geo-political situation and architectural conditions. These were, to wit; the political model of Hong Kong and its observed limitations; and the unrest of the individual, the group and the city.
As Bruce Lee famously advised: ‘Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water… Be Water, my friend’. Be Water is a term now used by protesters in Hong Kong to avoid the police. The strategy involves an anti-occupy tactic where the barricade is no longer defended, the fluid nature of the protesters in their water like state allows them to be agile and quickly move from place to place.
The exhibition has a double function; first it allows a space and position in which to incorporate a shifting of perspectives between disciplines to re-examine how they define their objects; secondly, in parallel with the artists’ reflections, it allows this space to be treated as a group object, fluid and defined also by the interrelations of its constituent parts. The transformation of the imagined and experienced social space in Hong Kong thus necessitates a re-evaluation of the language employed to describe it.
The choice of artists and participants was based on personal connections, offering in-depth and local knowledge alongside a view to encourage outsider perspectives with equally important, varied bodies of knowledge. For as Jean-Paul Sartre said, ‘My body is everywhere: the bomb which destroys my house also damages my body insofar as the house was already an indication of my body’. By viewing haunted spaces concealed by ideological barriers we can begin to analyse and unpack the complex unities that form around an artwork and its production.
Art and Protest
By presenting images of constructed experience the exhibition advocates for an awareness of the dangers involved in importing protest art into arenas such as galleries and museums. The danger arises from the potential for the work to become merely aesthetic in nature and lose its original purpose. Be Water attempts to emphasise that the work –in some occasions – is protest first, and in others –not at all. The spontaneity of the works presents a unique example of a situation in which it is possible to offer both a successful aesthetic and a political reading of Hong Kong. Is it valuable enough for artists to use their skills, or for arts organisations to bring the voice of their constituency to a protest as a matter of solidarity without the need to then critically address it within their programs? Is there a danger that expressing a need to participate in protests should have a fundamental impact on one’s work? Is there a danger to project that again into another public dimension (as an individual or institution) redolent of contemporary culture’s unusual construction of identity that falls back into the trap that one is possibly protesting against? The lost unity in Hong Kong presents a possibility to unpack these relationships and the assumptions that go with them. The works presented in the exhibition Be Water do not solve problems but explore the vectors that allow us to respond to the architecture of protest by producing a viable architectural response. This is a question of everyday activism and observation but also a question of method: responding implies an approach that emerges from the situation (immanent); producing therefore implies a stepping outside of the situation and calculating strategies (transcendent), which in this case can be seen as an immanent approach with a localised transcendence. What might an exhibition beyond this one look like? Demolition could be key to this thinking. A key strategy of protest is to repurpose the act of demolition as production; a site for activism always removes something – a former relation or a flow, creating a new Visual Universe.