Curatorial statement – Irregular Plurals
In the year before John Berger’s passing, he published Confabulations. One of the writings touched upon Berger’s contemplations while painting flowers, where he pondered: ‘I have been asking myself whether natural forms – a tree, a cloud, a river, a stone, a flower – can be looked at and perceived as messages. Messages – it goes without saying – which can never be verbalized, and are not particularly addressed to us. Is it possible to ‘read’ natural appearances as texts?’ (1)
This brings to mind Lo Lai Lai Natalie’s many video works, in which she adopts a range of voices and perspectives from different life forms. Amidst the gentle murmurs, there is a delicate interchange of pronouns ‘you’ and ‘I’ that resonates as a mutual address. The frequent shifts in roles and the interplay between subject and object unveil an innate longing for communication and the inherent illusions intertwined within. The overture Deep Flight assumes the first-person perspective of water, embodying its intangible and supple demeanor, while narrating the omnipresence of nature and its inclusive essence that accommodates all things. Talking Plant portrays a conspiratorial collaboration between plants and bees, contrasting it with the historical and ongoing fantasies of humanity attempting to communicate with plants through various mechanical means. The three-channel video installation series Slow-so TV III: Give no words but mum intercuts segments to playfully mock the occasional ‘wrong channel’ or lost in translation situations that arise between all things. The video features the chirping of cicadas and birds, abundant fruits, and the vast sky, intersecting and resonating with a group of farmers. However, with viewers’ intervention, the video abruptly and randomly transitions to Exhalation might not always come with inhalation, or Weather Girl II, or Like a stone, Vain Hope, disrupting the momentary harmony. The artificial air of the city, the reports from the weather girl, and the interrogation in a bureaucratic tone signify the dominant intrusion of urban development, climate environment, and bureaucratic power. The resonating pair of videos – The Voice from Elsewhere and The Voice from Nowhere – approaches the subject from the perspectives of both the predator and the prey, delving into the ongoing tug-of-war between humanity and nature as a ‘resource’. The Voice from Elsewhere takes a panoramic exploration, examining the ecological landscape of fishponds in Hong Kong. While they embody a rich culinary culture, they have unfortunately become subject to the control of various stakeholders. Voice from Nowhere, on the other hand, focuses on the introspection of the artist, portraying her self-reflection. Through a dialogue between a human and a bird, it contemplates how nature bestows meaning upon their existence, while also revealing the contradictions that erode them over time. The faint echoes of the singing bowl resonate, carrying the essence of the interdependence through which all things rely upon for their existence.
While Lo’s works are rooted in her experiences in the fields, providing a perception and interpretation of the relationships between all things, Yuen Nga Chi’s series of animal observations serves as a silent protest against the imbalance between city and nature. The design of cities strives to satisfy human desires for leisure and tranquillity, creating a captivating tapestry of meticulously curated artificial natural landscapes. Since 2019, Yuen Nga Chi has worked as a photographer at a local theme park, where day after day, she observes the animals confined in her surroundings. Her artistic focus has then shifted towards utilising video as a medium for long-term documentation and detailed research. The naming of Panoptic Paradise: Stereotypic Behaviour is inspired by the design of the 18th-century panopticon. Captive in zoos and subjected to domestication, birds and monkeys often appear lifeless. They resort to repetitive small movements as a means of alleviating stress, much like humans trapped by the grip of the pandemic. Mui and Monuments: Flipper, Ada, and Honey Chapter 1: Ada centre around the theme of lifelessness in animals. In Mui, the artist incinerates and mourns the taxidermy of a sika deer, her companion for four years. The ashes and tinkling bell that remain, amidst the raging flames, seem to mirror two starkly different life trajectories of the deer’s destiny. As for the latter, it entails a field investigation of the Chinese white dolphin, which is now represented solely by scattered and desolate statues in various districts. As ‘indigenous’ creatures of Hong Kong and former mascots, they are caught in the three-channel video sandwiched between billowing factory smoke and the fabricated Noah’s Ark, becoming the true embodiment of ‘The Other’, bereft of any chance for redemption. Under the artist’s scrutiny, the lone presence of birds in the garden, the deer specimens, and even the endangered dolphins act as poignant reflections. Like a mirror, they reveal the shared sense of apprehension and distress that humans experience within the societal mechanism. ‘The Other’, that we so often scrutinise, is never confined to non-human forms of life.
However, does life not possess the ability to retaliate? ‘Habitat’ brings together two artists with distinct approaches but shared concerns. Through their practice, they present the plurality in our lives that has yet to be definitively delineated. Lo Lai Lai Natalie’s artwork captures the vitality and subjectivity of plants. It showcases their diverse languages and the profound wisdom they hold in establishing mutually beneficial communication with various species. These plants possess the innate gift of resilience, which they exhibit even in the presence of authority, maintaining silence and resisting pressures. Yuen Nga Chi’s works are permeated with imagery of death, yet often infused with her empathy towards life. In the final scene of Mui, even though the body of the deer has turned to ashes, it gazes back at ‘us’, the viewers of the video, with a defiant gaze, breaking through the fourth wall. Can we, as cohabitants of this shared space with our unique qualities, comprehend the intricacies and rhythms of each other’s lives through mindful observation and attentive listening? And thus, as we navigate through the clamour of voices, can we find harmony in the alternation between solos and symphonies?
(1) Berger, John. Confabulations. London: Penguin UK, 2016, pp.136