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Curatorial Statement — ‘Island(ed)’


‘Isolation’ connotes loneliness. Though such a notion has become our worst nightmare after two years of pandemic life, we dream of islands, the isolated mass from the city by water, as paradise. Aldous Huxley, author of the renowned dystopian novel Brave New World, also penned Island during the end of his life, and presented a utopia, based on the isolated nature of the island, where social system, culture, religion and mode of life are perfect between human and nature. 

Economic-driven development is challenging the isolatedness of islands. Physically speaking, reclamation and infrastructure building are closing the distances between islands and the city, or even fusing them together. Contrary to Lazzaretto Vecchio and Poveglia, the geographically insulated islands which were designated as plague quarantine zones in the past, islands in Hong Kong turned into popular local tourist attractions throughout the pandemic due to overseas travel limitations. Islands have become more popular and more within reach than ever. Perhaps the Cantonese term for ‘isolation’, which also means ‘right nextdoor’, is telling the fate of these islands in our hometown. What if islands are no longer islanded?  How well do we really know these islands that are supposedly very close by anyway? The Lands Department counted 261 islands in Hong Kong, excluding the sizable Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island. However such count is hardly represented on the map, some islands that are too small or remote are either put into a separate box and juxtaposed with physically non-neighbouring islands, or they are omitted from the map. It is interesting how such a presentation approach severed the relationship between islands and with the city abruptly, thereby marginalising islands in a conceptual way.

Featuring lens-based works of four Hong Kong artists, this exhibition explores the isolatedness of islands and the cultures and living modes it cradled. Having lived on Lantau Island for 14 years, Lo Yin Shan launched a year-long shooting project in collaboration with English photographer Anthony McHugh in 1998 to collect stories and images from Lantau Island residents. The ensuing Driving Lantau: Whisper of an Island is a compilation of records the development of Lantau Island, and the sights and lifestyles that were washed away. Lo’s frequent visits to her friend’s on Lantau Island in recent years enabled her to revisit her narratives of the place through her new work Tong Fuk (2022). While development impelled Lo to reflect on Lantau’s identity as an island, the new bridge infrastructure enabled ferry-phobic Chan Long Hei  to leave footprints all over Lantau. If his earlier work After Island (2021) is about his time meanderings on the island, his new work Skipping Time (2022) would witness his ritual of tossing stones to bid farewell to those moments and memories. Simon Wan canoed long distances to photograph 107 uninhabited islands in Hong Kong in 2015, but reconstructed all 107 images afterwards out of dissatisfaction with the outputs of the original documentary approach. His obscure yet tangible overlapping images that present the physical and psychological states of isolation, prompting the audience to rethink their transient encounters with islands. During the exhibition period, Wan will also stay on a secluded island to perform A Week on a No Man Island, to evince loneliness on the island as in stark contrast to the flamboyance of the city. Wong Wei-Him gathered trivial but beautiful moments on the ferry in the Ferrytale series. Select photos are tucked away in liminal spaces at the exhibition, such as the entry zone, that echoes the sense of transition and buffer during ferry travel, and contemplates various connections between city and islands with water as the point of departure.

Each island has its own story. In collaboration with ‘hkhiker’, this exhibition will also present their collection of publications centering on plants, animals and mineral ores in Hong Kong from the1950s, alongside books written by island dwellers in first-person narration. They allow us to apprehend and comprehend ‘island’ from a non-human-oriented perspective and in islands’ own terms. These images and writings presented at WMA Space piece together islands’ dualities of isolation and connection, scatteredness and cohesion, and vulnerability and resilience, and suggest a reflection on the many possibilities of living.