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Curatorial Statement — Overriding the Light of Day

The conversations with artist-in-residence Yip Kin Bon over the past month may be summed up in a recent statement by artist Luke Ching: “This is an era when even humour has to be protected conscientiously.” Over the years, Yip has expressed his concerns about various social issues through humorous and playful works. In his first solo exhibition, titled “Almost black the white terror | Almost white the black humour,” Yip made use of the selection and collages of scattered newspaper texts and images to reconstruct satirical counter-narratives. In his early works, such as Traceable Blackmail (2013–2017), he randomly rearranged 241 news clippings into an installation that resembled an anonymous blackmail letter, as a response to a conversation between a top mainland official with the Hong Kong Government officials at the time. Another work, titled The Day You Put Me On (2014–2023), included a collection of 45 news photographs of suspects with their heads covered in black hood. Yip hollowed out and thus erased the news headlines and the information regarding the criminal acts, thereby shifting the reader’s focus to the clothing brands worn by the suspects at the time of their arrests, as well as slogans such as “EVISU DID EVERYTHING,” transforming the suspects into a group of out-of-place ambassadors. Image details that were once buried in the texts were magnified by Yip’s treatment; what were once emotionless news rhetoric were rewritten into wry alternative realities.  


This kind of humorous response with a clear stance has, however, gradually receded in the series of new works presented in “Overriding the Light of Day.” Yip painstakingly spent years of time rereading newspapers collected from the past six years, and he has undoubtedly chosen, by instinct, materials that once deeply moved him in the process of image selection and categorisation. The passage of time means that these news have lost their immediate connection to the present, yet that is also what allows for the feelings of powerlessness and restlessness to subside. In times of uncertainty, Yip conceals his thoughts in great depth. He forgoes the practice of constructing explicit messages by assembling fragmented words, instead focuses on analysing news image composition, the frequency and ratio of image appearances, while preserving the ambiguity and openness of these symbols. In his new work Cheat Cut 2020-2023 (2023), Yip juxtaposes multiple news images in which microphones and masks visually appear to overlap due to their placement, in order to create an abstract symbol that alludes to the contestations of discursive power during the pandemic in the past few years. 


Yip’s move towards image statistics in his creative practice is particularly evident in another series of new work titled Better Day Off Tomorrow (2023). As Yip reexamines government news photographs from 1997 to 2021, he discovers that the calligraphy, “A Better Tomorrow for Hong Kong,” is a recurring image that has its own formulaic composition. To Yip, “‘Recurrence’ itself reflects the pulse of the society at the time. The deliberate choice to hide or publicise certain images is an act of power.” Although the calligraphy has remained unchanged for 24 years, the specific ways that it has occupied these 107 news photographs have shifted silently as time went by. Yip showcases these news photographs in a statistical way, and presents the varying proportion and position of calligraphy in each photograph with a video. Only calligraphy is left recognisable after Yip’s repeated erasion of other visual elements on the photographs using sand papers. In this process, the calligraphy becomes a common symbol that traverses time and space, highlighting how its meaning has become ambiguous over time and social change. 


The “over-” in overriding perhaps best summarises the core of Yip’s current practice: it refers to the recurring visual elements in the news that he collects, the analogous symbols he collages together, and also the more vivid, reconstructed realities that subvert original meanings. For Yip, the camera obscura––a darkened room––is like a temporary dimension that allows him to penetrate the representations of various images so as to reconstruct them as a deeper and more open narrative system. As Japanese writer Misa Matsuda said, in the post-truth era when information is everywhere but nowhere, “what needs interpreting are not only messages, but also the intentions behind them.” Yip’s new work, Untitled (2023), which hollows out all information and leaves simply the frame, is his most subtle yet powerful interrogation. Lost words and blank histories are perhaps the liminal creative space where the freedom of thought could be found.