“The prisoners are chained in a cave, unable to turn their heads. All they can see is the wall of the cave. Behind them burns a fire. The prisoners cannot see what’s behind them – an ascent to sunlight, except to discern the shadows cast on the wall by objects that they do not see. Should one of them be freed to walk in the world beyond the cave, he would find misery, for he was used to a world view made up of shadows passing before his eyes. If he had the courage to bask in sunlight after so long in the dark, he would not want to return to the cave, for his peers would never believe what he saw.” I tried my best to reconstruct Plato’s allegory of the cave, in an attempt to flesh out its connection with the exhibition title “Modern Cave”.
“So the exhibition is related to Plato’s allegory?” I asked Wong Sze Chit.
作為前Mosses書店的店長，黃思哲的身份長期被定格，有好長一段時間，大家好像只記得經營書店的他，而忽略了他的畫家身份。像這次開在Square Street Gallery的展覽，狹小空間內，一口氣擺滿了他數十幅作品，而當中有部分是預先繪製，但大部分都是在畫廊內即席創作。當我問他為什麼要大費周章，即席在畫廊製畫，是平常太懶散都沒在畫嗎？他回答道：「我希望創作可以融入環境。這次的展覽空間是新開的，那天來設展時，才發現這裡的地點很有趣，剛好就夾在棺材舖和文武廟之間，讓人很直覺地，想畫出風格較詭橘、神秘主題的畫。」
A former manager of the bookshop Mosses, artist Wong Sze Chit has long been typecast as the front of the business. This exhibition at the intimate Square Street Gallery features a collection of paintings, drawings and installations – most of which are site-specific and created on the spot. I asked Wong if the site-specific, performative element of the show is an attempt to redeem himself from procrastination and lack of preparation. He explained, “I want to create an immersive experience. The first time I visited the new Square Street Gallery, I was fascinated by its location nestled between a coffin-maker and Man Mo Temple. It prompted a tendency to create something eerie, something mysterious.”
Wong’s interest in the supernatural is rooted in his childhood excursions to Haw Par Mansion and the haunted house in Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park. Upon closer inspection, then, Wong’s works spur a sense of ritual – not of religious connotations but rather, of the worshipping of nature in prehistoric murals. But Rome wasn’t built in a day; Wong’s practice is one of gradual reckoning and self-discovery.
Wong’s early practice centred on his intention to “create good-looking works” which, over time, shifted to a focus on the connection between spirituality, the creative process and the end result itself. Speaking of such a process, Wong mentioned his daughter, “She’s 7 now. She used to draw poorly for a lack of strength in her small muscles in the fingers, hands and wrists. But precisely because of that, her drawings were very intuitive and true to the way she saw the world. Now, as she begins to socialise, she draws according to a set of ‘conditioned’ rules. I think what I want to achieve in my work is that lost, childlike sense of purity, rather than ‘good-looking’. The world has no shortage of visual stimuli like films and video games; if we artists live by looks, surely we will be outdone by technology soon. What I appreciate is one’s state of mind whilst painting, and how the resulting painting reflects that.”
Wong said the exhibition title “Modern Cave” stemmed from our modern obsession with staying in our rooms. Our computer screens, then, are the wall to which the prisoners are tethered and from which they try to reconstruct a vision of the world. But just as the cave is open in Plato’s allegory, we too can ascend from our “caves”, enter other people’s and return to our own at will.
When I tried to explain Plato’s allegory to Wong, I realised that he had never heard of it before. The coincidence seemed like a refreshing interpretation of the famous metaphor. I asked Wong, “So do you think you’re the prisoner in the cave, the one who got out, or the one who returned?”
“I don’t think there would be anything food in the cave, so I ought to go outside and hunt every now and then. I’m probably the prisoner who keeps going out and coming back to bring food.”
I didn’t think too much of his response. Revisiting Plato’s Republic after the interview, there was no mention of how food was arranged within the cave. I did, however, come across prisoners who kept leaving and returning to the cave. Whatever their reason for leaving, they were met with misunderstanding or persecution. Yet in Wong’s modern allegory, we are all characterised by our awareness of the prison around us. We are free to leave our caves as the need arises and to return fulfilled. There is no such thing as truth outside of the cave, nor do we fantasise about daylight. A room of one’s own is all that we have.