⟨ Art ⟩

I Don’t Have Time to Deal with Fear

Ellen Pau

Words / Vennes Cheng
Translation / Iris Heung

香港錄像藝術的先鋒鮑藹倫的回顧展 —— 「當家當當家」在Para Site藝術空間開幕。我總以為只有不在世的藝術家才會辦回顧展,向其畢生創作致敬。鮑藹倫當然仍在世,還是活躍的藝術家及策展人。甫進她回顧展便明白為何這叫回顧展,她要回顧的不止是自己一生,還有香港的前世與今生。


1989年的單頻道錄像作品《估領袖》(Simon Says),鮑藹倫將中國總理李鵬當年的講話片段剪輯,並找了其他藝術家朋友合力模仿領導人的手勢,起初大家也遵守規則,後來卻各有各的表達方式,最終剩下領導人在模仿領導人。「Simon Says」這個遊戲就是由「Simon」當領袖來發施號令,沒有「Simon Says」為開首的都不是真正指令,分不清真偽指令的都會被淘汰,只有聽到真正領導的指令,才有資格繼續參與遊戲。


起點想是終點,起點的龐大時間軸的旁邊是鮑藹倫最新作品《到此為咫》(I Don’t Have time to Deal with Fear),她將關於香港各種神話傳奇:西貢的盧亭、金山獼猴、醉酒灣的防線以虛擬科技重現。到最後關於這城的種種,是真?還是神話一場?

Para Site is currently presenting a retrospective of the local pioneer video artist Ellen Pau titled What about Home Affairs. I used to assume retrospective was only a tribute to previous works of artists who are no longer with us, but this time, the retrospective exhibition is for Pau who is still alive and active as an artist and curator. After viewing the exhibition, I understand this is a “retrospective” because we are not only looking back on her life but also the past and present of Hong Kong history.

The retrospective began with an intertwined timeline that connects her own history with the major events in Hong Kong dated back to the mid-1980s. In 1984, she created the video work Glove; in the same year, the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed. TV Game of the Year was made in 1989, the year when the ‘89 Democracy Movement took place in Beijing.  Her two renowned Bik Lai Chu series was produced during the same period of time as the first Hong Kong Contemporary Art Festival was held by the Urban Council in the 1990s. Looking at the grandeur timeline, I expected the works would be shown according to the sequence. To my surprise, the retrospective was not presented according to the timeline. The exhibition initiated a dialogue amongst different time periods, works in the past are invited to reflect on the current social situations.

In the VHS video work titled TV Game of the Year in 1989, Pau invited her artist friends to play the game “Simon Says” along with edited clips of Former Chinese Premier Li Peng. In the game, her participating friends tried to imitate the leader’s gesture. It went well at the beginning, but the participants began to come up with their own ways of expression and finally no one was following the leader’s instruction. In Simon Says, one of the players would take up the role as “Simon” and give instructions. The other players should only follow instructions prefaced with the phrase “Simon says”, those who fail to distinguish between fake and genuine commands would lose. Only those who understand which are the actual instructions can continue with the game.

My grandma used to be a fan of Pledge Furniture Polish, I can still vividly remember the strong artificial lemon smell of the product. The brand Pledge is called “Bik Lai Chu” in Cantonese, which is the title to Pau’s video installation work series developed over the course of a decade. “Pledge” is not only the name for the furniture polish but also the word that means a solemn promise. She used this pun as a metaphor to reflect on the “one country, two systems” guarantee made by the Chinese government before the handover of Hong Kong. Another pun of the video title is the word “Bik”, which means “to force” in Cantonese. Although the polish product can make furniture surface gleamingly clean, what remains is nausea from the repulsively strong artificial smell of lemon.

The beginning is also the end, therefore next to the timeline at the entrance of the exhibition hall is Pau’s latest work I Don’t Have Time to Deal with Fear. Using the technology of augmented reality (AR), the work recreates the myths in Hong Kong, including the mythical aquatic creature in Sai Kung, the monkeys in Kam Shan Country Park, as well as the fortified Gin Drinker Line. After all, are all the stories of this city genuine or is everything a myth?