Mickey Lee examines documentation found in the Ha Bik Chuen Archive
I first visited the late Hong Kong artist Ha Bik Chuen’s To Kwa Wan studio on a melting hot summer morning. As I stepped into the space after a dizzying walk up seven flights of stairs, I encountered a dense volume of archival materials arranged in a chaotic way. Ha had developed an idiosyncratic method for storage, adjusting it as the amount and type of materials expanded, but back then the only guide to navigating his archive was the studio’s floor plan.
AAA has since transferred Ha’s archive to a new location in Fo Tan, where these materials are stored in an orderly fashion on shelves. The process of inventorying his archive has given us insight into his archival methods and the decisions he made. Take how Ha organised his photographic materials: he indexed every contact sheet, titling some of the more prominent ones. The particular one that accompanies this piece contains images he took during his visit of the 45th Venice Biennale; it is number sixty-five out of 133 from 1993. He used a film camera, producing negatives, which were then turned into contact sheets, albums, and slides; he employed different archival systems for each type of material.
A question about Ha's fifty-year-long archiving often arises: How did this cache of materials advance his artistic practice? Archiving requires collecting, organising, and giving order to things. It may seem contrary to creativity, which we associate more with freedom than with structure, but this is a modern interpretation of the concept. Though it may be counterintuitive, the words inventory and invention share an origin: the Latin word invenio. Invenio means to find, to discover, and to come upon. Taking photographs was one of Ha's ways of archiving. He carried a camera with him wherever he went to discover, document, and seek new inspiration. He meticulously organised and inventoried his photographs. In that pre-digital age, collecting these materials made them readily available for the creative process, a personal precursor to Google image search. Invention, in this surprising way, is therefore a product of inventorying.
Mickey Lee is AAA Collection Assistant.
- Collection Spotlight
- Mon, 11 Sep 2017