The Ha Bik Chuen Archive is a vast collection of documents and materials from the late artist, comprised of his sculptures and prints alongside a diverse assortment of art supplies, found objects, exhibition documentation, publications, contact sheets and negatives, correspondences and manuscripts, as well as collage books. Through a selection of digitised archive materials, readers can delve into the landscape of art in Hong Kong between the 1960s and the early 2000s, and explore different art genres and popular cultures in Southeast Asia and Europe. The archive also offers a glimpse into Ha’s everyday life, as well as his creative process and inner feelings.
Hong Kong video artist Lam Wing Sze paid her first visit to AAA’s temporary space in Fo Tan dedicated to the Ha Bik Chuen Archive in early 2020. Approaching Ha’s collection of images via “observation” and “documentation,” Lam embarked on a journey into the heart of the archive. In 2021, Lam was commissioned to create the video installation Thinking Studio (2020) for the exhibition Portal, Stories, and Other Journeys as a response to Ha’s creative practices.
At the archive, individuals can study, intervene in, and interpret things that are known, unknown, or waiting to be discovered, from different angles. They can establish a connection with the materials, inspiring new knowledge and kindling the imagination.
Goals & Target Audience
This exercise series is designed for aspiring creative practitioners.
It allows participants to find inspiration from Ha’s archive and creative practices so as to re-approach daily life through the lens of visual imagery. Through the exercises, participants can also learn from the way artists approach the archive, from the vast ensemble of materials, and the creative elements that speak to them directly.
Definition & Pedagogic Concept
- “Everyday life” may appear banal, ordinary, and boring to us. The term often refers to a repeated cycle of events that takes place in familiar settings. Our everyday lives are shaped and informed by factors such as history, social development, power, and politics. How do we recalibrate our sensitivity to life to align it with the intensity of our living experience?
- What is “creativity”? Some say creativity is the intellectual ability to develop something original. Creativity may manifest itself in the initiative to explore new places, do new things, and acquire knowledge through these experiences. We can try and observe our “banal” routines from a fresh angle.
- Being attentive to everyday life is a part of self-exploration; it facilitates our understanding of the world and our roles in relation to it. Let us explore our innermost selves through creativity!
Warm-up Exercise: Random Order—Your Own Sorting Hat
You may begin your exploration and study by sorting through materials related to you or of interest to you. Ask some of your friends to join you in this exercise.
Suggested duration: 15 minutes
Suggested format: Group exercise
- Below (left): Contact sheet,Ha Bik Chuen: Untitled.
- Below (centre): Contact sheet, Ha Bik Chuen:1983.
- Below (right): Contact sheet, Ha Bik Chuen: 046.
- Spend three-to-five minutes studying the sheet, then cut five frames that you are most attracted to out of the prints.
- Jot down any keywords (#hashtag) that come immediately to your mind when you see the image.
- Present the chosen frames, with the corresponding note attached, in the sharing session.
Questions to be discussed:
- How did the five photos draw your attention?
- What criteria did you use when you chose them? What are the keywords that came to your mind?
- Did you choose the same image(s) as your fellow participants? What are your respective impressions of the images?
- Did you jot down the same keyword(s) as your fellow participants? What images have you chosen respectively?
Most participants tend to sort images according to their composition—elements of similar shape, quantity, and arrangement. Some participants pay attention to the mood, such as the play of light and shadow; others try to analyse the subjects and scenes with reference to their own experiences and stories. There are also participants who look at the images from a perspective informed by current issues.
- Our understanding of an image may differ based on our individual perspectives informed by personal experience.
- Believe in your own view without imposing a value judgement.
Artist example – the creative process of Thinking Studio (2020)
With rich experience in working with images, I began my study of Ha Bik Chuen’s archive by looking at his vast collection of contact sheets. Each print is marked with a title describing the purpose or theme of the film roll, for example, a visit to a certain exhibition or a leisure outing. I was drawn to the images of still life and landscape embedded within the main visual narratives of the rolls.
As I studied these photos, I had the feeling that I was living Ha Bik Chuen’s everyday life: taking pictures of potted plants, his glasses, and a pond turtle on the rooftop of his studio before heading out for an exhibition with friends; or walking down the streets of To Kwa Wan to admire the signposts, the shadow of railings, or the greenery and Fish Tail Rock in Hoi Sham Park. Ha would even name the pictures, bringing them to life with his own imagination.
Ha’s photographs are imbued with his sensitivity and passion for photography. As I read through his manuscripts, I tried to develop a narrative using keywords corresponding to these images.
Collage of Images: Difference in Similarity
Did you know you, too, can be a collector? We all use our smartphones to store different kinds of information. Your phone album serves as a “personal archive” of memories, feelings, or even forgotten fragments of the past. You can create a work with images chosen from your personal album for a theme of your own choice.
Suggested duration: 15 minutes
Suggested Format: Group exercise
- Phone album (set phone screen to Never Sleep mode)
- In your phone album, locate a landscape photo with “the sky” in it.
- Write a description of the photo—for example, when, where, and why was it taken? With whom did you take the photo?
- Present the photo together with the description.
- Arrange the images according to the shades of the sky, and share different stories of being under the same sky with your friends.
- In your phone album, locate a photo that is related to “Hong Kong” in your everyday life.
- Again, write down a description of the photo.
- Present the photo together with the description.
- What made you press the shutter when you took the photo with the sky in it? How does the image capture your feeling of the moment?
- How do those seemingly meaningless snapshots in the album document your daily routines?
- Do you intentionally document things through photography? How do they attract your attention?
Summary: Creative inspiration often comes from observation. You can sort through your album by scene, object, and location using the search-by-category functionality. Let’s see what we have collected in our pockets!
Portals—Your Documentation and Discovery
Suggested duration: 20 minutes
Suggested format: Individual exercise
- Online platform Padlet(for photo upload and sharing)
- Ha Bik Chuen once said in an interview, “I never had the least intention of becoming a photographer. But almost immediately the camera opened up a new world to me, with a vast potential for expression…Suddenly I found wonderful subjects in the street, in the New Territories, at the beach, seeming to beckon on me to take their photograph…Wherever I went I became like a cleaner, using the lens instead of a vacuum cleaner to collect everything I encountered…I would dearly love to take home everything I see, but it is much lighter just to take the photograph and move on.”
- Photography is a tool for Ha Bik Chuen to document, collect, and preserve things from everyday life that inspired him. Start your own process of collection and observation now—what images will you take home?
- Document your neighbourhood with three photographs (beautiful/interesting/historic/captured for the future).
- You may name each photograph.
- Why would you like to preserve these things? What do they remind you of?
- How do words help the viewer interpret an image?
- Besides photography, are you engaged in any other collecting practices?
Artist example – The photographs of Ha Bik Chuen & Videos by Lam Wing Sze
The photographs of Ha Bik Chuen
Read Photographs Thinking of Sculpture: Ha Bik Chuen to learn how Ha “collected” things using photography as a medium. What titles did he use to name these images?
Summary: Use the smartphone as a portable tool to document things that attract you and create your own inspiration bank.
Videos by Lam Wing Sze
My works concern mainly my observation of everyday life, observing the curious, nuanced shift in perception of the same scene over time using the medium of video. Turn on the Light when You are Back (2017–18) is a video documentation of a streetlamp that intermittently fails over the span of two years. The flicker signifies the repeated process of coming and going, which is reproduced in the viewing experience. Likewise, in Hello, Goodbye (2018), two trains running in the same direction meet in a tunnel. Their brief encounters form a metaphor for a relationship. The video invites viewers to enter the compartment and gaze out the window as they experience the same journey. I wanted to create a situation that engages viewers in a dialogue with the subjects on screen, through which new meaning emerges.
We tend to collect things we like. How would you like to decorate your desk or room? What would you like to show your friends when they visit you? Let us decorate our rooms with reference to Ha Bik Chuen’s books of collage magazine cut-outs and newspaper clippings!
Suggested duration: 30 minutes
Suggested format: Individual exercise
- Interior design magazines
- Pick a page of your choice from the interior design magazine and use it as the background of your work.
- Cut out images of the objects you want to collect for magazines and newspapers.
- Arrange the collected objects in the background to create a composition.
- You can paste text cut-out(s) on your composition to illustrate the theme of your room.
- What messages feelings does your collage convey?
- Where do these texts and images come from?
- How does your choice of texts and images reflect your personal preference, taste, and values?
What Adults Don’t Know About Art: Inspiring Young Minds to Love and Enjoy Art explains how art is relevant to everyday life. One example speaks of becoming an art expert through decorating bedrooms. Artistic creation helps us appreciate things that surround us. It reminds us of the value of the things that matter in our lives, inspiring in our joy, sorrow, and peace.
Notes to teachers
- I hope this exercise series gives teachers insight into the everyday lives, habits, and tastes of their students, thereby paving the way towards a more thorough understanding of their concerns. The series is suitable for preparing Form Four students for creative practice.
- Teachers can make use of online platforms (e.g.Padlet) for students to share their personal albums or photographs taken in their neighbourhoods.
- Students who participate in these exercises from home can use materials found at home for their creative practice, and showcase the items they collected.
About the Artist
Lam Wing Sze is a Hong Kong-based video artist. She received her BA from the Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University, in 2015. Lam currently works in museum education. Participated exhibitions and projects include “Our Manifestos II: Videography, Documentary Impulses” (Floating Projects, Hong Kong, 2021), “Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys” (Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong, 2021), “Sightlines” (Hong Kong Art Centre, Hong Kong, 2019 and 41 Ross, San Francisco, 2017 ), “DREAM Video 100” (West Bund Art & Design, Shanghai, 2018), “Wonder Foto Day” (Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, Taipei, 2019), “The Aerial Actor” (Art Omi, New York, 2018), “Observe / Scrutinise / Perceive” (Gallery EXIT, Hong Kong, 2018), “Weighty Light” (Affordable Art Fair, Hong Kong, 2018), “from here to there” (Kunstquartier Bethanien, Berlin, 2016).
Lam’s image narratives are often composed of scenes and situations she encounters by chance, but also those that she both anticipates and manipulates. Her role as an image-maker is to create a situation that gives the audience a viewing experience, opens up a conversation with that which was captured, and generates new meaning. Lam looks at the scenery in the city and inverts daily observations into moving images that depict the perception and reflection of seeing.
Publishing date: 22 March 2022
The AAA Learning and Participation Programme is supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited and C. K. and Kay Ho Foundation.