Yang Yeung writes about temperature, intimacy, and silence as contingent, but not arbitrary qualities of human interaction.
Suddenly, a cold spell. Eight-degrees Celsius was serious weather for Hong Kong. I decided a bus trip would do me good. There were no more than ten passengers on the double-decker. Cold and COVID. Enough to keep bodies from moving around.
I was standing near the driver when I noticed condensation forming on the windshield. Would he stop to clear the fog? Should I worry we might crash? What was he waiting for? I pulled a tissue out of my tote bag and started wiping the glass. “Thank you, but the window is real dirty. I will clear it at the next bus stop,” said the driver. He kept his promise with a compact umbrella.
Our encounter didn’t end there. That evening I hopped on the bus to head home—and there was the same driver! Somehow my trust that he would get me home safely became real, even though nothing really unusual had been done to me. The ride transformed from being a flat, straight line into something else entirely—perhaps resembling what theoretical physicist David Bohm calls a “source.”
Spontaneity, serendipity—they come and go. Now that I start counting, they turn out to be more available than I know:
the smile coming through the mask,
the warmth a baked purple sweet potato conveys into my palms,
the undulation of a voice touching my skin,
Neruda’s love bending a page where you too had been,
the mischief sharpening your frown,
the lucidity of patched words sounding the winds,
as we keep walking—alone and together, as we keep walking.
At Museum Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany, where Asia Art Archive and Goethe-Institut Hong Kong co-presented a panel titled “Artist-led Models of Resource Sharing,” a member of the audience asked: “How do you sustain?” While “sustainability” wasn’t necessarily a priority for the panellists, the question prompted me to consider how Global North–Global South discourse may have foregrounded resource sharing as a way of organising ourselves in the world. I find it more important that sources, rather than resources—geographically and symbolically unbound—are shared as an artist-led kind of international relations. In On Dialogue, Bohm says, “Source is not in time—not back in ancient times, when it may have started—but rather the source is always now. That’s what we have to look into.”1 Bohm has good reasons to emphasise our ability to bring change to the process of thought at any time, where it is needed; but I don’t think the ancient past needs to be pushed out of the picture—both the ancient and the here-now alert us to how we can constitute sources for each other while they last.
Further thoughts on the audience member’s question came later, outside. The plan was to visit Hafenstrasse. I took a wrong turn, ending up on a road under construction. One side of the pavement was gone. The other side was redirected. I was walking on mud and dust when a man in an orange vest shouted and gestured me to his side—make-shift pavement, crooked but good to walk on. I thanked him and continued walking. Bikers came head on. We gave way to each other, nodding in gratitude. The vehicular lanes were dug up. Reconstruction through destruction. The trees had to wait. If documenta 15 intended that some of us take this path, I would say it demonstrated suspension and detour, a mindfulness to correct misrecognition, even when it takes countless failures. If I had taken the “right” turn, discovery would not have been. If I had taken the “right” turn, all roughness would have been smoothened out. It was a promise of making and unmaking of which I could become a part—not of an event, but of a quality. Writer Jeanette Winterson says, “If we could try to experience love as a quality—like compassion or courage—and focus less on love as an event, something that happens, then love would belong to us, rather than being dependent on us belonging to someone.”2 I want to know if a future for a promise (not a future that promises, not the promise of a future) is possible, if documenta 15 could be revisited not so much as an event, but as a quality…
Common between the collectives were conscious efforts to preserve the vernacular, so that what is tacit, subtle, and ordinary are prioritised. Efforts were also made to preserve informality, so that well-oiled routines were deferred by spontaneity and uncertainty. I would also add the power of friendship (old and new) to what the collectives promise. Ultimately, for me, documenta 15’s promise was where singing began in multiple venues, in multiple voices, ordinary, but each voice with unique qualities. Relative is not not objective.
In 2012, I visited Kassel for the first time; the grandiosity and exceptionalism I made of documenta is what drew me there. 2022 was different—I was different—documenta was different. It may still have been big in size and name, but I took it as special the way that everything else is special in the everyday. It is its ordinariness that I would like to keep, to register the way art had come through.
I imagine the questions below capturing its ordinariness. I imagine prompting all who had an experience at documenta 15, whose responses might calm the qualms I still nurse within for having been nothing more than a tourist in Kassel. I imagine your responses speaking to whether we made and were made the same promises.
Temperature, or, have you brought a windbreaker just in case?
- How is temperature an aspect of your well-being?
- How does it arise in your encounter with others?
- How does heat gather? How has it become lavish?
- How does listlessness dissipate heat?
- How does warmth imbue objects of value?
- How have you responded to the temperature you perceive of others’ worlds?
- How have others responded to the temperature they perceive of your world?
- What part do you play in transforming the temperature of an interaction or a situation?
- How does temperature change as you change posture and position?
Intimacy, or, have you shared what you have as much as others’ burden?
- How is intimacy an aspect of your well-being?
- What gesture of intimacy reaches you?
- What gesture of intimacy from you seeks to touch?
- What might a drawing of how intimacy moves look like?
- How has intimacy inspired kindness or instilled conflicts?
- What kind of intimacy affirms you?
- What kind of intimacy changes you?
- What have you done to register the intimacy of an interaction or a situation?
- How have you been challenged by intimacy?
Silence, or, have you been given more than you think where speech has failed?
- How is silence an aspect of your well-being?
- When and how does silence visit?
- What is in the silence that visits?
- How are you a constituent of the silence?
- What habits of body and mind of yours and others’ are partners of silence?
- What is there to listen to when it comes to silence?
- How does silence transform?
- When silence becomes indulgence, when silence becomes punishment, how have you responded?
- How has silence within kept you going?
Temperature, intimacy, silence, or, how have you been these days?
- Have temperature, intimacy, and silence been your sources of strength?
- Have temperature, intimacy, and silence described your vulnerabilities?
- Have temperature, intimacy, and silence been imposed or freely chosen?
- Would temperature, intimacy, and silence define your legacy?
- What else is there about temperature, intimacy, and silence that has been missing?
The trinity of temperature, intimacy, and silence is contingent, but not arbitrary. I learnt from spending time with artists that these qualities describe human interaction in salient ways: temperature, for registering changes of weather; intimacy, for registering changes of emotional landscapes; and silence, for registering the rising and receding of momentums for action.
If I could, I would take the questions beyond documenta 15 to make an inventory of temperature, intimacy, and silence for art. I believe the ever-evolving quest for sources of the human spirit, whenever and wherever it moves and turns, requires a different kind of evaluation: that which the routinisation and standardisation of quality assurance and quality control cannot demonstrate.
“Would this be the last documenta?” I hear some asking. I am not sure if I am also hearing the desire for pleasure that the authority to declare something dead promises. The way I see it, some sources don’t even have to be wilfully shared: it’s a matter of letting them linger long enough, to be weathered.
Yang Yeung is a writer of art and an independent curator. She founded the Hong Kong non-profit organisation soundpocket in 2008. She conducted the independent research project A Walk with A3 (2015-17) to support the right of art to be in the streets. Yeung is a member of the international research network Institute for Public Art, independent art critics collective Art Appraisal Club (HK), and the International Art Critics Association (HK). She was Asian Cultural Council Fellow 2013-14. She participated in the UNESCO training workshop on the 2005 Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and was art writer in residence with Contemporary Art Stavanger. She currently teaches classics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
1. David Bohm, On Dialogue. (London, New York: Routledge, 1996), 57.
2. Jeanette Winterson, "The money has gone, so make love our alternative currency," The Guardian, last modified February 14, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/14/money-gone-love-alternative-currency/.
- Thu, 25 May 2023