Seeing Things, Being There brings together three case studies from AAA’s ongoing research into exhibition history, and explores the relationship between documentation and the construction of narratives. How do we recount past events meaningfully with limited documentation? How are different kinds of materials instrumentalised to create versions of the same story? These case studies draw on primary and secondary materials from AAA Library, the Ha Bik Chuen Archive, and beyond—extending their lines of inquiry through archeology, parallel perspectives, and travel photography.
The first case study examines Lo Ting—a mythological figure from Lantau Island, Hong Kong, that was central to a series of three exhibitions at the Hong Kong Arts Centre between 1997 and 1999. Held immediately before and after Hong Kong’s Handover from British to Chinese sovereignty, this series reimagined the history of Hong Kong. It also challenged the functions and expectations of exhibition spaces by turning a white cube into an archeological site, where “findings” of Lo Ting were staged. Through researching these exhibitions, this case study examines how art practitioners imagined history in a time of change. It also explores how history—sometimes entirely mythical—can be used to socialise and internalise assumptions advocated by those in power.
The second case study focuses on Talkover/Handover (2007) hosted by 1a Space, Hong Kong, that began as an AAA research project around changes in Hong Kong’s art ecology in the ten years since the 1997 Handover. Both the late Ha Bik Chuen (1925–2009) and AAA researchers covered this exhibition at different times. When juxtaposed, their photographs reveal a complexity inherent to any documentation of an exhibition, embodying their singular perspectives and personal preferences. If all we have are these records—always already framed and incomplete—how do we speculate about the whole of past events? And what happens when we put documentation by an individual intended for private use in conversation with those by a public institution?
The last case study explores Ha Bik Chuen's travel photography during his trip to Huangshan with three friends in 1982. Ha, like many artists who were born in the Mainland and moved to Hong Kong in the first half of the twentieth century, visited the Mainland after the end of the Cultural Revolution as a tourist, and documented these sojourns extensively. While Ha himself was usually the photographer, this selected folder presents a moment of possible collective authorship. As such, this case study considers photography as a way of mediating personal histories and stories of friendship, escapism, and belonging.
Seeing Things, Being There, by focusing on three sets of documentation related to Hong Kong’s recent art history, negotiates how different materials—from official, institutional narratives in the public domain to unprocessed materials lying dormant in private, personal archives—can be activated. The research, transformation, and sharing of materials in this exhibition hope to open up broader questions around the study of exhibition histories, links between forms of dominance and authorship, and issues around identity formation.
The Ha Bik Chuen Archive Project (2016–2019) is funded by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust. It aims to catalyse new ideas and knowledge by opening up, activating, and circulating materials from the Ha Bik Chuen Archive through selective digitisation, research, and collaborative programming such as residencies, fellowships, workshops, and exhibition making.
This exhibition is a public programme leading up to It Begins with a Story: Artists, Writers, and Periodicals in Asia.
Chui Pui Chee
South Ho Siu Nam