Frightening the office girls
by John Batten
Impermanence, transition, evolution and changes in the physical state of deteriorating objects are a common focus of anothermountainman’s artwork.
Notorious - as it has previously been exhibited, shocking viewers at the time, some climbing inside to try - is his design for a coffin in the guise of a long and comfortable sofa that he currently uses in his living room. At a future date this special sarcophagus will be opened and the hollow base converted into an equally comfortable padded coffin in which the artist himself will lie - when his own, present lifetime has ended.
anothermountainman’s photography covers similar ground, including photographing dead flowers; black tyre skids on roads; and empty notice-boards in abandoned offices whose occupants are no longer there.
All are silent markings and depict aspects of passages of the past.
And then you see anothermountainman’s photographs of buildings that have never been completed, buildings never formally occupied, never topped off - labelled with the disdainful, derogatory tag of lan wei. 1
These abandoned buildings are possibly the result of actions by a too-cocky property developer or investor who chose the wrong moment. It may have been pure stupidity.
“Greed, most likely.”
Then a missed payment, then a few more missed. Credit withheld; a mortgagee calling in the loan. In a nearby office: telephones not answered. Final deliveries and the spat echo of “cash or nothing.” The drivers return with their load – “shit!” the accounts man says, sitting down the payment-chain understanding the bankrupt circumstances. The slashing of red paint on doors, the work of upset creditors and their street thugs, frightens the office girls.
Construction terminated, aborted, cut off.
“Pack your tools, boys – this site’s stuffed.”
The concrete tower is leftover for the birds, and their crapped seeds; soon-seedling, soon-sapling, rooted, finding refuge or just a spot, in a high-rise crack.
The buildings are naked, grimy, veined: wan citadels sitting on the horizon or the end of a street. Lan wei.
And then anothermountainman imagines other scenes:
Cosy literati spaces with wizened men, dutiful women, bonsai and views overlooking a fertile and populated, if hazy, valley.
There’s also a cinema line-up of characters: Mao, the requisite manga schoolgirl, Chinese opera and period drama. The stage around Disney castle rocket turrets and skeletal steel rusting hangars; the action is choreographed swordplay in a mockery of costumes. The exotica of opposites: grey lan wei and bright dreamy fantasy folk.
The lan wei buildings are homes too; adorned with hanging washing, communal conviviality and an outdoor pool table for recreation. Housing immigrant rural workers, who lack the all-important urban hukou permits that allow legal residence and access to services, schooling and housing in cities. Moving from the countryside changes you anyway – and there are times of flux and danger, rough violence and jealousy, despair and unfairness, unemployment and casual sodden work, but…
“…Don't look back or you'll turn to stone;
look around before your life is overgrown with concrete slabs.
On your back the searching eyes that stab between chintz curtains, glinting,
but never owning to a name...
like the inmates of asylums
all the citizens are contagiously insane....” 2
1. For a detailed explanation of anothermountainman/Stanley Wong Ping Pui’s art and the term ‘lan wei’, see John Batten, Hong Kong/China Photographers: anothermountainman, 2008.
2. Peter Hammill, “Modern”, from the album The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage, 1974.
John Batten is a Hong Kong-based art critic.