Leung Chi Wo: “Past-Future Tense”

Leung Chi Wo: “Past-Future Tense”

Blindspot Gallery is pleased to present “Past-Future Tense”, Leung Chi Wo’s third solo exhibition at the gallery, continuing his articulation of an unprescribed history of Hong Kong across time. Leung’s recent research into the colonial history of Hong Kong introduces a new anchor point set in the year 1982 when negotiations commenced between the Chinese and British governments with regards to the handover of Hong Kong, prompting an unpredictable future for the city.

Leung explores the anonymities embedded within records of the past, facilitating the notion that anyone can become a part of history through reimagining a pre-dated future. In a historical encounter on September 22, 1982, previous British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made her first visit to China where she met with the former Chinese Communist Party Leader Deng Xiaoping to discuss the future of Hong Kong following the handover year of 1997. Officials reported that the meeting had failed to reach a verdict but two years after, the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed.

Surfing through real historical events that read like fiction, Leung investigates the contesting narratives of history. Rather than solely focusing on factual accuracy, he employs a unique approach of “self-searching” which embraces side-tracking and deviating attention from history’s grand narrative. Disparate timelines converge in the handwritten notes of Margaret Thatcher (derived from National Archives, London), the first official photograph celebrating the birth of Prince William, and archival footages from TV news. The result is a constellation of past events seen in a new rendition, opening up new possibilities for the interpretation of history, an antidote to the saying: “history is written by the victors.”

Leung’s Excellent Mirror, Excellent Sun, Excellent Daily and Excellent Star are mixed media collages that stem four different newspapers published on the same day – July 29, 1982. The cover of these newspapers unanimously feature the first royal family portrait marking the birth of William, Prince of Wales. The acrylic glass of the framed collages are engraved with Margaret Thatcher’s handwritten remark ‘excellent’ which she wrote on an official document transcribing a conversation between several British officials and a Chinese ambassador on the matter of Hong Kong’s handover. Thatcher’s poignant remark ‘excellent’ was written on the same day as the royal announcement but the affair remained concealed beneath layers of celebratory news.

Interwoven into these collages are different found objects. They include a set of stamps depicting the Chinese year of the dog, a booklet entitled China Dairy written by David Hockey after his visit to China, album covers of English new wave bands with the Sinophile names of Wang Chung (translates to yellow bell) and China Crisis, and an Atari video game provocatively titled China Syndrome. Leung’s collages bind together materials and cultural signifiers that embody his contemplation of a future re-imagined from the past.  

Leung’s latest video My Random Diary 0, and its prequel My Random Diary (2020) are conceived in tandem with his photographic project Date Series (2017-ongoing). The project began with Leung revisiting the locations where bomb attacks took place during the Hong Kong Riots in 1967. Exactly fifty years later, on the same date and location, the artist turns his camera upward and captures images of the sky on black and white film. When naming the individual photographs within the Date Series, Leung draws parallels between civil and personal events that happened on the day of the riots, accentuating the coexistence of ephemeral yet notable timelines under the same sky.

Berlin is a sculpture that entangles diverse historical incidents, timelines and locations. The central component is a used water heater manufactured by a Hong Kong company called Berlin founded in 1967, the year the Hong Kong Riots broke out. A notorious bombing incident during the Riots took place in Hilton Hong Kong. In juxtaposition with this event, the artist makes a reference to the Hilton hotel in Berlin which was rumored to be a location for Central Intelligence Activities in the 1960s.

Another component of the sculpture is an open book entitled What Price Coexistence? written by John Slessor, with a piece of crystal pierced through its pages. Slessor was a former British Royal Air Force marshal, and his book came to light during the Cold War.  Slessor radically proposes in his book a Hong Kong that is administered under the United Nations trust, similar to Berlin, hence envisioning an alternative future for the city. Interlaced with these elements are various objet trouvés including a Hong Kong five cent coin from 1949, an artificial flower citing the 1967 Hong Kong Riots which erupted in a plastic flower factory due to labour disputes, a 1960s teddy bear from Berlin, and a postcard sent from Hilton Berlin to Charles Hurl, an American soldier who fought for the Allies in Europe in WWII.  Leung articulates parallel worlds in this sculpture which hark back to the Date Series: some which are temporally synchronous yet spatially distant, others which are temporally distinct but spatially unified. The Berlin water heater is further modified by Leung to make a ticking sound , evoking the passages of time.

The sculpture Gather The Tears stems from the artist’s research into the colonial reports of Hong Kong from the National Archives in London, as well as the official memoir of Margaret Thatcher. Leung observes and conjectures that the future of Hong Kong was deemed by the then-British government as no more than a drop in the ocean. Every sentence referring to “Hong Kong” in the memoir are meticulously cut out forming a long continuous strip, piled atop the book. The sculpture is reminiscent of a head of hair. Stabbed into the pages of the memoir is a crown of aluminium alloy, fashioned with six craft knives and two levels of dangling glass teardrops.

Yes, It Is Reasonable and And if they are not obtainable? are two prints on canvas extracted from news footages, both featuring Margaret Thatcher’s hand in a gesture of writing.  On the bottom corners of each canvas, Thatcher’s handwritten notes, derived from archival documents, are enlarged by laser-engraving, and then coloured in by the artist. Thatcher’s remarks “Yes, it is reasonable”madein 1980, was a response to the reinforcement of military garrisons in Hong Kong. Her other comment “and if they are not obtainable?”, made in 1982, exposes her scepticism towards the continuation of the British administration in Hong Kong following the handover year of 1997. These are both remarks made by Thatcher shortly before her meeting with Deng in China on September 22, 1982.