“Sojourn with Stranger” is an artist book (a unique edition) recently curated by Hilda Chan through the auspices of Hong Kong based gallery Mur Nomade. The project came about by way of the gallery’s Open Call to Young Curators, which in this case asked for proposals for a limited-edition art book.
One strategy for the nebulous category referred to above – the artist book – shifts the housing of an exhibition into the space of a “book”, if indeed we can describe “Sojourn with Stranger” as a book, though the project includes these specific elements: text, images and a page.
Ms Chan’s organizing strategy combines the work of five women (including herself) around the concept of “home”, and though her curatorial statements refer to widespread inspirations that include French philosopher Gaston Bachelard and Eric Faye’s novel “Nagasaki”, the project seems specifically rooted in the Hong Kong experience.
Expanding the parameters of “exhibition”, the contributors not only include “artists” but what we might call “technicians”. Lai Wai is a photographer, Wawa is a poet, but Beatrix Pang and Percy So are also incorporated in the creative product as, respectively, book designer and book binder.
Housing or home, or even a place to live, has a specific context within Hong Kong. For one thing the economy is over reliant on real estate speculation, which has pushed the price of home ownership out of reach of a large part of the population, in particular the city’s younger demographic. It is indeed a kind of unrealizable dream, let alone that the city is so congested that privacy is at a premium. Spaces are tiny and crowded, and so the idea of home falls back, by necessity, on the support and inclusion of the extended family.
Photographer Lai Wai has taken this circumstance as her every ready subject matter, documenting the confines of her parent’s Hong Kong home. Her framing is straight on, the subject matter is mundane but worthy of notice, showing the packed spacing of objects in a contemporary Hong Kong domicile. While this space is severely limited, every inch being utilized, book designer Beatrix Pang’s takes the photographic image and folds it like a map so the image can be expanded/explored as if it was an extensive domain seen from many angles.
The project’s text (on its own separate cardstock page) is excerpted from a longer poem by Wawa. It also refers to a circumstance common to Hong Kong: the native born citizen who emigrates abroad due to economic, social, environmental or political stresses within the city. Taken from the poem, “Anna and Anna”, the text is found underneath the folded photographic image; it was written as a kind of farewell when the writer moved from Hong Kong to the USA and is lent a personal angle by being written (though scanned and letterpress printed) in the poet’s own hand.
The final element is bookbinder Percy So’s contribution, which neatly coincides with the project’s conceptual impetus. The photo and text are wrapped in an origami-like package made of actual wallpaper, another mundane yet ever-present part of a home’s interior, a durable façade that we usually forget to notice.
The handout about “Sojourn with Stranger” provided by Mur Nomade states, “The portable and enclosed nature of the book format allows the reader to imagine the unknown occupant’s identity and history, and to construct a chronicle of events, much like the homeless woman’s non-existing right of being in (Eric Faye’s novel) Nagasaki, who secretly lives in and observes from a stranger’s wardrobe.”
This may be true, and the project is certainly permeated by a kind of dislocated melancholy that must be reformulated by the reader, but as I previously indicated, “Sojourn with Stranger” encapsulates much about Hong Kong’s spatial zeitgeist, partially through the combined input from five of its creative types, but also in the project’s tiny scale which conceptually replicates the claustrophobia of the city, albeit with a kind of fondness that still allows room for a critical point of view.
“Sojourn with Stranger”, a limited-edition art book produced in an edition of ten – exhibited at Mur Normade, Aberdeen, Hong Kong, December 3-24, 2016 – curated by Hilda Chan, with contributions by Lau Wai, Beatrix Pang, Percy So and Wawa
Photos: Raymond Lam – courtesy of Mur Nomade and the artists