Wuhanese memories in art form

Weekend Glitz | Trista Yeung 24 Jun 2016

With city life going at what often seems like a frantic pace, what is left of the good old days we hold dear as a part of our roots and origin?

The answer is suggested by Virtual Memory Box, a digital artwork that documents the memories of people from Wuhan. Artists John Campbell and Rebecca Caines completed the artwork in eight weeks during an artist-in- residence program at the Wuhan K11 art village.

"We invited more than 30 local [Wuhan] residents from different backgrounds for a workshop. They connected by sharing the stories of their lives. I was surprised to find they shared personal things as well as intimate feelings toward the city and people there," Caines said.

A blank website was set up from the start, and it soon filled up with memories in the form of audio recordings, text, videos and images. The resulting art installation allows us to go through memories on a blank canvas, watch and leave a mark on them. Videos and images can be run randomly, just as arbitrary thoughts cross one's mind.

"As new memories are explored, old ones fade. The installation enables old memories to be re-remembered. Also, all footage was uploaded live to the online platform and they were not edited. We want to showcase authentic recordings," Campbell said.

When residents spoke of their worries and fears over the rapid modernization of Wuhan, they touched the artists. Campbell said their anxieties reminded him of his hometown in Belfast, which also underwent a burst of development in the late 1990s.

"They say Wuhan is changing every day, but you can do nothing about it. You just wish you can adapt to it over time," he said.

Before the project, Campbell was told that Chinese are very quiet and conservative. But he was glad to find it was simply a case of many of them not being given an opportunity to voice their views.

"They have voices and they are eager to be heard. We hope that this [project] can be a warm-up initiative for them to express their thoughts, later be enlarged and get the whole city involved," he said.

The Fuse residency program is conducted annually by Hong Kong-based non-profit Videotage. This year, it collaborated with K11 Art Foundation in scaling up with four groups of artists in Wuhan. The program aims to boost media art and will feature artists from around the world to explore the relationship between art and technology.

"Technology is all around us and there is no way for us to ignore it. It is changing our environment and perspective on how we see the world. The program encourages artists to refresh their eyes and utilize all kinds of technology and scientific methods as platforms to present art," residency program chairwoman Tsao Yidi said.

The program ended last month. It takes the stage at the chi K11 art space, with a multimedia art exhibition - Re: FUSE - which is now running until July 4. Aside from the works of Campbell and Caines, three other art installations will be showcased, including the Gynoid's Guide to Continuous Service by Australian artist Elena Knox.

Her project takes in a not-so-distant future when hyper-real female robots are integrated into service into the existing patriarchal fabric and socioindustrial complexes. Knox tried to explore the issues of gender, discrimination and labor through her charming gynoid robot.

"The doll-like robot is sitting inside a display window, awaiting her next client. Next to her is a fancy accessories line, but it is not just jewelry. Each robot is equipped with deadly weapons as a safety measure. It shows stereotyping never ceases in the future, that women still need to find ways to protect themselves," Knox said.

Other works include the Office of Environmental Experiments by American artist Carlos Castellanos and The Only Thing We Share Is The Past by local artist Hiram Wong.

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