The ‘people’ from history have disappeared, but the traces they have left behind on the ‘things’ can feed the creative process, because they are the best evidence we have for the existence, speech, and behaviour of the ‘people’. Through looking into various archives, artist LEE Kai-chung embarked upon a search of the history of 11 bronze statues that were seized by the Japanese Imperial Army from Central’s Statue Square as part of the ‘copper collection campaign’ as to satisfy the war-time material needs. In the painstaking process of restoring the statues, the theme of ‘transition’ in Hong Kong is explored through the inescapable predicament resulted during the creative process.
WMA Commission recipient, Lee Kai-chung put together the exhibition, ‘I could not recall how I got here’ under the WMA 2017/18 theme of ‘Transition’. Through studying historical records and objects of Hong Kong during the last years of the WWII in this commission project The Retrieval, Restoration and Predicament, Lee investigates the transition of meanings of a ‘memorial bronze statue’ brought about by the passing of time. The interim showcase is presenting a form of Hong Kong’s ‘transition’ with sculptures, photography, videos and installations.
LEE says that he kept thinking about the meaning of ‘transition’ in the course of his research and creative process, “the documents pertaining to the statues’ history, like the statues themselves, are scattered and inconstant. The people involved in this wartime story all tried to rediscover some things, to repair and restore an earlier situation, but couldn’t help, for a variety of reasons, falling into a predicament they could not get out of. My role in this project is also part of this cycle: retrieve (lost files and history) > restore (history and the original appearance of the statue) > become trapped (in the present context and system).”
The exhibition points to the reconstruction of the restored Queen Victoria Statues, as to explore how objects in construction are being destroyed and how destroyed objects are being restored in the course of history. Just as Vennes CHENG mentioned in the curatorial statement, construction and destruction intertwine like ‘memory’ and ‘forgetfulness’.
With modern photography technique, 3D modelling, 3D printing technology, as well as traditional bronze sculpture building technique, LEE recreates the arm, the scepter and accessories on the throne that were severed from the Queen Victoria statue by the Japanese army according to the list of restoration of the Queen Victoria Statues. Lee calls to visitors to re-examine the process of ‘retrieval, restoration and predicament’ with a contemporary perspective.
Authorities hold the resources, and ‘history’ seems to be determined by ‘archives’. LEE believes that the archival framework, system, and contents should be people-centric, and the participation of archive users can refashion the historical narrative. Lee has escaped the limitations of the conservative system and has used materials from the archive to rebuild a 16mm film reel that shows the destruction process of the Japanese army memorial for its dead soldiers under the order of the Hong Kong colonial government.
He has also created three fact-based monologue videos that link up these ‘invisible’ historical narratives: an American soldier stationed in Japan who discovers the Hong Kong bronze statues; the wife of a Japanese soldier who came to Hong Kong to visit her husband; anda guard who looked over Japanese war memorial.
By reshaping objects that carry history, the artist invites us to re-examine their historical environment and understand the possibility of constructing historical narratives on their own. The exhibition will be held at the WMA Space from 27 September to 29 October. Public engagement activities include a City tour that rediscover historical site and an Archive exploration workshop in Hong Kong Public Record Office.