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The WMA Commission Recipient Natalie Lo: Ecology is full of self-contradictions

By Fizen Yuen /

The WYNG Media Award (WMA) is a series of non-profit making programmes developed to inspire public participation and promote awareness and discussion of social issues in Hong Kong through photography and visual arts. The theme this year is Opportunity, and the WMA Commission selected Natalie Lo Lai Lai as a recipient, commissioning her project The Days Before Silent Spring. On a superficial level, the project documented nature, and Lo’s self-styled “Half-Farming, Half-X” lifestyle, in which she uses farming as a means to personal and artistic autonomy. But visitors to her exhibition at the end of last year at the Bonacon Gallery in Guangzhou discovered more complex narratives.

Lo mainly works in video. “I think essay films acknowledge my own more complicated and defensive way of thinking, with its strong synchronicity,” she says. “I use editing techniques, selective images and suggestive texts, which combine to become a vibrant response to it.”

Down into the Abyss by Lo Lai Lai Natalie, Installation views at Bonacon Gallery, Guangzhou, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Bonacon Gallery, Guangzhou.

In her Guangzhou exhibition, apart from her video works, Lo cleverly adapted to the limitations of the gallery space to create an interesting installation, turning the tile pattern of the exhibition space into a piece of cloth, so that the audience was removed from the gallery, entering an imaginary space of desire. The suspended cloth looked weightless, but a crane periodically made it sink to produce a sense of tension and oppression. The wrestling between lightness and weight is the key to all of Lo’s photographic works. She says that her former job as a travel journalist made her realise a foreign land might not be as beautiful as one imagines – that every place has its issues and contradictions. That is why, despite sporadic documentary footage of her farming activities in the exhibition, at its core are questions about returning to her own desires.

Down into the Abyss by Lo Lai Lai Natalie, Installation views at Bonacon Gallery, Guangzhou, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Bonacon Gallery, Guangzhou.

The narrative technique in her videos has a tendency to disrupt the audience’s logical reading habits. She connects intuition, comparisons and imagination to drive the film forward, with the connection emerging gradually and bringing different dimensions to the work. When the audience notices the gap between the narrative and their own expectation, they will begin to consider the discrepancy and recalibrate their own cognition. “I tend to reject absolutes,” says Lo. “When you truly understand a certain standpoint, you would not be too assertive.”

In the coming year, Lo will shoot a new short film for the WMA Commission project. It will be interesting to see how she tries to engage a wider audience to embrace her ecological narrative approach.

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