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Lo Lai Lai Natalie 勞麗麗

By Christie Lee /

For city-dwellers, it’s easy to romanticise nature. William Wordsworth, who witnessed how the industrial revolution transformed London in the 19th century, for example, wrote such evocative lines as “nature never did betray the heart that loved her”.

Three centuries later, Lo Lai Lai Natalie has made rumination on nature a crucial part of her art. But unlike the English poet, she doesn’t romanticise it. For Lo, nature isn’t simply an object for humans to cast an admiring eye on or to destroy. It also exercises its own agency – and can create or kill, oblivious to what humans imagine it to be. This idea is captured in Like a stone, vain hope (2020), a three-minute video-art piece where a woman interrogates a plant, trying to tease out responses in vain.

Holding nature up as a mirror for mankind, Lo’s photography, videos and installations reflect on a myriad of topics, from survival and supply chains to religion and freedom. But the artist is also hyper-aware of her own limitations in articulating nature – “after all, I’m a human being”.

The voice, or lack thereof, is central to Lo’s work, manifested in farmers, ripples in paddy fields, insects and plants. While silence is often regarded as the language of the oppressed, it is perhaps not so much a form of resistance in Lo’s works as a way to constitute selves.

A fine arts graduate of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Lo is at once an artist, farmer and former journalist. She is an active member of Sangwoodgoon (“life hall”), a farming collective born out of the anti-Hong Kong Express Rail Link movement in 2009-10.

Lo Lai Lai Natalie. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Xin Li.

Christie Lee: You became a travel journalist after graduating with a fine arts degree from Chinese University. What drew you to journalism? Lao Lai Lai Natalie: I didn’t want to become an artist as I found it too restrictive. For me, travelling provides an opportunity to see new things, meet new people, but if you ask, do I like travelling? Hmmm, I don’t think so, not compared to my travel journalist friends, who genuinely enjoy being on the road all the time. That’s why I quit. I’m more interested in critiquing the act of travelling – what it means, why people romanticise it. Later, I extended that to looking at the ways people romanticise the agrarian life.

CL: What about you – have you ever romanticised the agrarian life? LLLN: I don’t think so. It wasn’t that I had a negative impression of it, but I also understand the challenge. I never thought: as long as we find a way to farm locally, the city could become entirely sustainable.

CL: When and why did you start farming? LLL: It wasn’t a deliberate decision; things sort of came together. When I quit my journalism job in 2010, I wanted to volunteer at an arts festival, but that fell apart. A friend then asked if I wanted to be involved in Choi Yuen Tsuen [a village located on the site of the Hong Kong Express Rail Link] farm experiment. 

I thought, why not? Now, I find myself increasingly valuing the companionship offered by nature. I don’t agree that nature is this heroic figure that towers over the little man – I think it’s more, how should we find a way to coexist? The more we interact with nature, the more we see our limitations. Nature adapts very quickly, which, to me, trumps man’s inflexibility. For example, it knows what kinds of vegetables thrive in what kind of season, but we always insist on eating out-of-season vegetables. My art explores this dilemma of coexistence.

Silent karaoke – Goodbye Hong Kong by Lo Lai Lai Natalie, Still, HD single channel video, 2017. Courtesy the artist. 

CL: What’s your view of this attempt to control nature? LLLN: At Sangwoodgoon, we don’t subscribe to the idea of greenhouses, as permaculture [the idea of working with different natural elements to create a self-sustaining system] is such a core part of our philosophy.

CL: Do you see yourself as part of the agricultural industry? LLLN: I’m not sure. For many people, to turn something into an industry, one must scale up. But that is contrary to our philosophy, which is about self-sustainbility.  

CL: What is your goal as a farmer? LLLN: I hope more people will realise how deeply connected mankind is to the land. I’m not saying, alright, everyone should become a farmer, but as a farmer I want to provide that avenue for others to realise that connection.

CL: There are so many ways one can talk about local farming and the agricultural industry. What does the visual medium offer? LLLN: Ambiguity. I’m not a campaigner. If you’re advocating for something, there’s inevitably going to be some elements of propaganda involved. It’s not my nature. Art allows more room for reflection.

CL: What is your creative process like? LLLN: It’s quite organic. I take photos, I write, but I don’t immediately know that I’d like to make art out of [the material produced]. I think the act of creating a piece of art is very different from growing vegetables. As a farmer, once you’re in the field, you really have to adapt to natural conditions, be it the soil or the weather. You need to be constantly making these decisions. You’re working alongside nature to create something. I think that creativity is crucial, which is very different from the creativity that one would normally associate with the visual arts. 

CL: Could you elaborate a bit more on the difference between creativity in the field and creativity in the studio? LLLN: Sometimes, I feel I think too much when I’m making art. Intuition is key to art but there is also a lot of thought that goes behind it, philosophical and otherwise. There is a lot of us in the art. When I’m in the field, I feel like I’m participating, but somehow nature just has a way of transforming itself. Nature is very intelligent – it has its own mode of functioning. We boast that we’re making all these advances in medicine, in science, but none of that is applicable in the field. Our way of communicating, of expressing ourselves, is actually quite limiting.

CL: I suppose you have to let go of your artistic ego when you’re farming? LLLN: You can still exercise your ego. I mean, you can aspire to grow the best vegetables, have the best fields [laughs]. But yes, I suppose that is one way of looking at it. There are too many variables in the field. A shrub might grow a certain way because of the care you put into it, but it could also be the soil conditions. You can never really claim successes in the field as your own. When you’re creating art, you’re serving first and foremost your own ego.

CL: What are you showing at the forthcoming group exhibition at Oi! art space? LLLN: The work is about fermented beets. I want to talk about the space the beets take up – that transition from raw state, when it was on the farm, to its fermented state, shrunken, in a jar.

Say no words but mum by Lo Lai Lai Natalie, Installation view at Eaton Hong Kong. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Xin Li.




住在城市裡的人們總是很容易便為自然抹上一層浪漫色彩,比如威廉·華茲華斯,在目睹了19世紀工業革命給倫敦帶來的巨變後,寫下了這樣令人回味的句子:「大自然永遠不會背叛愛她的那顆心。」

三百年後,反思自然成了勞麗麗藝術創作中的重要元素。但與之前提到的英國詩人不同的是,她並未將其浪漫化。在她眼中,自然不單單只是人類用以大飽眼福亦或是去毀滅的一樣東西,它也有其自發性。大自然會創造也能扼殺,而且並不理會人類對其作出的想像。這一想法體現在三分鐘錄影作品《Like a stone, vain hope》(2020年)中:一個女人對著一株植物質問,徒勞地想尋求回應。

羅氏的攝影、錄像和裝置作品以自然為鑒展開反思,涉及的話題林林總總從生命鏈、供應鏈到宗教和自由。然而,她也深感自己在描繪自然方面的局限性,「畢竟,我只是人類」,她如是道。

作品中由農夫、稻田裡的漣漪,昆蟲還有植物發出或缺失的聲音是其作品核心所在。儘管沉默往往被視作為受壓迫的代名詞,而或許在勞麗麗的作品裡與其說它是種反抗不如說是建立自我的方式。

畢業於香港中文大學美術學系的勞麗麗曾做過藝術家、務過農也做過記者。如今活躍於農耕組織生活館,此組織誕生於2009-10年反高鐵活動。

你從中大美術系專業畢業後,成為了一名旅行記者,是什麼吸引你從事新聞業?我不想做藝術家,因為限制太多。對我來說,旅行能讓我有機會看到新事物,遇見新朋友。但如果你問我喜不喜歡旅行,和我的那些旅行記者朋友們比起來,其實並不,他們是真的享受一直在路上的感覺。所以後來我便放棄了這個職業,而更感興趣於評論旅行這一個活動,探討旅行的意義、為什麼人會覺得旅行很浪漫。之後,我開始拓展到觀察人將農耕生活浪漫化的不同方式。

那你呢,有沒有將農耕生活浪漫化?沒有。我不是對農耕生活有什麼消極印象,只是我明白其困難之處。我從不認為只要我們找到方法在城市理耕種,城市就會徹底變得的可持續。

你是什麼時候開始耕種的,又是為什麼?這不是個深思熟慮的決定,更像是水到渠成。2010年我辭去記者工作後想去藝術節參與志願工作,但最後沒去成。然後有個友人便問我是否願意加入菜園村農作試驗項目,菜園村是香港高鐵部份地段的原址。我想,為什麼不呢?現在,我發現自己越來越珍惜大自然所給予我的陪伴。我不認為大自然是一種比人類宏偉的英雄般形象。我覺得我們的態度更應是如何找到共存之道?當我們與自然有了更多互動,就越能發現自己的局限性。

自然的適應能力非常快,在我看來遠勝於人類的僵化。比如,它知道什麼蔬菜在哪個季節會長的非常好,而人總是堅持吃過造蔬菜。我的藝術作品便探究了這種共存困境。

你怎麼看待試圖去控制自然的行為?在生活館,我們不認同「溫室」這個概念。因為永久培養模式是我們的核心理念之一,指的是通過綜合各種自然元素來創造一種自我維持的系統。

Silent karaoke – Taste Of Freedom by Lo Lai Lai Natalie, Still, HD single channel video, 2017. Courtesy the artist. 

你認為自己是農業的一份子嗎?我不肯定。對很多人來說,必須達成一定比例才能將某些東西變成一種產業。然而這卻與我們自給自足的理念背道而馳。

作為農夫你有什麼目標?我希望更多人能意識到人類和土地的聯繫有多密切。我不是說所有人都要去做農民,但作為一個農夫我想引導其他人去明白這種聯繫。

人可以通過很多方式來談論本地耕作和農業,視覺媒介展現的是什麼?一種曖昧的狀態。我不是做推廣的。如果要提倡某種事物,不可避免的會夾帶宣傳成分,這並非我的本性。而藝術則會給與更多反思空間。

可否談談你的創作過程?是相當自然的。我會拍照、寫作,但在創作的時候並沒刻意規劃好是否會用它們來做藝術素材。

我覺得藝術創作的行為與種植蔬菜非常不同。作為農夫,當你站在田裡的時候就必須去適應自然環境,不管是土地也好還是天氣也罷。你經常要對此作出決策來與自然合作一起創造作物。我認為這種創造力是非常關鍵的,並且它與通常的視覺藝術創作全然不同。

能否詳細說說田間創作和工作室創作二者間有何區別?我有時覺得自己在藝術創作時想得太多。直覺在藝術上是很關鍵的,但這背後還有許許多多其他思考,例如在哲學層面或其他。藝術中包含大量自我。我在田間時,我感覺自己正參與其中,但自然自有其有辦法改變自己。大自然是非常聰明的,有一套自己的運作模式。我們老是吹噓自己在醫學、科學上取得的種種突破,但都不適用於田野。實際上我們的溝通和自我表達方式很局限。

在耕作時你會拋開藝術家的身份嗎?你還是可以保持自我。我的意思是,你可以設下種出最好的蔬菜,擁有最好的地等目標(大笑)。沒錯,我想是的。田間有太多的變數。一棵灌木可能會因你的細心照料或者土壤情況長的特別好。你永遠不能全然將田間的成功歸功於自己。而當你在藝術創作時,自我便是第一。

在接下來的油街藝術空間群展你將會展出什麼作品?一個關於發酵甜菜的作品。我想探討的是甜菜從最初在田間的原始狀態到被醃制在罐子裡發酵萎縮後這一轉變過程中所佔據的空間。

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