Book reviews
Leave a Comment

Library

By Chihoi /
Published by nos:books, 2019 /
Ysabelle Cheung /

The day I visited Chihoi’s exhibition at ACO Art Space in Wanchai, it was strangely quiet. Both the security guard and docent were absent; I stood alone with the drawings and comic panels, which were pinned to soft fabric boards in pastel hues. After a while, a woman arrived and asked if I wanted to visit “the reading room” for a fee of HK$10. I agreed and was handed a key, which unlocked a small closet near the entrance. Inside I found a small school desk, a vintage lamp and a chair. There was a womb-like, conspirational feeling to the cabinet, augmented by the room’s central object: an unpublished, hidden chapter from Chihoi’s latest book, Library.

Chihoi, a Hong Kong-born artist, has been publishing fictional comics since 1996. Rendering his figures and landscapes in soft graphite tones – blacks rubbed silver from shading, the pages suffused with a sooty pallor – he has often referenced literature in his work, from his debut book, The Writer (1997), about a female author grappling with ambition, to an adaptation of Taiwanese writer Hung Hung’s short fiction piece The Train (2007).

Library contains five chapters, excluding the unpublished one, featuring a cast of characters linked to a fictional library in Hong Kong. Libraries are mythologised in popular culture, often presented as sacrosanct forums for philosophy and knowledge. However, in Chihoi’s one – a sculpted, tensile building with arched entrances – this trope is subverted. It is less a portal for knowledge, more a space of ambiguity and loss, reflecting our desperate and often futile search for truth and meaning in text. For example, in Borrowed Books, an elderly grandfather burns library books once read by his deceased wife, consumed by his grief. In the book’s titular chapter, a man enters the library but, instead of finding the text he came for, is given a key that unlocks a series of linked underground chambers. We see people rifling through ceiling-high filing cabinets and crushed under reams of paper and bookshelves. In the very last chamber, the skeletal remains of past visitors portend a morbid fate, which the protagonist ignores. Instead, he begins to read a book titled The Lost City.

The meaning of Library is layered and abstract. But there are clues: the presence of Hong Kong history books and fables throughout hint at an identity crisis connected to the city’s vanishing culture. In his afterword, Chihoi writes of how he has collected similar books onhis travels, creating an itinerant bookshelf that pays homage to a place on the edge of erasure. “Borrowed books, borrowed life,” the elderly grandfather laments, echoing a well-known term used to describe Hong Kong – as a “borrowed place on borrowed time”. Even the small cabinet in the exhibition was a space of borrowing; in it, you could read the unpublished chapter for as long as you wanted, but you could not take photographs or remove anything from the room.

In the penultimate chapter, The Book Inferno, a group of students visit a literature-themed park based on Dante’s visions of hell, which illustrate grotesque punishments for perceived criminals, including those who “steal or borrow books and fail to return them”. Although written in a facetious tone, the scene presents a sobering metaphor for authoritarian control and ownership. If books are our histories and we are the borrowers, who doles out these punishments? Who controls the library? Chihoi leaves this open to interpretation, only warning us that although we can rent our own narratives and stories, we must eventually return them.

我到位於灣仔的艺鵠藝術空間參觀智海的展覽時,場地鴉雀無聲,有點奇怪。保安員及講解員均不在,智海的插畫及漫畫釘在展示板上,我獨自站在他的作品前。過了一會,一位女士前來詢問我是否有興趣支付港幣10元進入「閱讀室」參觀。我表示感興趣,那位女士便給了我一把鑰匙讓我打開入口附近的一間小房間。小房間裡面有一張小書枱、一盞舊式小燈及一張椅子。這個房間給我一種幽靜私密的感覺,放在房間正中央的物件更加加深了這種氣氛──那是智海最新的漫畫合集《圖書館》中沒有收錄的一章。

智海是一位出生於香港的藝術家。他自1996年起發表漫畫創作。他筆下的人物及風景是柔和的石墨色,在白紙上用灰黑色繪畫,作品的色彩灰暗蒼白。智海的創作時常會引用其他文學作品,如他的處女作《The Writer》(1997年)及短篇漫畫《灰掐》(2007年)。前者是一個描繪一位掙扎著追尋夢想的女作家的故事,後者則是以台灣作家鴻鴻的小說為藍本進行創作。

《圖書館》共有五個章節(不包括沒有收錄的一章),描繪了不同角色在一個虛構的香港圖書館中的故事。在流行文化中,圖書館被塑造成一個哲學與知識的神壇。不過智海創造的圖書館則完全不同,他筆下的圖書館是一座形狀扭曲、擁有拱形入口的建築。他的圖書館並不是知識的寶庫,而是一個迷茫與失落的空間,體現了我們在文字裡嘗

試追尋真理和意義時迫切的渴望及有時徒勞的努力。以〈借來的書〉一章為例,一位老伯伯在老伴去世後,在悲傷的驅使下焚燒了圖書館內他的老伴閱讀過的書籍。在〈圖書館〉一章中,一個男人進入圖書館後沒有去尋找他本來想找的書,而是接過鑰匙打開了地下室。我們可見人在高至天花板的書櫃間穿梭,被大量紙張和書架壓倒。走到地下室最裡面的一個房間後,男人無視了房間中前人的骷髏骨,漠視其中可怕的暗示,反而開始閱讀一本名為《消失的城市》的書。

《圖書館》中隱含的意義抽象複雜,但還是可以從一些線索中找到提示:關於香港的歷史書與寓言故事在漫畫中隨處可見,暗示了香港逐漸消失的文化引致的身份認同危機。在後記中,智海寫到他如何在旅途中收集相關的書籍及創建一個流動書櫃,以對香港這個面臨文化被抹殺的城市表示敬意。漫畫中一位老伯伯慨嘆:「借來的書,借來的人生。」此話正正呼應了一句形容香港的老話:「借來的地方,借來的時間。」展覽所用的小房間亦是租借來的,在房間中你可以慢慢欣賞沒有收錄進合集的那一章漫畫,卻不能拍照或從房間中帶走任何東西。

在書中倒數第二章《書地獄》中,智海根據但丁的描述繪畫出一個地獄主題公園,一群學生前往遊玩。故事裡,有些人被視為罪犯,犯下包括「偷書或借書不還」等罪行被處以荒謬怪誕的刑罰。縱使故事的調子輕鬆,但這些畫面亦令人反思威權下的操控和佔有。如果書本是我們的歷史而我們是借書的人,誰會是刑罰的執行者?誰控制圖書館?智海將問題留給讀者細思。他只告誡我們雖然可以租借自己的歷史與故事,但是終究要歸還。

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.