Phantom Island / Oi! / Hong Kong / Sep 5 – Jan 2, 2023 /
In 1851, the government used rubble left by a giant fire in Sheung Wan to extend the shoreline by 15 metres. Since then, many more reclamation projects have taken place in Hong Kong, and 20 or so islands have disappeared from the city’s map.
The extension of our city and the disappearance of our islands find playful expression in Vvzela Kook’s Phantom Island exhibition, at Oi! until January 2.
The idea for a show on Hong Kong’s disappearing islands emerged from the artist’s research into the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC). She’d come across a photo of the former clubhouse of the RHKYC, which used to sit on the current site of Oi! before it was relocated to Kellett Island. Kook noticed that Kellett Island itself stopped being an island after reclamation work in the area. After the discovery, the artist started researching Hong Kong’s disappearing islands. “Wikipedia says 19 islands have disappeared, but I actually found more than that,” she says. She has turned some of this research into drawings documenting the disappearances of these islands, including High Island, formally located off the southeast coast of Sai Kung Peninsula.
Aside from these research drawings, the exhibition also features an installation which, by literally drawing viewers into the exhibition, are skillfully woven together in a narrative that uncovers the impact of human desires on our landscapes.
Working with installation design consultant Dylan Kwok and design manager Ivan Lai, Kook created this large-scale installation built from curved, brightly-hued slabs of wood installed at varying heights; a few slabs feature a furry middle. Visitors are encouraged to walk on it and, from the highest vantage point, the structure looks like a topographic model of an island. On some of the slabs, TV screens show fuzzy images of roving lines symbolising Hong Kong’s ever-evolving coastline that’s constantly been redrawn.
Kook explains, “You know how when we draw, sometimes [what we drew] the first time isn’t quite right, then we draw another line over it to get the image closer to what we want? This approach reminds me of the act of land reclamation. It’s almost like we’re always looking for a better line in the plan.”
Beyond this installation are six isolated units, denoting floating islands not part of any main island. Dispersed around the gallery space, these units can be freely moved around by visitors.
While the main island exhibits stability, the isolated units express a certain carefree nature. Above all, however, they are an affirmation of the power of human will. As philosopher Zygmunt Bauman posits in Liquid Modernity, a key inspiration behind the exhibition, the modern age is defined by a desire to modernise – to incessantly change the status quo. There is no current state, just a state of forever becoming.
“In the distant past, if humans weren’t satisfied with the land they had, they’d start a war. Now we have the technology and we have also acquired the resolution to physically change the land we’re given. An example is the many reclamation projects going on in different parts of the world,” says Kook.
While playfulness is important to Phantom Island, it isn’t as light-hearted as it appears. A sense of uncertainty lurks, especially in the floating units. Someone could attempt to wheel one of the units out of the gallery space or put all their weight on one end of the unit, potentially toppling it over. By having the audience become part of the art, Kook also seems to be asking: are we all somehow implicated in a city’s reclamation? The normal citizen might not be the one drawing up reclamation plans, or dredging up sand to fill the ocean, but the common desire for development means that we are all feeding into land reclamation – whether it ends up being positive or negative.
By eschewing a didactic approach, Phantom Island is able to give a more nuanced reflection of the relationship between individual desires and our disappearing islands. Kook seems to have her own verdict on reclamation, mentioning Plato’s allegory of Atlantis, a prosperous, utopian island that got too greedy and, as a result, was sunk into the Atlantic ocean.
“When the people of Atlantis ceased to wear prosperity with modesty , it had fallen out of harmony with the universe, and the gods destroyed their city. The things we are doing to our land, our universe, we can do a lot better, right?”
1851 年，政府利用上環一場大火留下的瓦礫將海岸線延長 15 米，自此香港出現了更多填海工程，20 多個島嶼因而從城市地圖上消失。
曲淵澈對香港遊艇會的研究令她萌生了要舉辦一場有關香港消失島嶼的展覽的念頭，當時她發現了一張遊艇會於油街實現現址的前會所照片，後來會所遷至奇力島，而奇力島在填海後已經不再是一個島嶼。此後，她就開始研究香港消失的島嶼。她說：「維基百科說有 19 個島嶼消失了，但我找到更多。」她將一部分研究轉化為紀錄這些消失的島嶼的圖畫，當中包括之前位於西貢半島東南面海岸的糧船灣。
曲淵澈解釋：「畫畫的時候，有時第一次 [畫的] 不太對，然後我們會在它上面再畫另一條線，令圖畫更接近我們想要的。這種方式令我想起了填海這一動作，彷彿我們永遠都想在規劃中尋找更好的那一條綫。」