Hong Kong Screening: Women and Alternative by Phoebe Ching Ying Man
Experimental films and videos as well as new media art are mostly technology based. Advanced technology is traditionally regarded as a guy thing. In fact, there are many women artists actively involved in experimental films and video production in Hong Kong. The ratio between women and men that involved in experimental film and video (around 5:5) is greater than that of those who are in traditional art media (around 3:7). Explanations are many. One of them is that more women have received higher education nowadays and it is a long time phenomenon that female students have outnumbered males to receive university art education. Men tend to choose career based subjects which can promise higher future income. On the other hand, unlike mainstream film industry which is still a male dominant industry, new media art world is more liberal and ready to accommodate new things and ideas and women artists have equal opportunity of exposure. The relationship between alternative and woman artists is close. Although there are a lot of excellent male video artists in Hong Kong, due to limited screening time, let’s focus on women’s works first.
When talking about development and the history of experimental videos in Hong Kong, two well-known figures: Ellen Pau and May Fung cannot miss. Ellen Pau is a nurse, an artist and an art director of Videotage. May Fung is an artist and a director of a creative art school. Both of them have been making videos for many years and they have also devoted themselves to nurture the young artists. Their effort together with others makes Hong Kong experimental films and video has sustainable development.
Ellen Pau is the founder of Videotage since 1986. Videotage supports artists in forms of providing manpower and equipment for production and post-production, and the exchange of ideas. A lot of artists found the organization helpful to their professional development.
Ellen Pau’s works are diverse, ranging from gender issue to everyday politics and urbanization. She has been doing a lot of experiments on visual language. In her work “Drained II” , an extended reading of Zuni’s theatre work, she combines theatre photo documentation, dance and installation. Ellen simplified the drama into several significant scenes. Through destruction and repetition, she has created a rich visual rhythm for the work. In fact, “Drained II” is an autobiographical piece of work about her feelings towards technology, in which, to some audience, the constantly hitting on the ground of the woman might have already said something.
May Fung is an independent curator and a mighty supporter to young artists. She did a vast research on Hong Kong independent films and videos in 2001 and has made impact on local art scene.
May Fung is always able to grasp the medium specificity of video and her work “She Said Why Me” is more conceptual. A girl was searching around with her eyes covered by a piece of cloth. There are scenes like a girl passing by traditional Chinese temple, wandering around a war memorial, taking care of little babies and fighting at a demonstration. The video seems to rethink the role of women in recent history.
Works of Linda Lai, Rita Hui and Tsang Wing Man are video diaries or travelogs but the focus and the styles are very different.
Linda’s “Non-place. Other Space” is a collection of her 8 years video diary. Using ethnographic method to collect images of cities, she portrayed a different perspective of two cities, Hong Kong and Macau. The former is far more than a forest of gorgeous high rise buildings and the latter does not have shiny Casinos only. The rapid urbanization adds grey color to both cities and her feelings of loss seems to be only subtly expressed.
Traveling around several cities, Rita Hui ’s “IdoLetHerMyHeadHave” has focused on the issue of narrative: how to tell a story. Every story film director concerns this question and Rita has adapted a reflective approach. Instead of hiding behind the video, the creator exposed herself and played with the protagonists of the story.
When the audience is expecting a story to tell, the creator expressed her lost and frustration. The video is full of surprise. The visual language is strong and diverse. “Sentimental Journey”, another piece of work by Tsang Wing Man, is also about lost and frustration but the focus is about her identity searching. She felt lost when it comes to her family, her love and her future. The story is ordinary, unique and delicate and it has reflected the ambiguous feelings of a young generation of Hong Kong.
My video “Rati” is about a day of a walking vagina. The style of “Rati” is dramatic and humorous. When the image of a woman is reduced to nothing but her vagina, what will happen? The video has suggested the answer that a woman’s vagina is absolutely not equal to a woman as a whole person.
Six artists, one gender, Six different styles as reflected on their works. Obviously, these women artists’ works are non-mainstream. The experimental nature of their works has developed distinct characteristics. They are able to transform personal experience to metaphysical concepts, as a form of discussion but not fitting in any kind of grand narratives of ideology. Instead of illustrating theories, they are more willing to show the audience the richness of daily lives. Different points of view are always employed to see the roles of human beings, cities and usage of technology. Their awareness of the bodies or body presentation has added a critical layer of the works. Using delicate technique, extraordinary imagination and filled with unique characters, the works are intriguing. The combine of these elements formed fascinating works.
P.S. This is not the complete list of Hong Kong women artists’ experimental films and videos. Due to limited screening time, I cannot include some significant artists who produced long pieces and documentaries. However, I think we would have more exchange in future and the excellent pieces would not be undermined.