The lack of space in Hong Kong is a prominent issue, and is one that has been covered many times over by photographers who capture the tiny spaces that many people call home. What is harder to capture is how this lack of space is affecting community. What I want to explore, through a particular hilltop ‘park’, is how sharing space can both strengthen community identities and allow a space for individual identities to be acted out.
The space that has so enamoured me and encouraged this thinking, is a small clearing at the top of a forested hill, which a community has taken control of and established largely as an exercise park, complete with rusty old exercise bike and a circular path carved out by thousands of circuits around the summit. The main area is demarcated with metal mesh fencing, broken through here and there to provide entrances to the space, and there are signs around from both the government (stating that it is a water treatment site) and handwritten signs from locals. Other areas of the hill have been set aside for particular uses: as you walk up the steps there are haphazard shrines put together from old polystyrene boxes, ofif ce swivel chairs, mop handles and trafif c cones, in various states of elaborateness; tables and chairs have been gathered under a tin roof for games of Xiangqi; a garden has been grown, by the green-if ngered members of the community that don’t have space at home; and a covered area houses a clock, calendar, a set of umbrellas, a tennis racket, a radio, and a poster of galloping horses.
So few spaces have been left un-allocated, their uses undetermined, that this appropriated bit of land gives a sense of lf exibility and freedom, allowing a real diversity, and an organic, people-led designation of space as and where it is needed. In a capitalist society where everything is owned, this lack of ownership of space and it’s resultant communally-built identity is very interesting. People can freely express themselves there: there is no externally if xed idea of how the space can be used, therefore meaning embedded in that space is being continually re-negotiated by those that inhabit it. Identity building is a two-way process, in which space conditions behaviour, and people in turn condition the space - arguably much more so when the space is a liberal one such as this. People are leaving sedimentary traces of their presence, writing history into the geography. I’m interested in these traces, and using them as one layer with which to explore the identities of those that use this little hilltop.
Beyond what is left behind are the ongoing everyday interactions people have with the space and each other, that can tell you a lot about the identity of the individuals that come to the park, whether frequent visitors or not. Did they come here to escape the conif nes of their own homes or to proactively improve their daily lives through exercise or communication with others? Who are the people that feed the stray dogs? Why are makeshift shrines being built when there is a temple at the base of the hill? I would be interested in exploring the question of whether different uses of the same space propagates disparate identities, in opposition to regimented use of a space encouraging social conformity. My preliminary feelings on this subject are that park- goers share an identity to a certain extent, through the responsibility held for the upkeep of the park, and this act of working together builds community cohesion and increases tolerance towards differences in identity through familiarity. There is also the fact that they are choosing to spend time in an un-ofif cial space. If this is the case, then that identity is treading a boundary between solidarity and not becoming such a strong community that they draw the attention of the local government, who would potentially disapprove of their appropriation of the hill.
Gentriif cation of areas, lack of public space in the true sense of the public determining how space is used, and increasing ownership of all the spaces we inhabit are issues that are gaining importance globally. I believe this is affecting how people develop and express their identity. With a space such as this where the community is taking control of how they want to interact with their surroundings and through this showing what they need from their space, I hope to increase public awareness of the fact that deciding how we use space is a right that we need to reclaim.
Although I like to develop the form that the presentation will take during the process of research, I have had some preliminary ideas as to how this project could be presented to the public. As the focus is on the atmosphere of a particular place, I would like to try and replicate the space to a certain extent, creating an immersive experience with image and sound. I want to play with the circularity of the park, and invite people into a circular space, onto which the photos are projected. This could be done in the style of a slide projector, with a projector rotating on a central axis, essentially ‘shining light into the space’ as it turns, with images appearing at intervals. This could also be supplemented with video every now and again, should that be within the scope of the WYNG award.
To strengthen the theme of local communities establishing their own spaces and developing their own identities, ideally this installation would be in an accessible environment, as opposed to a gallery only frequented by those already familiar with the art world. If I could essentially turn an area of public space into a park through my photography, then even better.