Many of the social and political movements that form Disobedient Objects are from global and continuing struggles. Though commencing after our exhibition’s opening, the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong is no exception. In this post we rejoin journalist Becky Sun, author of the Umbrella Movement, for an update on Occupy Centrals creative forms of resistance, and archiving this containing revolution. An additional gallery with photographs from the movement can be found at the end of this article.
By the time I arrived at the foyer outside the Legislative Council building, artists Wen Yau, Sampson Wong Yu-hin and a group of volunteers were still in the middle of a detailed discussion. Strewn on the ground at the centre of where everyone was sitting, was a large black and white layout plan of the Admiralty area in A0 size, showing in accurate details the blocks and passageways around the Central Government Offices. One after another volunteers reported their findings, while another penned down the observations on colourful post-it paper strips and put them on corresponding locations on the plan. Two hours later Wen Yau finally could take a bite on some crackers for her dinner and spoke to me, shortly after Wong concluded the meeting with suggesting the volunteers to download an encrypted chat app for smartphones, for protected internal communications.
Intensive, articulate and with a sense of imminent risk and urgency, the meeting had the character of a menacing scheme sabotaging public order anytime. Except the goal was not anything close. Witnessing what Wong called “unprecedented creativity” booming at different Umbrella Movement protest sites, he, Wen Yau and some artists initiated the “Umbrella Movement Visual Archives and Research Collective”, a humble yet ambitious preservation plan on all the creative outputs, with and without a form, keeping a record of the collective imagination in the fight against the constraints in the political system and the use of public space. What took place was their second working group meeting.
“We want to archive [the creative output] for research in the long run, it’s not a snap and share action,” said Wen Yau, who has years of experience working for the Asia Art Archive and is currently working on her PhD dissertation on art and activism in Hong Kong. “We are aiming at creating a digital platform… through which one could at least map out what happened where. It emphasises on looking at changes brought about to the whole space.”
Documenting the process of creative place-making, one of the major characteristics of the Umbrella Movement according to Wen Yau, is the founding focus of the Collective. More than picking up isolated objects, the group is keen to keep a record of how the imaginative tools are related to the environment and “redefine” the occupied space with a new function. “The transformation of the [foyer outside the] Legislative Council building into a ‘five star home’ and a library is one fine example,” Wen Yau said. How new spaces came to be occupied through creative strategies are also topics of their concern.
“Hong Kongers are used to going on a demonstration and going home right after. And at the beginning, many people perceived the [protest site] to be dangerous,” Wong told me on another evening on the significance of place-making in the Movement and why this made the point of departure of the Collective’s efforts. “But because the participants have shaped the space into a warm, habitable place even in Admiralty… people become at ease with joining. The process [of place-making] is obvious and significant, especially to Hong Kong people.” “By suddenly staying this time, Hong Kong has made an exceptional breakthrough.”
“The Umbrella Movement is a demonstration of this global [new protest] culture [emerged from Occupy Wall Street a few years ago] in Hong Kong,” said Wong, also one of the artists behind the “Add Oil Machine for HK Occupiers” wall projection in the Admiralty protest site and is an urban studies PhD candidate with a long term interest in creativity in social movements. Yet “so far discourses in place-making are few.”
The Collective has now gathered around 60 volunteers to document and collect objects of creative protest in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, with the biggest emphasis on the first. About 50 art objects are expected to be collected while the rest would be archived through photography and texts.
While Wong acknowledged the outburst of creativity in Umbrella Movement is a “precious” experience that they wanted to “keep a record of at all costs”, he said they did not intend to keep the objects themselves in this civilian initiative in the long run. Local museums within the establishment were however, out of their consideration at the moment.
“Those posters plastered on HSBC building and a nearby hoarding were so violently removed [in the police action in Mong Kok on 17 October] even though they claimed it was a move to clear up road obstacles and restore public order. How were the posters obstructing the road?” Wen Yau said. “It shows how much the government is keen to wipe out history.”
Update: Wen Yau and other artists spoke in a meeting with lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok who represents the sports, performing arts, culture and publication functional constituency on 30 October, asking him to tell the police that the artworks were worth keeping and not to arrest the volunteers when collecting the artworks. While he recognized the historical value of the objects, Ma have not agreed to the requests. The number of volunteers for the Collective has risen to 100.
Additional photographs from the Umbrella Movement can be found below. All images were photographed by Becky Sun.