Critics’ Picks

Caption: Reza Afisina, Under Construction as Long as You’re Not Paying Attention, 2018–19, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Caption: Reza Afisina, Under Construction as Long as You’re Not Paying Attention, 2018–19, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Hong Kong

“Unfolding: Fabric of Our Life”

CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile)
The Mills, 45 Pak Tin Par Street
March 17–June 30, 2019

For the inaugural exhibition at this venue, a converted factory, curator Mizuki Takahashi gathers seventeen artists and collectives who articulate forgotten histories and repressed lives through textile production. Their reconceptualization of fabrics and garments—so part of our everyday, yet whose materiality is usually overlooked—aims to make visitors feel the harsh rasp of the region’s colonial capitalist exploitation.

The messages are often direct. In a video by Alma Quinto, Day Off Mo?, 2018–19, the artist coaxes some of Hong Kong’s legions of Filipino domestic workers to speak out about their experiences through craft. Reza Afisina daubs slogans onto white clothing labels cut out of T-shirts and blown up onto silk-satin protest flags condemning sweatshop conditions (Under Construction as Long as You’re Not Paying Attention, 2018–19). Other projects more indirectly evoke the subtleties of craft and expertise wiped out by mass production, such as Michael Lin’s curtains and refurbished furniture in Hau Tei Square, 2018–19, whose traditional patterns were culled from blouses found in a local bazaar. In a central room, Vo Tran Chau’s four-sided fabric enclosure Leaf Picking in the Ancient Forest, 2018, conjures shop-floor claustrophobia. Its four mosaics, made from Vietnam’s abundant discarded secondhand clothing, reveal faded and blurred images of abandoned factories. Industrialization and the persistent struggle for humane working conditions are even more starkly highlighted in Satoru Aoyama’s elaborate embroidered work, 8 Hours and The Lonely Labourer, 2018–19, for which objects of painstaking craftsmanship are contrasted with similar ones made with a computer.

At the heart of the show, Jung Yeondoo’s multiscreen video installation A Girl in Tall Shoes, 2018, chronicles the story of Ms. Mun, an elderly Chinese cotton-mill worker who stowed away to Hong Kong as a young woman. As her voiced narrative is filmed being sewn into a tapestry history of Tsuen Wan’s own satanic mills, her tale is juxtaposed with parallel videos offering quietly assertive self-portraits of four similarly diminutive present-day local girls. Throughout, past and present interweave in a moving tribute to hitherto anonymous lives.