Hong Kong

View of “Trevor Yeung and Law Yuk-mui,” 2022. Screens: Law Yuk-mui, River Atlas, 2021. Bottles: Law Yuk-mui, River Demarcation, 2021. Photo: Tai Ngai-lung.

View of “Trevor Yeung and Law Yuk-mui,” 2022. Screens: Law Yuk-mui, River Atlas, 2021. Bottles: Law Yuk-mui, River Demarcation, 2021. Photo: Tai Ngai-lung.

Trevor Yeung and Law Yuk-mui

Brought together under the romanticized title “Neverending Garden,” a pair of solo presentations by Trevor Yeung and Law Yuk-mui respectively examined the impossibility of unmediated connection with the environment. Yeung’s “Try So Hard to Make Things Happen, Incense Tree” considered the plight of the Aquilaria sinensis, whose aromatic resin gave Hong Kong its name, that of “fragrant harbor.” Law’s “There Is No One Singing on the River,” meanwhile, explored the transformation of the Ng Tung River, which forms a soft border between Hong Kong and mainland China. Together, these two artistic case studies presented the natural world as a palimpsest of material and discourses that shape local identity.

In the entryway to Yeung’s intervention was Growth Pavilion (all works cited, 2021), a tangle of more than twenty LED grow lights suspended from the ceiling. The intense pinkish light bathed incoming visitors as if they were plants, suggesting that Hong Kong’s citizens must be tended to as much as its flora and fauna. In the adjacent The White Room (Incense Tree), the artist constructed an ecosystem of field recordings made in areas still populated by incense trees and a humidifying system emitting bursts of moisture gathered from those places. In his deployment of man-made technologies to replicate the tree’s most favorable growth conditions, Yeung forecasts a future in which its natural environment is no longer adequate to its thriving. In Accident (Wasp), a lone wasp, dead and glued by the artist to a chair’s leg, can no longer behave as the primary pollinator.

In a neighboring space—dark, dank, and infested with mosquitoes—Law’s multimedia works immersed visitors in the ecosystem of the Ng Tung River, which served as the main irrigation source for farming before flood-control projects radically modified it in the 1990s. The two-channel video Rainmaking documents the artist performing rituals practiced by two hundred village women to induce rain during a severe drought in 1963. While the water crisis affected Hong Kong’s population in dramatic ways (supply was reduced to four hours every fourth day), Law points to the more subtle impact it has today. River Ensemble is a twenty-four-hour recording of sounds made at one of the river’s drainage tunnels, a mélange of birdsong, raindrops, dog barks, and the noisy of heavy machinery. The public could (literally) reflect on their own rapport with the landscape in River Demarcation, an installation of water samples from one of the river’s confluences displayed in glass bottles on a horizontal slab of reflective glass. For River Atlas, a projection of drone footage of the river winding its way north toward Shenzhen falls on the glass, while audio recordings from the grainy riverbed emanate from hidden speakers. The work is completed by three additional vertically propped slabs, which form a panorama that includes the viewer.

In both projects, Hong Kong’s identity appeared entangled with its singular ecological context of tropical forests and waterways. Like many other places, this environment is threatened by human negligence and opportunism and affected by techno-economic changes and shifting political tides. For Yeung, adapting to these transformations includes educating the public—books on Hong Kong’s flora were available in a reading corner—and making visible the exchanges between different systems. Law’s approach is to collect memories embedded in and triggered by the city’s habitat. Both artists recognize the mediated relationship between individuals and their geography and lead us to ask: What is the cost of perpetual construction and deconstruction?