LUKE CHING CHIN WAI: [Cantonese] Hong Kong’s scenery is unique. Hong Kong is small, but it has a visual impact. It’s a place where things accumulate and become countless. A lot of my artwork deals with the idea of ‘multitudes’. One becomes two, three, four, five, six . . . until it becomes what we call ’a multitude’. We’re no longer two or three or four people. We become ’a community’.
Making art begins with observation. I’m just responding to the world around me. Everybody should observe the world around them. After I graduated, I decided to focus on observation. I took this photograph in Pok Fu Lam Village from the window of the room I rented at the time. I turned the room into a pinhole camera by narrowing the window. There’s no one to be seen anywhere. To me, this feeling echoed the issue of urban renewal at that time. It felt like the whole city was empty. These are ordinary, everyday objects, but we see this world upside-down, projected onto a wall. So, in this room, we can see things with renewed sensitivity.
Artists have a role to play. They have an advantage: the capacity to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective. Beginning in 2007, I began to have ideas about intervening in society, such as launching small movements. Movements like the Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier movements led me to become more engaged (in society). I asked myself, beyond having my own creative space, ‘What is my relationship to society?’. To make an artwork, you have to be involved. So, I started to participate in these movements. It all started with this chair. I often had exhibitions at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, so I got to know the security guards who worked there. One day, I noticed how tired they were, and I asked them why. Until then, I hadn’t noticed that there were no chairs in the galleries, so I made this request in the guestbook on their behalf.
After 2014, there was a shift in the mood of Hong Kong’s social movements, a feeling of loss. At the time, there was a strange development in the chair movement. We persuaded more than ten enterprises to change their policies. It wasn’t because of me. I’m just a person who came to the forefront. The reason was that, at the time, a lot of people were hungry for change. If we look at things from a different perspective and see that there’s room for improvement in the system, then I think taking action is one role that artists can perform.
Having a fluid identity is a way of returning to one’s original state. I began to imagine taking on the identity of a security guard. And why shouldn’t I be a security guard? A very simple question. Why do we have these boundaries that so clearly determine what you do versus what I do?
Here is one of the places where I worked as a security guard: The Hong Kong Railway Museum. It’s the only museum without CCTV, so a lot of interesting things can happen here. I gradually realised that I was most interested in the time people spend at work. Because, in a certain sense, this is our greatest limitation. We should invest our imaginations here in order to improve one’s quality of life.
I emphasise repeatedly that I am not pretending to be a sanitation worker. It’s about exploring what a sanitation worker can do. Who are the people working for minimum wage? When I started, I saw it as a kind of research. Their job is a very interesting one. They have a particular perspective on the people of this city. What we discard, what we throw away, what we discover. They’re a step ahead of a lot of researchers.
Last year, at Art Basel, we launched a crowdfunding campaign at the 1a space booth. We raised funds to buy an advertisement in the MTR on behalf of sanitation workers, although we hadn’t decided what the ad’s topic would be. After working here for over a year and seeing how people throw things away, I was ready to make the advertisement. It calls on people to spare a thought for sanitation workers to understand what it’s like to handle rubbish. I think the advertisement has a very clear message, and those who allowed this advertisement are affirming the message. Sanitation workers have the right to publicly and justifiably tell their own stories in the places where they work. We have a kind of ability . . .a kind of ability that many people do not have. It is the ability to unveil something that’s overlooked and make people see it.
If I’m going to do projects related to society, I must start with the place I live. This way, the work gradually develops in a natural way. My more recent projects have taken place in Tai Po. I’ve made a lot of discoveries here. In recent years, I have put more emphasis on forms of inquiry. I want to explore how artists perform the role of citizens and how to discover problems that need addressing and turn them into a new creative medium. It’s not just making more works of art. It’s not saying ‘an ashtray is a work of art’.
CHING: What day is today? It’s my teacher’s twenty-year anniversary as a sanitation worker.
HA JIE: What teacher? I’m just a garbage lady.
LUKE: One, two, three.
HA JIE: You’re being silly.
CHING: This kind of interaction is very equal. I don’t need to pander to them. They don’t need to pander to me. We’re talking about some of the tools we use.
HA JIE: Mix the two together. If the broom you made isn’t useful, why not take it apart and make one like this? Isn’t it softer?
CHING: Brooms are interesting because many of their parts come from natural materials. We’re studying brooms made from fan palms. Fan palms can be found all around here. In Tai Po North, we found more than a dozen ways of making brooms. Different sanitation workers design brooms of their own according to their needs and preferences. To me, this is a way of helping us to see ‘them’. They are not all the same. Cleaning up fallen leaves seems like toil to a street sweeper. But to other people, sweeping can be a relaxing activity. So, we start to wonder: what if using these brooms was something that everybody could participate in? What would that be like? On this street, in particular, we find sweeping to be very pleasant. It’s a soothing space. When you come here, you feel peaceful and comfortable. We hope that various activities can lead to changes in this place.
If you do different things in one place, your network can expand and grow stronger. Each person is like a single pixel, the most basic of units. Together, people can piece together a whole image.
How long have I been making artwork like the one behind me? It’s been eight or nine years. For the cockroach workshops, I’ve been doing it for more than ten years. Labour issues are something I’ve worked on for many years. From 2007 until now, I’ve never done something for a little while and then stopped. If I can’t make the change happen, then I just press on and keep talking.
Because these things occupy a place in my life, so I may as well persevere and carry on.
Meet Luke Ching Chin Wai, an artist who has spent the last twenty years using his creative practice to bring attention to social issues in Hong Kong.
Ching has developed an artistic practice that addresses labour issues, grassroots movements, and urban development. He uses a research-led approach to immerse himself in local communities and better understand marginalised groups’ circumstances and concerns. Challenging definitions of art and an artist’s role, Ching’s interventions take durational forms, inhabiting jobs such as sanitation worker and security guard, questioning the boundaries that determine what one can and cannot do while raising lesser-known issues into the public consciousness. ‘I emphasise that I am not pretending to be a sanitation worker. It’s about exploring what a sanitation worker can do,’ says Ching.
‘Who are the people working for minimum wage? When I started, I saw it as a kind of research. Their job is a very interesting one. They have a particular perspective on the people of this city. What we discard, what we throw away, what we discover. They’re a step ahead of a lot of researchers.’ To Ching, this is the crux of his artistic practice and the artist’s role as he sees it; ‘We [artists] have a kind of ability, a kind of ability that many people do not have. It is the ability to unveil something that’s overlooked and make people see it.’
As a chronicler and advocate, Ching highlights pressing concerns, gives a voice to those who often go unheard, and invites us to re-imagine civic structures through community discourse and action.
- Produced by
Angel Ng Wan Yi
Hayman Yip, Lo Chun Yip, Tsang Tsz Yeung, Angel Ng Wan Yi
- Camera Assistant
Kwan Siu Wang
Chan Yu Hin
Law Sin Yan
Wong Hin Yan
- M+ Video Producers
Jaye Yau, Rachel Chan, Mimi Cheung, Chris Sullivan
- M+ Curatorial Research
- M+ Text and Subtitle Editing
Amy Leung, LW Lam, Chris Sullivan
- Special Thanks
Luke Ching Chin Wai
Asia Art Archive
Tai Po Arts Centre
The Hong Kong Jockey Club Community Project Grant: Make a Difference School
Hong Kong Museum of Art
Winson Cleaning Service Company Limited