ANSON MAK: [Cantonese] With documentary-based videos, you have to start with reality and make it a story about people. Even without people, if I’m filming a park in Kwun Tong, there’s really a park there. If I’m filming a tree in the park, there’s really a tree there. These are things that exist in reality. Space is about people and their activities. When filming moving images, a lot of the time it’s about using space to tell a story.
I like Super 8 film. Film has a unique texture. It feels more organic and not very life-like. The images you see [on film] aren’t the same as what you’d see in real life. They may appear so different that you ask yourself: is this really the same place?
There’s an extra layer where you compare the image on the Super 8 film with the one in your head. Of course, it’s not necessarily a simple comparison, as it most certainly involves emotions, memories, and your own experience. This is the texture that I like.
In 1998, I suffered a serious illness. I was so sick, I could not continue working. At that time, I had the space to do some soul-searching and introspection. That’s how I ended up creating more feeling-centred pieces like Tra(i)nsient. My partner then from Shanghai. We would often take the train to Shanghai. It was really about those moments. What was I thinking when I travelled? How did I feel?
It’s extremely important to think more about oneself. I became interested in essay films and autoethnography. That’s when I decided to make content relying on text and images. Then I started working on One-Way Street On A Turntable.
WOMAN’S VOICE: Just as all things, in a perpetual process of mingling and contamination, are losing their intrinsic character while ambiguity displaces authenticity, so is the city.
ANSON MAK: [Cantonese] It was a personal diary about the relationship between myself and history. I had been living in the US then and hadn’t been back to Kwun Tong for a long time. So, when I came back to film, there was a heavy sense of nostalgia. I wanted to get to know Hong Kong better and the beautiful things that, to some extent, belonged to days past. Perhaps, I also felt uncertain about my future.
How would it work to use more fragmented, poetic language in moving images? I used a lot of comparative formats—and even split-screen—to compare past and present, monochrome and colour, reality and fantasy.
After One-Way Street On A Turntable, I wanted to turn to subjects I’m less familiar with subjects that I—or maybe even others—would like to know more about and that are important to Hong Kong.
When I created A Floating City, I had a theme in mind, which was about space. Because of these three locations, I had to research policies on industrial buildings in Kwun Tong. When did the transition start? When did the factories start to move out? When did musicians first move in? I had to research those things.
MAN’S VOICE: [Cantonese] But why did that friend rent a place here in the first place? It’s impossible to trace… But indeed, it’s really the people that keep us here. The rent in districts like Tsuen Wan could be more affordable. But people from the music circle are settling here in Kwun Tong and Ngau Tau Kok.
ANSON MAK: [Cantonese] My earlier works tended to show more about what I thought. But starting with A Floating City, I became interested in what others think so that I can tell their stories. Back then, I was interested in stories about a place, and I wanted to film something related to music, so I worked with these three musicians. I asked them to pick a location to sing a song. Only after they decided on the locations and the songs did I begin my research on those areas.
MUSICIAN: Sometimes, I just can’t remember / All the things we did together / The wind, the dust, the mornings will remain / But they’re never gonna be the same again
ANSON MAK: [Cantonese] With documentary-based videos, you have to have a starting point. Why do I want to go to this place? It’s only through these processes that you accumulate material. Then you decide how to process them.
With A Floating City and other videos, there's both informative content and true stories. And these stories are shared experiences for Hong Kongers, who might resonate with some of the emotions within.
In this interview, Hong Kong artist Anson Mak shares her love of Super 8 filmmaking, the many turns of her creative journey, and the significance of filming documentary works.
Mak’s documentaries may be rooted in reality, but they are permeated with poetry. Their interwoven text and images not only narrate the artist’s relationship to Hong Kong, but also borrow the stories of others to document the beauty of days past.
When she began creating video and sound art in the early 1990s, Mak focused her earliest works on gender and sexual orientation. But after a major illness in 1998, she shifted the focus to herself, contemplating the relationship between the individual and the city. Her works frequently centre on Hong Kong in flux, covering subjects like the redevelopment of her Kwun Tong neighbourhood, musicians who occupy industrial buildings, and the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Find out how to watch some of Mak’s works in full at our Mediatheque.
- Produced by
Moving Image Studio
Fred Cheung, Ip Yiu Tung Zachary
Kenji Wong, Fred Cheung
- Production Assistant
- M+ Video Production
Jaye Yau, Chris Sullivan, Angel Ng
- M+ Text Editing
LW Lam, Amy Leung, Gloria Furness