(Original language: Cantonese)
LEUNG MEE-PING: I think it was eight years ago.
When I was planning to move house I was worried that I couldn’t find another place to store this much stuff . So, I looked for a warehouse. I never thought I’d use the warehouse as a studio. I don’t necessarily need a studio for the work I do. I’m an artist who works with materials. I use various materials to create.
Back when I was making works with sickness bags I’d collect them wherever I went. There aren’t many here. Sickness bags interest me a lot. No matter where you go, even if you’ve got nobody with you you’ll always find a sickness bag at your side
What large items do I have? There’s this dragon and phoenix pair. It probably dates back to the 1960s. It has a distinct pattern and wood grain
INTERVIEWER: Could you share the checklist of things you’d collect while travelling?
LEUNG MEE-PING: I would buy crystal balls and sickness bags. I’d pick the bobbles off people’s jumpers, but that’s a bit difficult to do in Thailand because people don’t wear jumpers there. Recently I’ve taken an interest in eyelashes. False lashes. The ones that wave up and down. I don’t know why I thought of that.
What’s interesting about working with different materials is that you aren’t purely creating something new. It might be mass-produced, but its broken state of existence shows traces of a series of processes. It’s different from other ready-made objects fresh from the factory. It’s precisely in this difference, when contrasted against a context of extreme similarity, that we can see the relationship within.
LEUNG MEE-PING: 10,000 [shoes]. If there are 180 in each box there will be fifty boxes, right? It should be around fifty boxes. A lot of my works are arranged by quantity. This is to emphasise the relationship between quantity and quality.
As soon as the quantity is high, meaning will emerge. One object alone speaks only to whatever I associate it with it. But when many objects come together the mere reality of their existence opens up more room for you to insert your thoughts.
Here are two boxes. Two boxes of teabags. They weren’t specially infused [for art-making], they’re just the ones I used to drink tea at home. The longer [the teabags] were sundried—the teabags were wet when I piled them together—the darker the colour would become. As dark as black coffee. Once a teabag is consumed the joy’s over. All thoughts are gone/ You don't feel the pain. But as you hold it in your hand, you’re no longer simply searching for its symbolic meaning because symbols can be made up.
Why would you stare at them for so long? Why would watch teabags decompose under the sun? Their colours are constantly changing. What is it about them that could draw you in so deeply?
Here are some other boxes that store my ‘hair shoes’. It’s clearly written here: 180 shoes made with black hair. I would label these boxes.
This is a patch of grey hair. It’s totally clean.
I found that dyed hair and golden hair are rich in layers. Strands of hair can be thick or thin. At that time, I was completely obsessed with hair. There was a point when I could feel the hairs while I was working. As I was weaving the hairs in my hands I know it sounds cliché but tears just came out. I really cried, all of a sudden, it felt like I was touching the people themselves. I was touching their heads, their hair. The notion of touching strangers, the feeling that I was connected with countless beings at once. I can only describe as very real
LEUNG MEE-PING: You’ve brought all the toys, right?
LEUNG’S ASSISTANT: Yep, there they are.
LEUNG MEE-PING: All of these are donations. We didn’t buy them Even if I was in a large chain store, I wouldn’t have any idea how to choose so many. How do we join them together? A magnet is inserted inside each toy. I’ll teach you how to cut open a hole.
To me, keeping animals in these gardens is actually a process of domestication. It’s a domestication of culture. These [stuffed animals] are economic ‘animals’, they're goods. As economic goods, they are certainly obedient. You have to pull hard to separate the magnets. But afterwards, if you place them near each other they will automatically come back together again. It’s a process of resistance.
We asked the Salvation Army about these very early on. They said they don’t collect second-hand stuffed animals. Eventually, most of them will be given away to community centres. But the ethnic minority community centres won’t be able to take them all.
If in the end no one's willing to take them, after a time, they'll be dumped in the landfills.
One of my students asked me what I was going to do with all these stuffed toys. She told me she had been sharing toys with her sister for a long time. Even now that she's studying at university, she still hasn’t been willing to give them up. Not giving up something is a choice. But she had to make a decision on whether to donate them. Actually, this dilemma represents something, when you're at a certain stage in life, you don't want to keep them around you anymore. It’s important to document this process of give and take.
If you don’t give or take what’s the point of life? If you give up something the thing that you give up also shapes who you are.
LEUNG MEE-PING: Do you need to move this every time you open your shop? Every time you open up, you have to move this stuff?
MR WONG: Almost every day.
LEUNG MEE-PING: This is Mr Wong.
MR WONG: Hello!
LEUNG MEE-PING: Not the dragon and phoenix pair. It's the long table and the round lamp with the character for ‘longevity’ on it. You let me know if anyone wants them and I'll return them to you. They don't belong to me. I'm just keeping them temporarily.
MR WONG: Is it the one that damaged some guy's car?
LEUNG MEE-PING: I think what makes this shop valuable is that the things here were dumped by people nearby, from this district but especially from neighbouring areas. People will abandon things which then get collected and eventually brought here where they are screened by Mr Wong. Here, you’ll find out the underlying context and important cultural developments behind each object.
‘ . . . reserve the right to use weapons’.
MR WONG: That was during the riot.
LEUNG MEE-PING: Oh my god! It was 1967. How did you get this? Did you find it in someone’s collection?
MR WONG: Right.
WOMAN: It’s heavy.
LEUNG MEE-PING: After weighing [the refuse], she’ll put it here.
WOMAN: Are you ready to hit the road?
LEUNG MEE-PING: Yes, almost. Are we ready to go?
WONG YIYI: This area is probably reserved for high-end housing developments. The government has made plans for a metro station or whatever.
LEUNG MEE-PING: These buildings will be the last treasure troves.
WONG YIYI: I guess it’s more worthwhile to build houses than keep such [garbage].
LEUNG MEE-PING: From time to time, I’ll drop by. What do I see? The same things come and go. People are always dumping the same things. You’re constantly seeing the same things. But this is the repetition of our daily lives. This is an element of everyday life that’s just invisible to us. It’s so beautiful, don’t you think? To me, this is so beautiful.
They might consider this to be just a job. But to me they’re sorting and categorising the things we abandon in the community before they’re taken for recycling. As these things are being recycled, products are still being manufactured in factories and at the end of their lifecycle these products will come back and be left here. This linkage . . . I think from an artist’s perspective, or let’s say if you’re creating something, you don’t need to be an artist, your observation, your sensibility are in fact forms of power that you can play with while you’re creating or that can support you in your ability to create.
In the warehouse of Hong Kong artist Leung Mee-ping, you’ll find no shortage of discarded objects: boxes of sun-dried teabags and human hair, piles of stuffed animals, suitcases stuffed with sickness bags. Over the course of her career, Leung has collected thousands of these byproducts of human existence and repurposed them into artworks, finding meaning in the sheer scale of things that the world produces.
Leung takes M+ on a tour of her practice, from her warehouse space to community collection centres and landfills, reflecting along the way on the lifecycle of materials and the beauty that comes from sorting and understanding the things that we abandon.
This video was originally published on M+ Stories.
Lo Chun Yip
Yip Man Hay, Lo Chun Yip
Chan Yu Hin
Law Sin Yan
Eddie Cheung Wai Sum
M+ Video Production
Chris Sullivan, Jaye Yau, Angel Ng Wan Yi, Kenji Wong Wai Kin
Tina Pang, Chloe Chow
M+ Transcript and Closed Captions
LW Lam, Amy Leung, Gloria Furness