Performing ‘Home’ - Hongkongese contemporary art duo Ghost and John

Ghost and John draw out the intangible qualities of myths, memories, lives and energies - tying them in with the current affairs of their hometown.

It was again a rainy day in London. I watched, or more precisely participated in, Ghost and John’s performance Meniscus (2019) at The Place. The whole performance led me into a story of ‘home’. Starting with the storytelling of the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter and the Tea of Forgetfulness, Ghost and John articulated ‘home’ as a psychological space that holds memories and personal experiences regardless of geographic location. Hong Kong is not only Ghost and John’s home, but also mine. Ghost and John created a highly staged performance inspired by tactics surrounding the ongoing social movement in Hong Kong—human chain, community singing, and online activism. It amplified the role dance had played in creating performative encounters in which body movements could be remembered as images; objects could intertwine with memories; and performance could become an intimate experience.

The performance was deliberately curated. Melting ice creams, cutting fruits, spilling water, wrinkling a raincoat, shredding papers, as well as the use of reflective mirrors. They loosely referred to a wide range of mythical and aesthetic references through their distinct development of characters, settings, scenarios, clothing, and poses. I saw myself in the mirror; I saw my family and friends; I saw Hong Kong. Goddesses, storytellers, soloists, ballet dancers, protesters. Ghost and John inserted ambiguity in their work by merging past and contemporary sources. This gesture conveyed a sense of nostalgia while also created a liminal world that existed simultaneously between fiction and reality. The performance took place in every corner of the venue with the participation of the spectators, forming a seemingly illusory world, while these things were happening in Hong Kong every day.

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There was an ominous feeling that pervaded the performance. It featured elaborate demonstration scenes in Hong Kong onscreen. The performers’ faces were wearing expressions of tensions, evoking a sense of unease in the audience. Was it the doubt about black and white? Was it the worry about the political future? Or was it the fear of losing freedom? These were also my feelings when I was watching news from Hong Kong through my mobile phone every night. Ghost and John imbued the performance with such subtle hints of anxiety and fear that lie beneath the staged scene. This alluded to their ongoing concerns with the human condition and psychological experiences that individuals had encountered amid socio-political instabilities. The performance conveyed the anonymity one feels in a group, exposing specific private reflections within the setting of a public space. They also examined the complex and at times contradictory emotions that being in a crowd, or I can say in social movement, can produce, including powerlessness and strenuousness of fighting against the armed authorities, and the feeling of safety in numbers, or being part of something larger than oneself.

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Without defined performers’ and spectators’ areas, the audiences could move around the space, explore the displayed objects, interact with the performers, and take photos or videos with their mobile phones. The performers were using their phones too; connected via Telegram, sharing photos, voice messages and stickers. Ghost and John delved deeply into the relationship between viewers and performers by revealing the underlying tension inherent in this relationship. Using QR codes, group chat, selfies and flashlights, they skillfully swung between these shifting points of view, breaking down the ‘fourth wall’, an invisible barrier between the stage and audience. This was how things were now. In doing so they created an intimate experience that invites consideration of how performance can be conveyed and perceived within visual culture. Performance here was not in but as public space. At the end of the performance, the audience and the performers were all raising their hands with mobile phone flashlight turned on and dancing in a circle. Looking at this scene, it was if I was participating in the story of my home on the other side of the earth. Tears were rolling down my face. Ghost and John then came to talk to me, ‘Don’t cry lah. Let’s walk together.’ We then joined the crowd.

Ghost and John’s work was not only physical but also metaphorical and psychological, drawing out the intangible qualities of myths, memories, lives and energies. While Meniscus (2019) came from the personal experiences of the artists, it was something a lot of people can relate to. Ghost and John’s performance was a spiritual experience beyond art, resonating with the story of my home, Hong Kong. On that night, I appreciated that there were Hong Kongers like Ghost and John, and so many people who came to watch and participate in the performance, walking together on the road towards freedom, rightness and justice. I hoped such experience could be shared with a wider range of audiences, with rays of hope shining upon everyone.

Written by Sandra Lam

Sandra Lam is an independent curator and writer currently based in London. She holds a BA in Chinese Language and Literature and Politics and Public Administration from the University of Hong Kong, and an MFA in Curating from Goldsmiths, University of London. Her curatorial research focuses on the politics of aesthetics, and how curating can contribute to an understanding of the pressing issues of our time, including activism, migration and the environment. She is also interested in socially engaged practice, which involves people and communities in collaboration and social interaction.

Ghost and John

We have been using ghostandjohn.art as our website even since the start of our career. We started from using it as our profile website. This platform has been allowing us to proper frame our artistic practice and to communicate with our audience directly, with our own graphics and texts. In the digital world that is flooded with information, .art let us have our own island where we can decided how we are presenting our vision and world views to the others. Later, we realised that through the process of building this little island of ours, we are reflecting on the artistic practices that we have, how we interact with different people and different media, and gained a much stronger motivation in making art. The freedom that a website that allows you to express yourself is incomparable to any social media platforms.

“A Bit About Meniscus”, a reflective video work, made possible by Art Council England Funding was premiered on 12 June 2020 with Young Blood Initiative’s “Silence is Compliance”, an online art project for the one-year anniversary of the Hong Kong social movement. www.silenceiscompliance.art 

An online interactive version of “Meniscus” is also going to be live in July. Artists are gathering in the digital realm to re-enact scenes and moments from the live performance, at various locations across the world. To watch them dance on a snowy field or hear them telling a story on the street of the city, check out our website for more information about the ticketing of this event. www.ghostandjohn.art/meniscus-going-online