Featured image: ShumGhostJohn, Thousand Papers 千紙, community installation cum durational performance 2021.
As Hong Kong artists and curators living in London’s East End, a bustling immigrant and working-class neighbourhood, we are always interested in investigating the city’s local history. During our research on Poplar and its inheritance, the mural commemorates the Poplar Rates Rebellion of 1921 reminds us of the social movements in our home city Hong Kong.
In Poplar, the mural records 30 imprisoned councillors who refused to pay precepts as a protest against the inequity of the system of local rates. In Hong Kong, the Lennon Walls have been mushrooming on the streets with colourful Post-it notes of political messages demanding democracy. People wrote down words of encouragement and solidarity. The mural and the walls tell the stories of resistance.
Our durational performance, ‘Thousand Papers 千紙’, transforms a range of accessible media including recycled paper of junk mails into a democratic and emotionally charged installation that embodies the artists’ personal memories and weaves together the stories of the Poplar community to show solidarity in our history of resistance.
‘Thousand Papers 千紙’ is inspired by the Japanese origami art of crane folding recalled from our childhood memories. In East Asian culture, traditional funerals often include the burning of folded paper as a way to send gifts and companions to the people who passed away. During the performance, we fold papers and make origami together, expressing our feelings, thoughts, stories and memories in the space. We collectively create the work with the audience. With repetition in the action of folding, the performance is a process of social meditation and community healing, enhancing the connection between our friends and family.
The work also takes inspiration from physical gestures and positive energy at social movements. As making origami is cheap and easily accessible, it is an activity for everyone, including the grassroots. These origami will be tied up and hovered in the air, holding memories and hopes of the Poplar community. The hovering of the origami allows us to put our hopes and dreams high. The strings of origami symbolise the connections of the community.
‘Thousand Papers 千紙’ was presented at Bow Arts, Goldsmiths and Queen Mary, University of London in exhibitions of Hong Kong’s stories in 2019. Now, we are broadening and adapting this piece in a street store and discovering what chemistry it will create with the local community in Poplar. A live broadcast of the durational performance will be presented in Poplarism! – a digital arts festival celebrating the centenary of the Poplar Rates Rebellion of 1921. We collect stories through Facebook posts and Instagram story questions.
The collection of origami will become the story of Poplar, the collective memory of the Poplar residents. When the participants are preserving their wishes and hopes, our performance is a physical embodiment of the collective movements, merging the past and present into the moments when the work is being created or viewed. Together, we write, sing, dance, celebrate and make origami…
‘也許故事從未結束，暫此封印在千鶴內。Tell us your never-ending stories, hopes and dream. So then we can build the Senbazuru of ours.’
Written by artists ShumGhostJohn and curator Sandra Lam
ShumGhostJohn is a collaborative art trio comprised of Hong Kong performance artists Pui-Yung Shum, Ghost Chan and John Chan. They work across various disciplines, ranging from contemporary dance, ballet, computer science, biology and language. Met in 2017, they devise storytelling works that recognise the distinctive Hong Kong identity, the power of being a collective and the nature of interdependence. Their research topics include the use of technology in a democratic society, object-oriented ontology as well as the relations between folklore and contemporary art practices.
“.art is the domain of my website shumpuiyung.art, it does not only sound professional but also enhances the branding of my career. It helps shape the target audience of my website. It is a hub for artists and art lovers. They gather on the Internet and visit different exhibitions as .art provides platforms for artists to make their own galleries. .art is the mug of the coffee shop; the package of the handbag; the model of the fashion show; the front gate of your house. It is the light that allows you to shine from your own spot.” – Pui-Yung Shum
You can reach out on social media at @shumghostjohn
“We have been using ghostandjohn.art as our website even since the start of our career. We started by 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 decide how we are presenting our vision and world views to 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.” – Ghost and John
Sandra Lam is an independent curator and writer based in London. She holds an MFA in Curating from Goldsmiths, University of London. Her curatorial research examines the politics of aesthetics and investigates how curating can contribute to an understanding of contemporary discourses, focusing on activism, migration and the environment. She works with contemporary artists to develop a socially engaged practice that addresses questions of identity and belonging. In London, she has initiated and co-curated a number of independent public events and exhibition programmes that involve local communities in social interaction.
“I have been using lamwanyisandra.art as my own website since the start of my career as an independent curator and writer in the UK. This platform allows me to present my curatorial practice and communicate with artists directly, with an online interactive portfolio of my previous exhibitions and projects. In our increasingly digitally-mediated world, .ART provides me with a unique and engaging platform where I can connect with artists and creatives in the community and interact with different audiences and media. It also demonstrates my commitment to introducing Hong Kong artists to new geographies and bringing them to the international stage.” – Sandra Lam
You can reach out on Instagram at @lamwanyisandra
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
‘Thousand Papers 千紙’ is ShumGhostJohn’s solo exhibition curated by Sandra Lam in London. This is the first time the Hong Kong art trio presents a newly created community installation cum durational performance of East Asian folktales and traditions in a gallery space. The work connects the community in Poplar to its history of resistance and expands its legacy to a wider context in history.
2 – 7 PM, Wednesday 28 April – Thursday 6 May 2021
Making Space, 48 Aberfeldy Street, Poplar, London E14 0NU
Private View: 6 – 9 PM, 28 April 2021
Poplarism! Festival, Poplar Union and Finborough Theatre: 1 – 2 May 2021
First Thursday, Whitechapel Gallery: 2 – 9 PM, 6 May 2021
ShumGhostJohn, Thousand Papers 千紙, community installation cum durational performance 2021.
This exhibition is presented by Hidden Keileon, facilitated by Fitzrovia Noir, and supported by Poplar Union and Finborough Theatre.
ABOUT THE PRESENTER
Hidden Keileon is a multidisciplinary creative agency that provides a wide range of artistic services for East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) creatives. We commission live art performances, curate visual exhibitions, present film screenings, produce podcasts and sell merchandise and prints. It provides artistic platforms for ESEA stories to be told, collaborates with British institutions to spotlight ESEA artists and investigate post-colonial impact in contemporary society through the arts.