Covering migration and industrialisation, the (In)tangible Reminiscence showcase explores and reinterprets the collective memory of the city’s textile and fashion industry, and might even have you fighting back tears.
South Korean artist Jung Yeondoo enters a room at The Annex arts space in Hong Kong’s Central district; the only light emanates from two large video screens, the hypnotic hum of a sewing machine is the only sound.
“I wanted to go deeper into the fabric of the people who worked in garment factories, to provide the human story behind each garment,” says Jung about his installation, “A Girl in Tall Shoes” that is part of the “(In)tangible Reminiscence” exhibition on show until April 22.
Organised by the non-profit Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT), the exhibition explores and reinterprets the collective memory of Hong Kong’s textile and fashion industry, covering themes from migration to industrialisation.
While industries such as finance and tourism define the city today, it’s vital not to forget the role the textile industry played in shaping the city’s economy. In the 1950s, Hong Kong was one of Asia’s biggest textile exporters, and in the 1960s and 1970s, a large portion of the city’s population was employed by the garment manufacturing industry. But rising land and labour costs, combined with growing competition in the region, saw the city lose its edge, with many factories moving to China where costs were considerably lower.
In an emotional and immersive storytelling format, Jung uses one video screen to share stories from factory workers in the Tsuen Wan community, the other screen is dedicated to an elderly woman, a factory worker who migrated from Shanghai to Hong Kong in the 1950s.
But it’s Jung’s inspired way of telling her story – the woman’s voice is replaced with the sound of the sewing machine as it embroiders her words in Chinese characters onto fabric – that will have you fighting back tears.
“I entered Hong Kong as a stowaway in 1958, when I was your age. I got my ID card at North Point. It required $45,” it reads.
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“I lived near Kowloon City Pier. I sat there and cried every night … I worked from 7am till 7pm. The wage was as low as $3. I had to monitor big weaving machines. Six, eight machines. Later on, more than twenty.
“Once you began, fabric came out of the machines with a ‘dong dong’ sound. The machines were set up very high. I had to wear taller shoes. If the fabric was woven badly with wrong lines, they would fine you.”
Japanese artist Takahiro Iwasaki, known for his intricate handmade models of contemporary cityscapes, stays true to his style in his piece, “Out Of Disorder (In Flux)”. A large scale installation that, oddly, is both complex and minimalist, it uses cotton to show the transformation of Hong Kong from fishing village to financial powerhouse.
Wrapping up the show is Hong Kong artist Sarah Lai, whose tactile installation evokes memories of retail experiences based on visits to Japanese department stores in Hong Kong in the 1990s.