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不過，也有一些藝術品是注定要消亡的。Eva Hesse 常使用不穩定的物料創作雕塑，大型作品如 Contingent、Expanded Expansion 用上膠乳（latex）製作，物料隨時間變黃、變脆薄，或許終有一天整幅瓦解、粉碎，多年來一直使美術館頭痛。而 Hesse 本人卻說：「生命不會永存，藝術不會永存，其實都沒所謂。」選擇使用可腐易變的物料，在上世紀五六十年代是針對藝術品以至藝術體制的挑釁。香港年輕藝術家文美桃的創作也時常使用這類物料，像蠟與髮，水和鹽；不見得是一種挑釁的態度，但也反照出將自身與創造物看得無比尋常的低姿態。
在物料的選擇以外，文美桃過去的作品中也多見稍縱即逝（ephemeral）的創作：像Bring the smell of field and garden (2013)，將坪輋的泥土帶到市區，塗抹在行人過路線上，讓路過的人踩踏，泥土隨鞋子散落在城市其他角落；像《房子》（2015），利用蠟倒模九龍城區內一些易被忽略的表面，再將薄薄的蠟片鋪在馬路上，記錄其在盛夏艷陽下溶化的過程；又有《洗衣店》（2016），在銅鑼灣鬧市立起洗衣店的招牌，卻是提供免費手洗衣服服務，藝術家整月守在店裡，收集訪客的衣服，再帶到郊外的河邊濯洗晾曬。前二者在完成後迅速消失不變，後者是家務勞動的變奏，雙手反覆洗擦衣物，污漬與塵埃隨涓涓河水流走，空有勞動（work）的過程而沒有藝術品（artwork）被生產。
對於「消失」，香港文化的論者當然不感陌生。比較文學學者阿巴斯在經典著作《香港：文化及消失的政治》（1997）中，以「消失的空間」（space of disappearance）為討論殖民時期香港文化的框架，多年來廣為研究者引用。殖民地香港的文化先是因「逆向幻覺」（即對存在之物視而不見）而隱形，直到經歷一九八四年中英聯合聲明簽署及一九八九年天安門事件的雙重創傷後，香港文化總算「現形」（appear），但這卻是建基於行將來臨的消失，以及在九七大限來臨前急於尋求一種確切身份的焦慮。
焦慮令香港文化突然現身、被看見，同時也成為了創作驅力，在這個文化空間生出許多消失事件。藝術史學者David Clarke 指出，「懷舊」在九十年代初成為流行文化中的重要主題之一，而臨近一九九七年之際，藝術家亦廣泛地關注行將消失的過去，最顯而易見的例子是蘇慶強拍攝調景嶺的作品（1993），以及王禾璧的《荔園》系列（1997）。在九七關口前，眾多藝術家試圖在過去中找尋本土性的能指，特別關注新近過去的回憶和生活經驗，攝影成為表現喪失的焦慮的重要媒介。王禾璧自八十年代起便拍攝將被拆毀的建築空間，例如般咸道的余園，《荔園》攝影計劃既是一貫實踐的延續，也是以荔園象徵將被抹消的本土文化身份。
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::: In and Out of the Streets: Man Mei-to and Enoch Cheng, International Association of Art Critics Hong Kong, by Yang Yeung, 18/ 05/ 2017
::: In and Out of the Streets: Enoch Cheng and Man Mei-to, Yishu: no.80, Volume 16, Number 3, May/June 2017, by Yang Yeung
The second artist I would like to discuss is Mei-to Man, who created The Laundry Shop in May 2016 at A3. This installation consisted of a light box placed on the ground that emitted a white light. Several piles of clean laundry appeared to be undulating in this light, which extended upward onto the white wall. The aesthetic of white on white alluded to the idea of blandness, a stark contrast to the dominating presence of light in the surrounding shopping district that is centred on the competition of colours, the augmentation of Chinese characters, and the naming of brands and goods. To borrow Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly’s idea of how poets see things shining,13 Mei-to Man directly challenges the way other objects that inhabit the street rely on external lighting to shine by letting the objects she has installed shine from within: literally for having absorbed sunlight, hence metaphorically shining, just as one says a person metaphorically radiates from within when joyful, and teleolgically, borrowing from Aristotle’s philosophy of ethics, how living beings shine when they flourish according to their own characteristic activity; for human beings, it is the use of reason to seek the good for a complete lifetime that enables us to flourish. In the case of Man’s laundry, one could see dignity out of the quality she attempts to restore onto essential objects and processes of ordinary human life.
The Laundry Shop is also an extension of Mei-to Man’s previous works that she performed on the streets of Hong Kong. She has had a consistent interest in wandering through the city with no particular purpose and deferring and defying the imperative to keep time, count time, and maximize the monetary value of time. In 2013, she brought a pail full of mud from Ping Che, a district in the northwestern part of Hong Kong (subject to large-scale property development that residents protested against), to a zebra traffic crossing in the middle of the city in Kwai Fong, spreading a thin layer of the mud onto the stripes. The resulting smell of field and garden in the city centre made those crossing the street and stepping into the mud complicit in bringing nature back to the city. The mud lives and decays as it is picked up by a range of differing bodily rhythms of passing pedestrians and transplanted to other parts of the city. It complicates the way the city propels us to move through it—she asks and shows what, instead, could be moved. In 2015, at a damaged and unused highway near Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak Airport, she made House on the ground, in which thin, grid-shaped layers of wax were laid on the asphalt, depicting a house being composed brick by brick. After twenty-six days in the midsummer heat, the wax completely melted, as if a mirage were borne out of the ongoing construction of the cruise terminal that would replace the former runway.
Mei-to Man’s interest in the passing of time is fully bound up with her imagination of nature and the traces of human bodies, both in and as nature, which began to show in her graduation work at the Hong Kong Art School in 2015. Her installation of three works—To be a Hill, Mao.Lake, and Little Island—was a sketch of a landscape. To be a Hill, for example, consisted of a row of triangular-shaped objects of wax, and Little Island consisted of embroidery hoops with silk stockings stretched over them, impregnated with undulating wax and suspended in the air. Both works could be read as imitating ridges and the crests of mountains. The reference to the shapes of specific components of the natural landscape is consistent with her interest in bridging rapid urban development with elements of nature that have been sidelined in the process. Alternatively, instead of a figurative reading, her graduation work could also be understood as a juxtaposition between the softness of wax and the sharpness of fishing lines, safety pins, and needles, some of the materials she employs, hence alluding to the tension between the blandness that can be represented by serenity and the eccentricity of punctuating blandness itself. At A3, The Laundry Shop brings the fluidity of her materials and practice into the social realm. Mei-to Man huddled in A3 for five hours each day, four days a week, to wait for any passers-by to inquire about the laundry service she offered and to collect and distribute laundry from those who had signed up for the service. For the rest of the week, she went to the edge of the city to wash the laundry and then dried it in the sun and wind. The clean laundry would then be brought back to the shop to be collected by visitors.
While at A3, Mei-to Man received comments she hadn’t expected, such as “Is this really free?” or “Show me your hands to prove that you work with your hands like a worker.” People were confused as to whether The Laundry Shopwas a trick or a scam. This ambivalence might be the challenge the artist is proposing with the work—when the laundry is inspected like a specimen by the public, calling for us to check whether nature had touched it and given it life, it revealed the negating structures of purification established in the city, where the life-giving processes of sun and wind are rendered irrelevant to human life. Mei-to Man refuted the way the city is currently organized by introducing what should be an ordinary experience in the streets of Hong Kong. I must emphasize the streets because that is the scale she chooses to work with: the streets that are overly determined by clock-time (e.g., by timetables of public transport, opening and closing hours of spaces for consumption, the repetition of construction signboards with project start and end dates determined by contracts, etc.). Mei-to Man, instead, produces an experience of time that is not reducible to the above, but, rather, lived in its diversity, perplexity, and complexity—as lifetimes, ecological time, and time of hope for the future. Streets are no longer mere passages. Her project offered time for strangers on the streets to stop and greet her, ask questions, and imagine and share meanings with her about their shared presence and possible futures. Her proposition that a free service such as this could actually happen in the street was a firm provocation, however humble.
In an interview, Mei-to Man spoke of the process of art making as a way of challenging herself.14 She refuses the “self” as constituted by the city and she seeks to convey the partially known potential of imagining herself to appear otherwise. This act of refusal enables other alignments of meaning within established public culture. She specifically coined the phrase “self-recognizing-self” to describe how the ‘self’ is often the kernel of the struggle of an idea that is brewing in relation to the city she is fully immersed in every day. The power of the city is strong, and her mistrust of it is just as strong. While the city takes away her ability to recognize herself, something she could not articulate in language, her artworks show the systematic displacement of the creative processes that nature never fails to show. When she decides to speak out, it’s a matter of necessity, reason, and will—art becomes an opportunity for her to recognize herself as she is and as she could be.
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The white light from LED light strip hidden in a box defines the tone of The Laundry Shop from the ground up – several piles of clean laundry undulates the white light, extending upward onto the white wall. White on white is a rare aesthetics in this part of Hong Kong. Not that it’s non-existent in the cityscape of Hong Kong, but the way it directs to blandness rather than the kind of blindness that advertising induces is rare. If lightboxes are tools with which details would be illuminated, what particular details is the Laundry Worker proposing to be in her trade?
Laundry Worker Man Mei-to has had a consistent interest in dwelling the city by deferring and defying its imperative to keep time, count time, and maximize the monetary value of time. In 2015, at a broken and unused highway near Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak Airport, she made House on the ground – thin layers of grid-shaped wax were laid on asphalt to picture a house brick by brick. After 26 days in the mid-summer heat, the wax completely melted. In an earlier work, He/She. Mum and Mao Lake (2013), she also engendered the active interaction between wax and its surroundings – this time indoors – by making a small, shallow puddle beneath a classroom chair and table. With salt and water, she manipulated the pace of melting. “The water looks like a slide show”, she says, and “the lake forms a vortex.” In the same year, she brought a pail-full of mud from Ping Che, to a zebra crossing in the middle of the city in Kwai Fong, spreading a thin layer of it onto the stripes. Bring the smell of field and garden back home made everyone crossing the street and stepping onto the mud complicit in bringing the smell of field and garden back home. It’s an act made for contagion. The act begins with transplanting, lives and decays by being picked up by a range of bodily rhythms, and complicates the way the city propels us to move on – what it is that is being moved on now?
Man’s interest in time passing is fully bound up with her imagination of nature and the traces of human bodies in and as nature, which began to show in her graduation work at the Hong Kong Art School. In the installation, a sketch of a landscape drawing took shape – she called the line of triangularly shaped objects of wax and embroidery hoops impregnated with wax and suspended in the air “islands”, “lakes”, and “hills”. Alternatively, instead of a figurative language, the installation could also be read as a juxtaposition of the softness of wax and the sharpness of fishing lines, safety pins, and needles, hence an act of attending to the tension between the blandness of serenity and the eccentricity of punctuating it. An aluminum pan also holds a coagulation of wax, revealing its recent history of roaming and rolling and finally stopping at the edges of a small cleft in the middle, muffing the pan’s self-resonance. As a whole, the installation is an expression comparable to Eva Hesse’s “fluid contours” (http://www.theartstory.org/artist-hesse-eva.htm). At Shop A3, Sharp Street West, The Laundry Shop brings the fluidity of her materials and practice into the social realm. At the time of this writing, Man Mei-to has been huddling up in Shop A3 for 20 hours – 5 hours in each of the 4 days. The rest of the week, she walked and sojourned to the edge of the concrete jungle to wash the laundry and have it dried in the sun and wind. The clean laundry would then be brought back to The Laundry Shop for collection.
The idea of hanging was originally less narrowly directed to one particular object, hence less instrumental. In her earlier work When the mountain hangs the clothes, she hung pieces of cloth in beige, light green, pale yellow on ropes and had them suspended from the top of cement-treated slopes in Tseng Kwan O to the ground. It reminds me of Iranian artist Mahroo Movahedi’s Flying Colors, an “abstract collection” of colors or their perception that she experienced while crossing the landscapes of Iran and Switzerland. The result for Movahedi was an installation on a white wall in a gallery. At The Laundry Shop, Man’s palette is white, but different kinds of white. The wall, for instance, is in a white paint that carries a hue of pink the artist deliberately chose. A lot is different in Man and.
When in situ, Man received comments she hadn’t expected. “Is this really free?” “Show me your hand to prove that you work with your hands like a worker.” (That is, could this be a trick or a scam?) The comments reveal the thin line between critical reception and cynicism. On the one hand, the comments show that the under-acknowledgement of the contribution of physical labor to all that is in public space has not stopped city dwellers from remembering it; on the other hand, the gift that cannot be valued with a price tag is not to be trusted. In between, the ecology of trading meanings and human touch tries to survive. This ambivalence presents the challenge the artist may be proposing with the work – when the daily laundry is inspected like a specimen, exaggeratedly calling for our attention to check if nature has touched it and given it life, it reveals the structural kind of purification ongoing in the city – the process of life-giving by the sun and wind made irrelevant to human life.
Man Mei-to is frugal with words. But she communicates a robust energy, a readiness in making something from the start of our encounter. She is ready to be retreating into art and letting it envelop her experience of the city. One needs indeed to be ready for the encroaching power of the city, but there is always already also the resistance that the penetrating power of art can provide for – without permanence, without flaunting, it sturdily stands.
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::: The Routledge Companion to Art in the Public Realm, ISBN 9781138325302, October 19, 2020, By Cameron Cartiere, Leon Tan
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Sediment and Undercurrent: Man Mei To solo exhibition @ ACO 6/F - the opening act evokes bitterness in patches of orange as orange, until they become ruffled skin, brown grains, black pores, and finally, blurry moving images of the shimmering gold to pale yellow. Deeper into the gallery, one finds a certain morbidness to the state of being of the things made, capturing perhaps the shadow of the bitter orange. There is entrapment (eg. entangled hair staging composure) and attempts to find escape (eg. mud, drying and disintegrating, in the anticipation to returning to what precedes it). "Leg - Unknown syndrome" (2018, in wax and wood) lies in the middle, seeing and seen. I think of Louise Bourgeois holding Fillette (1968) in her portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe. Commenting on the phallic appearance of Fillette, Bourgeois said, “It is not a phallus. This is what people say and what it is is completely different…The piece is called Fillette. Fillette means une petite fille [a little girl]. If you want to indulge in interpretation you could say that I brought a little Louise…It gave me security.” Man Mei-to's "Leg" is not a leg either. Place-wise akin to "Hand - Tubercular Leprosy" (2018), "Leg" seems more comfortable with being not-so than "Hand" in the state of a clasped fist troubled by or ornamented with skin-growth. I see this as one point of extreme in the exhibition, resonating with bitterness, and the very small patch of yellow between the lush of leaves on a tree not shown to be how tall, but only how dense and vibrant, as the other extreme: the former registering the lowest to fall, the latter, a higher point to bounce to. In between is the sound of flowing water ("Listening to the breath of mud in the city II", 2019). It's at the corner, close to the window, but it centres the experience - it underpins the ebbs and flows. There is room for fine-tuning where emphases lie in the space (eg. beyond centre piece and periphery thinking), and also rhythm - if it's out of conscious decision that all works are rectangularly shaped and oriented, of the same proportion and scale, a certain morbidity results, which could have worked well as a clash with the bitter orange, in a different rhythm. I wonder how the artist imagines the seabed, mentioned in the artist statement.
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Distance of Space, Materialized bodily presence: visitors’ notes 訪者絮語:文美桃彼岸之地
Man Mei-to’s solo The Distance of Space faded to white after 3 weeks of “zen” presence at Floating Projects. For those who missed the chance encounter of her body, mind and thing-power, several visitors — Evelyn Char, Yang Yeung and Eddie Cheung — have preserved for us precious impressions. The show may now live on in the minds of everyone striving to catch it and contain it in words that seek to match their mind’s eye. Please leave more comments.
(Linda C.H. Lai)
**Man Mei-to, ADC Emerging Artist grant recipient, exhibiting at FP, 14 April – 6 May 2018, curated by Wong Chun-hoi**
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周末的起心肝去 Floating Projects 看了文美桃個展《彼岸之地》，很喜歡那種sensibility… 似乎在尋索一種身體的地形學；如果有聲音，會是低迴的呢喃，但話語並不私密或全然內向，而是以髮絲般幼細的通路，向城市的身體髮膚延展…
Evelyn Char …
That weekend, I finally gathered myself to make a special trip to Floating Projects at Wong Chuk Hang to visit Man Mei-to’s Distance of Space. I like the sensibility of the show… as if the artist is in search of a kind of cartography of the body. If I may compare the show to a soundscape, one hears murmurs swirling low, and yet there is nothing private, secretive or introverted. Such murmurs follow fine vascular passages like threads of hair, creeping in all directions through the city’s body and ever expanding…
(translated from Chinese by Linda Lai)
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Yang Yeung …
Always energizing to see artists trying different modes of expression, different ways of letting a material guide their (our?) fleeting being – stubbornly, humbly, attentively, despite perplexities. A curve of an elbow? A cavity between bones?…of particular but unnamed human bodies, moulded to become ceramic emblems of nature (as human nature) and as imperfect copies of nature (as unrecognizable fragments). Some equivalence between the artist’s reality in touch with the sky, sea, and land, is drawn with the reality of nature compromised by total urbanization in Hong Kong – lost islands are freed by being suspended; water in gutters are relevant by being contained in jars as specimens. Man describes the overall tone of her solo as grey; I wonder if it’s more like a “fish-belly white” (魚肚白 as in colloquial Cantonese) that may or may not want dawn to come. Her sensitivity towards contours remains, as always, pointed and uncompromising.
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… … 文美桃的作品，「身體」往往直接以驅殻或間接以行動的姿態呈現於作品上。島嶼、水樣本、身體成為碎片，然後轉化成一道道的風景，也是不易察覺的能量與維度，穩定的狀態與藝術家心頭裡想說的話都是一種不著痕跡的喃喃自語，猶如手腕微微跳動的脈搏。要怎樣帶動觀者感受物象背後的種種？或從中能氾起怎樣的漣漪？則需要看策展人如何鋪墊。
Cheung Wai-sum Eddie …
The “body” in Man Mei-to’s works comes to us directly as carcasses or indirectly as the postures of actions. Islets, water samples and body parts are fragments, then transformed into a scenery and many more, perceivable to those who pay attention to their specific dimensions and energies. Stasis of the works holds still and quiet the artist’s private murmurs and soliloquy, like pulses on the wrist, felt but not heard. And here’s a question for the artist: how to take the visitors through material appearances to what is concealed, or perhaps to just grasp a stir of thoughts. To the curator: how to enhance and how to spatialize.
(translated from Chinese by Linda Lai)
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::: As the leaves fall, Grey and Green Ping Pong Project | 落 牙 - 《 銀青乒乓 》
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