Taming Weathers: A Modern History of Hong Kong and Typhoon

驾驭天气:香港和台风的现代史

展览支持:香港信言设计大使

策展人:卞雨佳,葛蕊诗

日期:2019年12月

地点:上海梓耘斋(西岸)艺术空间

Taming Weathers: A Modern History of Hong Kong and Typhoon

Curators: Yujia Bian, Ruishi Ge

Supported by: Design Trust Hong Kong

Venue: TM Studio (West Bund) Art Space, Shanghai

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香港与台风有密切的关系,历史上也曾发生过多起致命的灾难。从十九世纪末期英国殖民者的叙述到当今的新闻报道,台风是持续笼罩在香港上空的气候现象。同时,人们对台风的认知也随着时间而改变。过去,对天气现象的恐惧使得台风被形容为“野蛮”,“魔鬼”或“夺命”的天灾。随着科学认知和公共教育程度的提高,香港居民逐渐以更平和的态度接受了这一气候现象。

成立于1883年,香港天文台逐渐建立了一个稳定的热带气旋警告系统,并由视、听两个辅助系统组成。此项目试图检视天文台警告系统的视听构建的起源。与此同时,视觉和听觉的认知方式也是西方现代主义启蒙运动的核心。正如许多哲学家和理论家所提出,视觉和听觉是不可分割的,然而随着参与主体主观的不断变化,历史和档案资料则侧面反映了所谓启蒙范例的不稳定。作为一个互惠系统,视觉系统通常需要使用声波系统协同工作,反之亦然。基于香港天文台的资料,此项目试图呈现视觉和声音系统在历史上的不断变化,并梳理了其时有发生的故障、问题和误解。

Hong Kong and typhoon have a close and explicable relationship, with many deadly ones, such as 1874, 1906, 1937, and 1962 incidents. From the narratives of British colonizers during the late nineteenth century to the news coverage nowadays, typhoon has been a perpetual weather phenomenon that looms over the sky of Hong Kong. The perception of the typhoon has also changed over time. In the past, the shock and fear toward the weather phenomenon often also ascribed it as “savage”, “monster-like”, or “deadly”. With increasing scientific understanding and education, people in Hong Kong slowly embraced this phenomenon with a much calmer attitude. Meteorological observations and forecasting together with preemptive design strategies, construction, and salvage operations are the parameters of this process.

The weather observatory in Hong Kong (HKO) was established by the end of 1883. Followed were two sets of warning signals that consist of visual and sonic systems. In tracing the genealogies of the weather warning system in the case of the Hong Kong Observatory, the project sees the inseparability of the visual and the sonic qualities that both constitute the weather-observing system. Vision and the sound are both constituting and assisting the very core of western modernity and its enlightenment project. Nonetheless, as many philosophers and theorists have suggested the coexisting and inseparability of the visual and the sonic, and the changing subjectivity of the subjects engaged, the messy historical and archival materials often suggest the unstable quality of this paradigm. The two systems work together as one safe-proof system, with the presence of the visual system often requires the use of the sonic one, vice versa. A reading of the materials involved in the Hong Kong Observatory indicates the constant systemic shifts over history, where failure, glitch, misinterpretation, and overlook often involved.

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Photos and video by Yujia Bian

Solomon Islands Weather Observatory

 

A graphic set for the Anglican Church of Melanesia Environment Observatory. It includes a logo, an observatory record book, and a green apostle certificate. Below are some of the examples:

 

certificate page

 

 

The project is commissioned by Professor Adam Bobbette (University of New South Wales) and researcher Marie Schlenker (University of Southampton) as part of their ongoing research on climate change on the Solomon Islands.

Bus Ride 38

 

Diary: an exerpt of recording from a bus ride in London, November 10, 2019.

A prosaic Sunday on a London bus drive was interrupted by an adult woman, who narrated the follwing content:

Transcript in progress:

(Kids Talking in Spanish)

(Man yelling in background)

Is this nice … kind of … environment? Lots of children and crazy man.

Huh? Very healthy environment from ( ? ) with a dose of humans. ( ? )

(Man yelling in background)

Yea yea ? …… and …. ? The three of them. If you like trinity. Because he’s coming in town … to do something.

Then you can ask him about strawberries which is (are) fruits in Belgrade in Serbia. (…?…) It’s possible that I can travel with Serbian passport in the Netherlands. It’s possible.

(Man yelling, passengers talking)

Yea Europe is a nice continent, if only that’s a kind of a … I, I don’t know which words to use. How you make a difference between European continent, between … for instance between Serbia and Croatia. 

(Bus broadcasts "Islington Green")

You don’t make a difference. Just like Serbia is … Serbian and … is not in the 1940s welcoming Hitler. Croats did welcome Hitler in 1940s and they’re member of Hitler unity in … monitory erh … What is the monitory program ( ? )? And that’s what the monitory ( ? ) doing in European continent.

(Kid asking “What is she talking about?”)

Instead of expecting a rich place, a country in Europe? No, they make a difference. ( … ? … ) Because they didn’t welcome Hitler. ( …?… ) It’s a punishment.

(Bus: 38 to Victoria)

(Kids talking in Spanish)

And .. that’s also something Serbia … (man sneezing) and in European continent. You know, comparison yea?

ARCHITECTURE

As a bar of soap, ARCHITECTURE stands as a symbolic form for architecture, a coming together of materials that facilitate social processes. It allows for expenditure through communal usage: an act of washing that connects people together. ARCHITECTURE loses its rigid form as it is used. Its fixed appearance will erode through use as it is molded by the hands that touch it. It traces a record of the material sociability via its structure and function. ARCHITECTURE pays attention to the material flows that sustain collective hygiene, while encouraging visitors to think about architecture as a social entity that evolves beyond its physicality.

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The soaps are produced in factories in Guangzhou, China, connected via the Chinese online merchandising platform Taobao. Below is an example of the communication conducted during the production process:

 

Exhibited at:

Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019

theBlanc Art Space | ©Asian Cultural Center

 

Media Coverage:

Dezeen

The Architectural Review

BauNetzWoche #543

Nytt Rom

Failed Architecture

Library Stack

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: OAT / Istvan Virag

Thought You Know Me Well

 

 

 

“Thought You Know Me Well” is a micro show within SYMPOIESIS, an artists-curated group exhibition for the Bio Art Residency at the School of Visual Art, New York. It explores nature’s conceit towards humans via metaphorical tales. Through experimentations of bio-materials such as bacteria and fungi, these works take shape via both biological and chemical processes of reaction, exchange, and growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More about the exhibition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pulverized Eternities: A Visit to Dunes of Newton Creek, Brooklyn

“Every grain of sand was a dead metaphor that equaled timelessness, and to decipher such metaphors would take one through the false mirror of eternity.”

– Robert Smithson

A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic,

New Jersey

The photographs were taken during a visit to the industrial zone near Newton Creek in East Williamsburg on December 4th, 2018. The postindustrial New Jersey landscapes that Smithson encountered half-a-century ago ghostly reappeared at a different site and as a different form. Unlike the erected bridges, pipes, and sand-box in Passaic, the monuments here are several dunes, each composites of a different material. These dunes are likely to be excavated from the nearby National Energy Grid site and have no particular function. Locked behind gridded metal gates, the dunes form spaces of “interdictions” that discourage an easy access, often attached with signs on the gate that reads:

“AREA UNDER SURVEILLANCE.

NO DUMPING ALLOWED

VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF LAW.”

“NO DUMPING ALLOWED” and “THE FULLEST EXTENT OF LAW” are strong expressions that show a linguistic interdiction in the strictest sense. “NO DUMPING” is a suspicious refutation of the dunes’ history. The gated site thus denies both its past and future making. But dumps are dumps. The granular composition of these dunes – sand, soil, rock, and weed – betray the sign’s denial with their materiality. The brutalized language written in capitalized red text is a sign of insecurity.

Just like minimalist sculptures displayed under museum environments, these dunes appear as minimal forms, with metal gates and signs replaced by labels such as “Do Not Touch”. But have the dunes become Benjamin’s aura-objects that fix observers’ attentions? Not yet. Newton Creek is in no way popular, not along being able to gather dazzled gazes. Just like Smithson’s monuments in Passaic, these sites attract no crowds.

What are the particular qualities of these dunes, if they are neither simply lonely suburban monuments nor sculptures with artistic values? “Time turns metaphor into things, and stack them up in cold rooms, or places them in the celestial playgrounds of the suburbs.”[1] For Smithson, futures have long been forgotten into the distant past, while eternity was falsely constructed through a pulverization of things. Before being dumped onto the gated sites, materials were extracted from nearby sites and pulverized into granular forms. Ahead of them are uncertain destinies.

The dunes are composed of condensed then dislocated materials. Just like the extracted energy that flees nature’s reserve within seconds, these dunes also suggest an unstable status, where both history and the future share short life spans, despite their seemingly solid form. The past and future that the sign and form suggest mirror a falsified eternity. The illusion is understood through the timeless metaphor and the false eternity that both the pulverized materials and the minimal form imply. They now become graves that children can play in no more.[2]

 

[1] Robert Smithson. A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey. 56.

[2] As stated in Smithson’s text: “This sand box somehow doubled as an open grave – a grave that children cheerfully play in.” Ibid.

Cabinet of Curiosities

The history of nature museums embodies influences and exchanges, engaging with broader cultural purposes. Also called the “cabinets of curiosities”, Renaissance museums were personal, quaint, and varied in character. Specimen collections expanded and slowly formed contemporary nature museums, with displayed items arranged in a gridded manner. Referred to as “Temples of Nature” or “Cathedrals of Science”, nature museums represent an ideological and spiritual ideal for the natural science discipline. 

Titled “Liveliness Capsules: On Nature Displays in Natural History Museums”, the portable installation intends to question the means of displays in natural history museum institutions as ways of viewing and understanding nature. It consists of 28, 1 cubic inch capsules, each contains an animal trapped its designated environment. The selected animals represent the range of species in museum collections: from polar bear, rhino, bat, fox, to underwater creatures such as dolphin, octopus, and shark. As with the grid-like organization of the museum of curiosities, these cubic capsules are arranged accordingly into one rectangular box, forming a gridded display of animals in individual cells.

 

 

 

For nature museums, specimens were often arranged in display cases as dioramas, accompanied with a habitat environment. The taxidermies are combined in a fashion that best represents a habitat type. Meanwhile, worries about vanishing nature and lost habitat, in combination with the goal of entertaining the visitors, museum habitats were constructed as real as possible. The liveliness for displaying natural habitats became necessary in making the natural, or convincing display environments. Just like the dioramas in nature museums, these cube capsules provide individual and truncated views of nature at a smaller scale. To achieve the similar environmental determinism and ambition for liveliness in nature museums, the installation constructs animals and environments into a similar fashion. The animals are picked from mass-manufactured, realistic rubber miniatures, before being installed into plastic cubes among its typical environment, being sandscape, seascape, grassland, wetland, woodland, forest, etc.

By mimicking and representation nature displays with a realistic approach, the work intends to interrogate the dominant understandings of nature for natural history museums and to respond with a mirroring language. Just like nature museums that mimic nature, the installation provides a comment on the display of nature museums through an uncanny twist. Viewers are to encounter the work with a nature museum-like absorption while feeling a slight unease.

 

Re/Collecting

Thesis / Exhibition

2017-2018

The exhibition took place under the rooftop greenhouse (or the 12th floor) at the Schermerhorn Building on campus. The greenhouse situates right above the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, with Department of Anthropology and Department of Art History on the lower floors. The exhibition opening was on April 28th, 2018, and opened daily from April 30th to May 9th, 2018.

The materials attached in the appendix include a poster, a handout with a short statement, with photographs of the exhibition itself. As an appendix, the thesis exhibition functions as an initiation for future actions. Particular objects included are prints of maps, illustration plates, photographs and research documents.

Given a slice of space in the greenhouse, the exhibition suggests an articulation of the existing space, via delineation and attachment. It takes form of two facing panels and displays visual materials over two historical times. Corresponding to the two chapters in the written thesis, the two fields of images also suggested a travel from one to the other. They thus create a contrast and engender a dialogue in between two historical times. One side shows Fitch’s plates of plants from Hooker’s Eastern Himalayan expedition; The other shows photographs from the later naturalist Wilson’s expeditions. Echoing how naturalists mounting plant photographs in plastic specimen bags onto walls nowadays, the images in the exhibition are hang in a similar way. The illustrations and photographs thus leave the viewers to discover the discrepancies and particularities on the images across, and challenge the roles of photographs, as both science objects and artworks displayed.

At the center is a “Desk of Inspections” that displays the collected materials. It is a direct response to the various materials engaged, while consolidating and reorganizing enchanted actors of nature expeditions. The exhibition displays the materials collected from these expeditions and uses herbarium sheets as the medium of focus. Central for botanical science, the specimen sheets also consolidate, organize, and distribute the materials of this thesis. The descriptions on these herbarium sheets were kept short and concise, in service for a botanical language.

This is limited by the resolution of the photographs obtained. Only Wilson’s photographs could be reprinted without losing resolutions. Forrest and Kingdon-Ward’s photographs are displayed on the center desk.

Exhibition Statement:

Nature expeditions, as ambitious scientific endeavors effused with enlightening overtone, are often not innocent in their underlining implications. This exhibition explores the changing scientific epistemologies in Botany from these expeditions, and traces the changing qualities of the materials involved, from the elaborately illustrated drawings of plants to the mechanically produced photographs. The two fields of images displayed here show the changing documenting tools for naturalists over two historical times: from illustrations of the earlier period to the photographs that came later. These materials engaged in the seed-collecting expeditions disclosed the naturalists’ two different mentalities.

Situates in between the two fields is a herbarium working desk that shows an inspection scene of the Herbarium of the Eastern Himalayas Botanical Expeditions. Specimens are consolidated from the expeditions of the four (and many more) naturalists: late-nineteenth-century naturalist Joseph Dalton Hooker’s Himalayan Expeditions (1847-1851), early-twentieth-century naturalist Ernest Henry Wilson (1899-1911), George Forrest (1904-1905, 1910, 1912-1915, 1917-1920, 1921-1923, 1924-1925, 1930-1931) and Frank Kingdon-Ward (1911-1914, 1921-1922, 1930-1931, 1933, 1947), with the emergence of other male and female native collectors along the way. In the name of science and research, these specimens are now allowed to be re-inspected.

 

Three, Four or Many Encounters at the Museum of Natural History

Short Essay

2016

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Figure 1. Whale construction in process. We can tell the whale was constructed in pieces and held together.

Among the big names of New York City museums, the American Museum of Natural History wins my most unfamiliarity. In a humid afternoon, I found myself in front of the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History. Before this very moment, I walked through the museum gift shop, where the glaring florescent lights brought the displayed goods even brighter. Printed T-shirts, furry mammal toys, plastic games, dinosaur miniatures, even the ore pieces were put on sale, drew enthusiastic customers for a discovery… A sudden uneasiness and back to reality, when I suddenly delved into this room under a dark bluish ambient. Moving images of changing ocean water was projected on the ceiling. This is the ocean world. A giant blue creature approached me with a mysterious glee. I felt welcomed. As an exchange, I shared him my amity with a tiny smile. One instant after I realized his hospitality is not loyal to me solely. He greeted everybody unselectively. On a little tag on the railing, I learned it used to be an Elomeryx, an “even-toed ungulate” and walked like a hippopotamus.

A group of my peer human species gathered below his belly. Accompanying with the field of intermittent human voices was undulating sounds of artificial narratives. Followed the stairs to the lower floor I noticed what attracted the crowd was a big electric screen below where I entered, not the convivial blue whale. On the screen, two researchers studied naturally dissected whale remains, scanned and denoted its functional organs. “How’s this specimen?” One researcher asked. There was this piece came from the area near the whale’s hearing organ. “Would you just, hold it in place?” Another pledged. This piece of bone was set up safely on an x-ray bed like a vulnerable patient, and was pulled along the bed from one end to another. The scanned x-ray image was later analyzed and modeled into 3d. At the end of the video it was the animation of the 3d bone remain rotated and indicated with different colors for the relative functions it belongs. This image of the tiny bone stayed in my head so that when I looked up, it matched onto the blue whale above, rotated and changed colors by itself. A slight dizziness came from the hyperreal whale’s body blurred with the virtual image. After lingering a few seconds, I managed to drag my body to one corner of the hall. This turned out to be another disquieting move. I found myself engaged into one enclave after another, with columns on the side walls differentiating separate experiences. The enclaves were contained within glass chambers, each absorbs and fixes attentions into a different universe. Scenes of a group of animals, each was captured in their perfect activities: hunting, chasing, diving, and a peek of peaceful affections. In one chamber, five or six walruses were represented with great detail. A reflexive coating was applied for the resemblance of skin texture. Standing furs were added for realistic depiction. The background was painted with balmy skies and cheerful seagulls. Occasionally, a dimmed beacon afar disclosed a possible existence of humans. As I passed one glass chamber where a sea lion drifted aimlessly, along were utterances of various pitches: “adorable”, “lovely” or simply, “cute”.

The upper floor was where ocean species were shown individually. Ancient to contemporary, plastic specimens were pinned up to the wall, explained with cartoonish diagrams, linking various species based on kinships. Painted, coated, 3d printed, glued together, either the still existing or the extinct sea creatures were all composed here under a genetic symphony. Dotted light bulbs embedded these translucent bodies to highlight super organs devoid in the human world: super eyesights, luring beacons, toxic jaws, suction tubes, etc. Salps, siphonophores, and invertebrates and were illuminated under their supple bodies. The museum is like a vertical Disney hall of ocean fame. Miniature habitats once again attracted human attentions, showing sections of ecosystems: Kelp forests, rocky shore of ocean edge, algae forest, seagrass beds and mangrove forests. Each rendered with great effort. Plastic sheet inserted as surface water, rubber and sand molded as rocks and soil, coated white foam as icebergs. These elements were recomposed into the mini ecosystems. In accompanying with them were descriptions and explanatory diagrams or cartoons at the back wall, which were superimposed on another layer, creating additional information. Towards the end of the tour, I stopped at the glass chamber in the middle of the upper floor. Inside was oddly empty, with still water surface covered with patched prairies. After a careful reading of the instructions I learned it corresponded vertically to the downstairs “Choral Forest” chamber. The quiet water surface is to contrast with the biodiversity of the underwater world I passed by earlier. Alas, a two-story diorama! In this way, it fools me with its simplicity and maneuvered my recent stored memory. A great manipulator.

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Figure 2. People dinning under the blue whale at the opening of the Hall of Ocean Life in 1969.

Today, I visited Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History. Here, sea creatures were mimicked, personified, dissected and analyzed on display, and people were lured, dazed, captivated, and projected. However, it was an afternoon with great involvement. When I finally walked out of the museum, the darkness devoured me, and the humid air starts to taste like salt.