Metropolis: A Prime Vision (1998)
Perhaps my present predicament is retribution for squandered years and carefree days.
Coming to terms with my belated awakening – and the likelihood that my days may be numbered – I live and operate under a suffocating spell. Feeling ever breathless and drained, I push myself harder and propel myself further. Ignoring all distractions, I feel both urged and encouraged to press on.
Ordinarily my waking moments are taken up by full-time teaching and research-related photography and drawing. When I tackle a problem, originality is always my ultimate concern, whether addressing an old theme or experimenting with a new idea. Occasionally, during deep thoughts or flights of fancy, and a breakthrough seems within grasp, a slip in concentration causes me to stumble back to reality. Any attempt to rescue or recollect invariably fails. Because of my solitary work habit, my wife and sons double as my severest critics. More often than not, they maul my brainstorms without pity, especially those that I take most pride in presenting. Such is the joy and torment of mixing work and family. My way of life is bitter sweet, exploring new possibilities and accepting new challenges.
Intuitively, I sense that a timely transformation is taking place within myself. A novice forever in the creative field, I take setbacks and adversities as a matter of course, convinced that failure breeds refinement. Lacking resources, intellectual or otherwise, I tend to achieve ounces while expending tons of effort. Never one to covet smooth sailing or a handsome reward, I leave fate to follow its own course. Meanwhile I am fully committed to the aspiration/life/work/destiny/role of my choice where conditional freedom is a fringe benefit. The so-called transformation is probably synonymous with karma-reformed or vision resculpted.
Subconsciously, the process of drawing is similar to a spider spinning a web or a bird’s nest building. An instinctive or self-mastered skill, it is also comparable to the condors riding the air current, soaring skywards and reaching beyond, the mind and body glide in unison to the accompaniment of light and shadow. Alternatively, the moment of conception in photography is akin to sparks from love at first sight or mutual attraction which can also be likened to an insect’s hibernation, awaiting in the deep recess the precise moment to emerge, then time and space crystallize while spirit and desire fuse, accelerating towards sublimation.
My Macro Vision drawings helped me in dispose of a chestful of murmuring dreams. It dissolved a bundle of prejudices, dismissing entanglement with vulgarities while restoring the child I am at heart. My Prime Vision photography, on the other hand, rekindled my withering soul and fading aspirations. Thus awakened, I have sought out the sound and fury, colors and shades from all quarters in order to ignite and implode and to be reborn; simultaneously, to reassert humanity and materiality while dealing hypocrisy and absurdity a crippling blow.
At this juncture, my heart yearns for the emergence of genuine sincerity and true self.
Speaking of emergence, whether in the archeological or philosophical sense, it is illuminating to compare cultural relics and art objects, which occupy sacred niches in museums and palaces, with those ubiquitous and seemingly unsightly back alley utensils and graffiti. Is not the contrast of pomposity and simplicity, grandeur and triviality, elegance and banality, refinement and coarseness, a matter of judgement? Does the problem stem from one’s steadfastness to the belief of truth, benevolence and aesthetics, and the degree of attachment to illusory wealth?
The backyard of metropolis – a collective name I use to describe the shanty communities and the back alleys of downtown, especially in Hong Kong and Kowloon – is a place where I often stroll and meditate. From time to time, I would take my students and friends there, not just to observe these forgotten existences, but also to bid farewell to the fast-disappearing phenomena. Confronting such images of confusion, decay, poverty and backwardness, instead of feeling alienated, I am humbled to undertake firsthand study and analysis. The backyard’s cultural diversity and spatial composition intrigue me, whereas their overall planning and design, living accommodations and paraphernalia are very much the raw materials for artistic expressions and academic investigations.
It is here that architecture’s basic concepts have all been graphically illustrated. It is here too that the underpinning principles of environmentalism have all found full manifestations. Moreover, individual or collective ingenuity and wisdom are everywhere reflected in the details of daily life.
Even more amazing is the fact that despite or because of the blinding dictate of tradition, superstition, feng shui and ancestral teachings, the metropolitan backyard silently embodies the inseparable union between the living and the environment; serenely echoes the harmonious relationship between life and time/space. This cause/effect correlation is by far the most reasonable and convincing footnote to the phrase t’ian-jen-he-i, or nature and man as one.
This is the place where I witness the naked form of humanity and assimilate the raw essence of materiality. Through such dialogue, I gradually came to understand the inevitability of life as well as the implication of equality and universality. My exercises are essentially responses to self-inquiry, self-reflection, self-assertion, spontaneous outbursts and nothing more.
In my exercises, I shy away from capturing fragments of people and events. I also shun either documenting incidental histories or constructing fictional realities. Rather, may sun, moon, stars and mountains, water and clouds live ten thousand springs and autumns; may flowers, birds, insects and earth, wood and stones enjoy everlasting happiness! Ironically, while paying homage to eternity, I know only too well that ever-changing events and people in addition to unrelenting time are the only relatively objective eternity. While singing eulogies to nature, I know only too well that probing the roots of knowledge and inquiring sources of life differ greatly from a nature that is green mountains and blue waters.
Such time, such place, such mind and such scene give rise to mixed feelings of joy and gloom, as well as overwhelming helplessness. Surveying this dusty world and gazing at the starry sky, I have no regrets in dedicating myself to render the yin-yang metamorphosis with simple lines, and micro-view the reincarnation of the elements with vibrant colors, all the while anticipating sparks of life from my prime vision.