Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Between Research and Reality

Posted by Zach Morris
[Originally published on]

Quarry Bay in 1925, with Taikoo Sugar Refinery and Taikoo Dockyard in the middle

As Tom mentioned in his last post, the greatest challenge for us in creating this new site-specific work was that the site was in Hong Kong while we were in New York. Through research, historical accounts, online pictures, and video we were able to get brief glimpses, whiffs, and hints of the reality of Hong Kong and our site. However, we knew that no amount of research could compare to actually being in Hong Kong, experiencing the city's vibe, pulse, and energy. And our investigations could prepare us only so much for what we would actually find on Tong Chong Street.

From our research we were particularly interested in this site's history. Tong Chong Street is located on the eastern part of Hong Kong Island, in a commercial complex called Taikoo Place in Swire Island East. This entire area is managed by Swire Properties, an arm of Swire, who's parent company, John Swire & Sons is headquartered in London. This family of companies began its relationship with this area in 1881. At that time, the site was purchased, and soon became the site for the Taikoo Sugar Refinery. Shortly thereafter, on land adjacent to the sugar refinery, the Taikoo Dockyards were constructed. This area was also the site for a number of the company's other manufacturing/commercial endeavours including a Coca-Cola bottling franchise. Only recently did this area begin it's transformation into its current manifestation as a bustling residential and commercial center.

Certification of apprenticeship of lathe turning at Taikoo Dockyard, August 1934

Certification of apprenticeship of lathe turning at TaiKoo Dockyard, August 1934
As it exists today, Tong Chong Street has an urban topography that is similar to other commercial hubs around the world, with its familiar coffee shops, transnational corporations, public art, and gathering spaces. It's a good fit for us as New Yorkers because, although we are strangers coming into this new space, we are strangers from a city that parallels Hong Kong in a number of ways. Sharing a similar commercially-driven history, New York and Hong Kong are both inherently dynamic, innovative cities in a perpetual state of re-invention. As such, the streets and landscapes of both cities have undergone numerous changes and developments--history built upon history. It is perennially interesting to us as artists to dig down through those different layers, unearth each one, and have them manifest in the space as it exists now.
An old map of Taikoo Dockyard
An old map of TaiKoo Dockyard
Vintage TaiKoo sugar advertisements
So then, this became our point of entry for creating our piece. Knowing some of the site's past, but understandingthat we could not possibly know enough, really, about the site until we were there. At its core, the work became about how we, a group of outsiders arrive in a new, unfamiliar space. Moreover, we were aware that this space itself was NOT unfamiliar to it's day-to-day inhabitants. It would be us, as outsiders, that would establish a dynamic tension, pose a dramatic question, scramble the status-quo.

From these ideas, we began to explore the what it meant to be strangers sharing an urban space. We began to explore the universal urban phenomenon that happens in every city when people who don't know each other share the same routine and knowledge of the patterns of a shared urban landscape. These same patterns of intimate space sharing manifest in almost every aspect of public urban life regardless of geography... waiting to cross the street... waiting for public transportation.
In it's own way then, these cities that are so dependent on hustle and bustle, that are driven by dynamic change, commerce and innovation, prompt their citizens to do strange collective dances of waiting and rushing, of squeezing together and then flying apart. The movement material that we developed in New York had the feel of patient, urban waiting followed by flurries of activity.
In addition to looking at notions of strangers sharing urban space, we also wished to recall the shared, mercantile/industrial histories of both Hong Kong and New York. Finally, we were particularly interested in the site's previous incarnation as a sugar refinery, and began to build material that dealt with the rituals surrounding, and the gestures associated with consuming sugar.
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Strangers2.jpg
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Strangers1.jpgAs such, we chose to design our costumes (which were created by the fabulous Karen Young) to evoke an era at the height of the western mercantile/trading boom--towards the end of the industrial revolution--recalling both merchants and manufacturers. Designed in sugary blues, whites, and leathery browns, the garments are also decidedly contemporary--evoking an edgy, urban feel and couture that reflects both New York and Hong Kong as contemporary centers of culture, creativity, and innovation in addition to commercial centers.

Moreover, these bizarre anachronistic costumes serve to set us apart from the day-to-day denizens of the site. All in all, we came to Hong Kong embracing how little we knew, drawing from what similarities we could find from our own cultural framework and eager to slowly familiarize within this new city and site.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tom Pearson said:
Thanks, Laurie. We learned so much from performing this project, even beyond what the research prepared us for or our rehearsal time on site taught us... the subtle ways in which audience crowds move differently in different cultures... and the cameras! It was truly a unique experience and like nothing else we've encountered in our work before. Stay tuned for our next post and we'll explain more about that. I'm sure Marissa will have much to share with you too. Happy Holidays! -Tom

Added: December 10, 2007 8:31 AM | Permalink

Laurie Nielsen said:
Hi Zach, Tom, Marissa, and the rest of the company,

I read with interest your process involved with creating site specific dance. Reading about the history if the site, the similarities between the two cities, and common experiences regardless of the culture or location bring the process alive.
Have a fabulous time presenting this piece to Hong Kong. I can't wait to hear more about it!


Added: December 6, 2007 3:21 PM | Permalink

Keith Odums said:
Sir Zach, Sir Thomas, and Dame Jennine,

I am proud to know Thomas and Zach, Jennine I wish to meet you someday. The work and love of your craft is present. Each clip feature on your site reflects the inner growth, strength, shortcomings, and intuition present in your collective careers, as well as, symbolic of the viewers same characteristics. I know the day will come, when I will be present "live" in your audience to witness the "spirit and oneness of the universe" traversing before my eyes!!!!!!

I love you all and you are all beautiful
May you continue to be guided on your glorious journey!!!!

Your friend from afar,


Added: November 29, 2007 12:56 PM | Permalink