Wobik Wong is one of the Hong Kong based artists who has been commissioned by Open Eye Gallery to create new work for LOOK/17.
Her practice spans several decades and her work is held in collections in both Hong Kong at the UK. I met Wobik part way through her research visit to Liverpool back in February. We downloaded images she had been taking around the city and together we scrolled through looking at them as she talked to me about the similarities she notes between Hong Kong and Liverpool, the aesthetics of disappearing and being a stranger in a city. I asked her what her eye was first drawn to when she arrived in Liverpool.
“I found some of the old abandoned houses, or not so abandoned but with not many people in, has maybe abandoned that some plants growing up on top. I found that a lot of the buildings, probably similar to in Hong Kong years ago, the kind of style is very similar.
Well in fact, there are a number of old historical kind of buildings in Hong Kong, with the UK Victorian style, so when I come to Liverpool I got the feeling to see buildings that are similar – because you know Hong Kong has been occupied by British government? So they adopted the same kind of building style. This Georgian style – these buildings were mostly built in the mid 1930s, but of course abandoned in the 1970s or 80s. And now they’re waiting for the land developer to occupy it and change it to something else.”
As a photographer, Wong has been drawn to dilapidated old buildings, faded grandeur and the politics of being inside or outside of them. She also show photographs from past series that show her interest in recreating the past, in fabrication and reality, which is something that she is drawn to in Liverpool.
She walks, taking what she calls ‘tourist’ or ‘maybe garbage’ photographs, which seen together (you can view previous series on her website), accumulate into a particular vision of places on the verge of disappearing or being reconstructed, of spaces she has access to or which would require invitation to enter.
Wobik speaks about how she had been denied access to photograph buildings in Hong Kong, and when she chose the Port of Liverpool as a subject, had to request special access to take in a tripod, which she was still waiting to back hear on when we spoke – and crucial to how the resulting work would develop.
“So when I came here, I took a lot of these photographs, like a tourist – I had something special to look at. And also, Sarah (Director, Open Eye Gallery) took me to the Cunard and also to the Port of Liverpool, and I really loved those interiors, especially the Port of Liverpool. I wanted to go back again and again to take pictures, it is so spectacular.”
Wobik speaks a lot about disappearance, walking in cities and historical buildings being lost or abandoned. The sheer quantity of photographs that she has taken in Liverpool that relate to the architectural changes she has witnessed in Hong Kong are surprising. I ask her what it is about the city that compels her to wander and take photographs.
“Well, because I studied in the US for 6 years, when I went back to Hong Kong in the early 80s, I felt very strange about it and every day I went out with my camera and walked along the street and took photographs. But eventually I felt so many of the familiar buildings were gone during the 6 years, so I wasn’t kind of upset, or nostalgic, but I just want to keep photographing some of the buildings that are on the verge of disappearing. I don’t know what you call it…the aesthetics of disappearing. (Akbar Abbas). I gradually feel that kind of way of the kind of disappearing, some of the buildings, they are not related to memories of places but memories of people.”
You can see the finished work that was being developed at the time of this interview at Open Eye Gallery as part of Culture Shifts: Global, 7th April – 14th May 2017
Wong Wo Bik is an active photographer and mixed-media artist, curator, art educator and researcher. She was awarded Hong Kong Women Excellence in the Six Arts (Visual Arts) by Hong Kong Federation of Women in 2013 and received the Certificate of Commendation from the Secretary of Home Affairs, Hong Kong for the promotion of art in 2010. Wong is one of the founding members of Hong Kong International PhotoFestival and has been a Museum Honorary Advisor to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department since 1996. She was the fellowship recipient of Asian Cultural Council in 1993 and Institute of International Education in 1995. Her solo publications include: Color & Consent, by Polaroid Far East Corporation (1983), Hong Kong/China Photographers – Volume Four – Wong Wo Bik, by AsiaOne Publishing Co. Ltd (2009). She has participated in more than 100 solo and group exhibitions locally and internationally. Her works are collected by The Archive of Modern Conflict (UK); Guangdong Museum of Art (China) and Hong Kong Heritage Museum. She currently lives and works in Hong Kong.
Interview by Anna Taylor
Images courtesy Wong Wo Bik