The rare combination is a traditional paper lantern and a Bolex camera. When I held them together in my hand, a mysterious familiarity between them quickly emerged. They are connected through the apparatus of light and the action of searching… Unfinished Return is an exhibition surrounding imaginary return for several things: Return of a disappeared boy with spiritual power; return to the screen in a movie theater; return of justice consciousness; return of the Hong Kong identity from a non-ghosty / non-pessimistic perspective; return of a grown up child actor to continue a life on screen. Coming back to Hong Kong is like returning to the human realm. I’m here studying the difference in sense of time; recalling old desire; observing the meaning of forever love, family sacrifice, and radical withdrawing. I thought everyone would have a ‘human realm’ once in their life. This island happened to be mine.
Empty Gallery is pleased to present Unfinished Return, New-York based artist Cici Wu’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. Wu’s practice often begins with the sympathetic deconstruction of a film. Reimagining these found narratives as chains of poetically linked objects, Wu creates paracinematic sculptures which juxtapose found and handmade items in a kind of spatial equivalent of cinematic montage.
Consisting of a film and a light installation, Unfinished Return is centered around Wu’s recent research into the charged cultural imaginary surrounding the figure of Yu Man-hon: an autistic boy who crossed the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border into the mainland and disappeared on August 24th, 2000. Occurring shortly after the 1997 handover, this unsolved disappearance case remains a vivid memory for many locals: both as an example of the bureaucratic injustice inflicted on the populace by the Hong Kong-Mainland government and as a symbol of the disappearance of local culture. Wu’s exhibition attempts to challenge the familiar interpretation of Man-Hon as an avatar of death and loss, proposing that we instead imagine him not as a ghost, but as an enlightened celestial being.
The centerpiece of Wu’s exhibition is her new film, Unfinished Return of Yu Man Hon. Shot in Hong Kong and Minneapolis, the film stars Jonathan Chang - a Taiwanese child actor best known for his role in Yi Yi (by Edward Yang, 2000) - in the role of a grown-up Yu Man Hon. Installed in the gallery as a looped projection, the film draws inspiration from the tradition of structuralist/materialist film in its exploration of cinema as an analogy for internal experience. Unfinished Return of Yu Man Hon relates an abstract narrative in which Man-hon returns to the material world, retrieving lost memories of his own disappearance in the process. Wu’s camera floats through the city’s myriad pedestrian spaces, lingering at certain places to which Man-hon felt particular attachment - a swingset or favorite restaurant, a supermarket or bus-depot, a ferry or market. The end result is a film with the porosity and fragility of memory, in which the cascading of the film-strip through the camera becomes a metaphor for the movements of the soul.
Unfinished Return also includes a series of new light sculptures. Appearing in the coda of YMH, these lamps explore the nature of subjectivity as a home for fragmented and repaired objects, while slyly echoing the primacy of light in cinematic experience. Expanding on her long-standing interest in luminescence, Wu obtained a series of old lights from a local film prop warehouse. These retired artifacts had previously graced the backdrops of countless low-budget films and television shows over the decades, hence Wu’s interest in their status as repositories of both memory and affect; clung to not just by dust, but also by the latent desires of past spectators. Wu’s interventions transform these lamps into curiously hybrid objects, at once evocative of Hong Kong’s colonial past while looking towards an undefined future.