Go Hung, Sharu Sikdar, Wong Chun Kit Louis

2 July –  20 August 2022

Curator: Charmaine Tam

G/F, 197 Hollywood Road, Hong Kong


Charmaine Tam

“Method of this project: literary montage. I needn’t say anything. Merely show […] But the rags, the refuse – these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.”

Quote from Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project


The waste we discard and shut out from our minds lingers and haunts us. Walter Benjamin urges us to look seriously at what we have disposed of and the art of disposal itself. A ragpicker is a materialist historian who examines what is regarded as ‘waste’ in the present to piece together the history of a collective cultural identity. What we have abandoned still shapes us without us realising, much like how waste haunts us even after its disposal. In fact, the psychological phenomenon that occurs during the act of disposal draws a parallel with psychological trauma. When we throw something away, it ceases to exist in our minds, and yet it is physically still there, rotting away. Similarly, some may treat psychological trauma by blocking the traumatic memories, by ‘disposing’ of them, and yet they are still there in their minds festering, an ‘invisible’ menace. Artists perform as ragpickers of their own waste, handling memories, relationships, and emotions that they have not come to terms with. Waste thus also allows artists to construct their personal histories. This exhibition presents three ragpickers in Sharu Sikdar, Go Hung, and Wong Chun Kit Louis.

Sharu Sikdar constructs her own personal history through examining her waste in Growing Myself and I Fear My Anger Will Eat Me Alive. In Growing Myself, Sikdar is fascinated by the way tree rings visually document a tree’s well-being. The wider the tree rings, the healthier the tree was. The denser the tree rings, the more stress the tree has experienced. Sikdar set out to mirror herself as tree rings, documenting her mental state by sewing her hair into rings. She grew her hair, collected, and sewed them every day over 6 months. Apart from variations in ring density which reflected her mental stress, the hair varied in quality, thus also documenting her physical state over time. Sikdar became a ragpicker, piecing together parts of herself from her human waste to compose a self-portrait. With I Fear My Anger Will Eat Me Alive, Sikdar deals with the emotional ‘waste’ that is anger. Living in a society where expressing anger is frowned upon, anger is seen as an emotional ‘waste’ that must be suppressed and disposed of. Just as waste still exists and rots after disposal, emotional ‘waste’ festers affecting our minds. Sikdar interprets anger as invasive fungus growing on trees. The fungus consuming nutrients from the inside of the tree is similar to how repressed anger affects our mental health if not dealt with properly. Using Favolaschia Calocera, an orange pore invasive tree fungus as reference, Sikdar hand embroiders the fungus in repetition covering a discarded tree trunk. Through this process of channelling emotional ‘waste’, Sikdar is able to come to terms with herself.

Go Hung’s practice embodies Benjamin’s ragpicker, as he collects waste materials from the streets and transforms them into sculptures that speak to current societal problems in Hong Kong. Nest. Test. City. was originally a project from 2019 produced for an artist residency in Tsim Sha Tsui. As Go walked daily picking up discarded plastic straps used to fasten cardboard boxes that held goods such as interior design materials and fruits, he started reflecting on the luxury of using a space in one of the most expensive areas in Hong Kong rent free. Hong Kong has been ranked as the least affordable housing market worldwide for more than a decade with an estimation of 280,000 people living in subdivided flats or cage homes. Wanting to highlight the housing crisis, Go decided to adopt the idea of how birds build their nests from found material in nature and built nests from the plastic straps he collected over the residency. The new works, Gloomy Side Down, commissioned for this exhibition are an extension of this project where Go imagines birds unable to build their nests to house their family despite looking for materials 50 hours per week resulting in the tragedy of dropped eggs. Go Hung threw actual eggs in order to test and model his woven plastic strap eggs after the splatter and broken shells. These eggs thus embody the situation of people excluded from obtaining a house of their own.

Whilst Sharu Sikdar explores emotional ‘waste’ and Go Hung works with literal waste, Wong Chun Kit Louis becomes a ragpicker of words and meanings that have been abandoned over time in Selfish Dictionary. Selfish Dictionary is an installation split into three parts that correspond to the past, present, and future where words have been deserted in some way: The Great Vessel Exempt from Forming, □, and 🔥🔥🔥. All three are accompanied by text of Wong’s own experience of the words in question. The Great Vessel Exempt from Forming explores the etymology of the Chinese phrase Daqimiancheng 大器免成 (great talent is exempted from forming). Its original meaning stemming from Taoism has been abandoned by society and morphed into Daqimiancheng 大器晚成 (great talent matures slowly) as Confucianism is adopted as the national standard after the Warring States Period (475 – 221). Wong explores this change in the form of two lung models housed in a bell jar that emits sounds of a child crying and an adult sighing. The child represents the vessel in its natural state while the adult represents the ‘matured’ vessel, so that there is a dialogue between Confucianism and the abandoned Taoism within the same space. □ represents both the Chinese character for mouth and the blank character used in place of censored words. In Wong’s view, the blank character is not actually empty, but contains the words that have been discarded underneath the white space. To represent this, Wong creates a physical □ covering transparent surface with white paint, separating the exhibition space with the blank character to emphasise the existence of space that it hides. 🔥🔥🔥 explores the phenomenon of ‘word aphasia’ where it has become popular online to respond with fire emojis instead of expressing their own thoughts in words. Words have been discarded in favour of emojis. Wong proposes a future where emoji replaces existing scripts, painting the fire emoji on a guiding grid normally used for practicing writing Chinese characters. It is accompanied by a video showing the metaphors of fire over the ages. Through becoming a ragpicker of words, Wong explores the disjunction between language and society, and wonders whether it is civilisation that has progressed too quickly, or words that have regressed.