Karden Chan is perhaps best known for her woodblock print of the old Star Ferry clock tower and Queen’s Pier, both of which were demolished in 2006 for a controversial harbour reclamation project, and both of which can be seen at aco, a new bookstore and art space in Wan Chai that is hosting an ongoing exhibition of her work. Last week, I had a chance to meet Karden and chat about her work. Here’s a portion of what she had to say about her most famous work.
I’ve been woodblocking for a while. So during the Star Ferry incident, I thought about using it few different ways. Originally, I printed this as a pair of envelopes. The clock faces the post office and they said that the post office might be destroyed as well. So I thought it would be a link. Also, the clock tower is a very simple mechanical structure, and woodblocking is very simple in form. It’s difficult to express anti establishment in words but using a simple illustration speaks to people clearly.
I wasn’t actually very attached to the clock tower before the protests. I didn’t know much about the history or anything. But during that time, a lot more details suddenly surfaced from everyone’s research. I found out that they were going to build malls and shit like that and felt that it was very unjust to tear down the clock, which was such a simple and soulful structure. It’s unjust that the establishment had to take this space from the people. It’s unimaginable that they wanted to destroy it. It sort of represent the start of the destruction of Hong Kong. Wedding Card Street happened before that, of course, but the clock really captured that sentiment. It’s very symbolic of destruction.
The slogan ji chi sing tin (like “rest in peace”) is a little politically incorrect because, at the time, the demolition wasn’t settled. But it was kind of meant to be satirical. I actually was not attached to the clock at all, so I went there a couple of times to consider what the most special aspect of the clock might be, and I realized it was the sound. At the time I didn’t expect much from it, but when others saw it they felt like it represented the start of the movement to save the clock tower.
My parent’s generation might have moved here feeling that this place was not theirs. They may have felt that were only staying here without belonging. And then they felt that they might have to leave because of [the handover in] 1997. But for me, because I’m from the 80s, my roots are here.
If you ask me if I like Hong Kong, of course I will say yes. But if you ask me if Hong Kong is a good place to live, definitely not. There’s lots of pressure, I don’t like the politics, the government. But actually Hong Kong is a nice place. My roots are here and things need to change. So I can’t pull myself out of the politics. So sometimes I illustrate something and then all of a sudden I’d be thrust onto the front lines. It just overlaps with each other, art and society.
Tags: Hong Kong