Excavating the Present

Hung Bak

In the most remote corner of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale‘s West Kowloon site, three architects, Kingsley Ng, Syren Johnstone and Daniel Patzold, are digging up Hong Kong’s heritage from virgin land. The concept: it’s several centuries into the future and an old street market has been discovered, leading to an archaeological race to save what remains of it.

Artifacts from the Central street market are scattered around the dig, including an old green market booth the team brought in from Gutzlaff Street. It now sits incongruously in an open plain with the giant glass-and-stall wall of the just-built International Commerce Centre rising incongruously behind it.

“When something like this is in the market, you don’t notice because it’s a shitty old thing, but when you move it here, you start seeing all of the details. There’s a lot of stories here,” says Johnstone. “If we found an old market 350 years in the future, we would want to preserve and protect the ruins. Why not today for the markets that still exist?”

The booth that Johnstone and his partners took from the Central street market was built in the 1970s and covered in relics of a bygone era. Near the top, it is engraved with the Chinese characters Hung Kee Din Hay: Hung’s Electrical Appliances. Johnstone and his partners have given the booth an identity (“Uncle Hung”), a signature (made by applying ink to a rusty bit of metal poking out of the booth) and a Facebook page. In the street market, Uncle Hung has been replaced by a new booth built to the hawkers’ specifications.

Ironically, while setting up the installation in West Kowloon, Johnstone actually began to find real artifacts buried in the soil. Last week, he was hard at work excavating dirt from around a piece of rebar that had mysteriously appeared after a recent string of rainy days. Nearby, a piece of PVC pipe was found embedded in the ground.

“It makes you realize that, even if this is new land that has been reclaimed from the sea, all of this soil came from other parts of Hong Kong,” he says.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Wednesday December 23 2009at 11:12 am , filed under Architecture, Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Heritage and Preservation, Public Space and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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