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Streaming Premiere ‘A Journal of the Plague Year’ (2013)

Apr 2, 2020
8:00 pm – 11:30 pm

In addition to a live discussion featuring curators Cosmin Costinas and Inti Guerrero as part of our public programme series revisiting the 2013 exhibition A Journal of the Plague Year, we’ll also be streaming for the first time moving image artworks that had appeared in the exhibition, alongside interviews with writers, historians, as well as vignettes from films and TV shows, all contributing to the interwoven narratives the exhibition set out to flesh out. Join us on Thu 2 Apr at 8pm HKT on our YouTube channel to see works by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Yoshua Okón, as well as archival interviews with writer Fionnuala McHugh, who lived through the SARS crisis in Hong Kong in 2003.

Included in the screening:


Vanilla Sky excerpt
Directed by Cameron Crowe


Ming Wong 黃漢明
After Chinatown
Courtesy of the artist

Shot in the Chinatowns of Los Angeles and San Francisco, mixed with footage from Hong Kong, Wong plays two different characters – one being a femme fatale and the other being a detective through a chase sequence. It is not clear who is chasing whom, who is running away from whom.


The Noble House excerpt


Prevention of Infectious Diseases in Hong Kong
Courtesy of Imperial War Museum, London

Footage shows precautions taken to reduce the spread of infectious diseases: medical authorities administer vaccinations, Hong Kong Police round up unauthorised hawkers and check food licenses, and rubbish and rubble are cleared. There is a brief shot of a newspaper seller, headline reads ‘Men who bombed HK now here’, ‘STRONG CHOLERA WARNING’.


Chris Marker
Sunday in Peking excerpt
Distributed by Soda Pictures

The narrator remarks that dust, germs and flies are the enemies of the revolution.


Pest control in communist propaganda, excerpt
excerpt from documentary Waking the Green Tiger
Directed by Gary Marcuse

1950s communist youth and citizens are filmed during their collective task of eradicating animals considered to be pests. These actions, thought to help agriculture and contribute to the general effort of modernizing China, have in fact led to an environmental unbalance.


BBC News: Artist Ai Weiwei makes map of China from milk tins


Fist of Fury (a.k.a. Chinese Connection) excerpt
Directed by Wei Lo


Nguyen Tan Hoang
Look, I’m Azn!
Courtesy of the artist

The artist pieces together headless torsos of Asian gay dating app users (GAMs), as well as user names that contain references to their race. In environments deemed open and accessible, affording new sexual freedoms, GAMs often encounter racist stereotyping and exclusion.


Yin-Ju Chen and James T. Hong  陳瀅如、洪子健
Total Mobilization
Courtesy of the artists

Mexican immigrants have sometimes been portrayed as ants in US media.


James T. Hong 洪子健
Taipei 101: A Travelogue of Symptoms
Courtesy of the artist


Len Lye
Courtesy of the Len Lye Foundation. Digital version made available by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

The film imagines the beginnings of life on earth. Single-cell creatures evolve into more complex forms of life. Evolution leads to conflict, and two species fight for supremacy. The title is a Samoan word which suggests that things go full circle. In this film Lye based his style of animation partly on the ancient Aboriginal art of Australia. ‘Tusalava’ is unique as a film example of what art critics describe as “modernist primitivism”.


Fionnuala McHugh
Video Interview produced by Para Site

Having lived for 20 years in the city, Fionnuala McHugh has excelled as a Hong Kong journalist. She is currently a contributor for South China Morning Post. In this piece she offers both an insightful and very intimate perspective on the plague year of 2003.


Mathias Woo & Edward Lam / Zuni Icosahedron
The Ghost of the Mask
Fragment of video recording from a theater piece

Government inaction, bureaucracy and misinformation at times of the SARS epidemic was the subject of ‘The Phantom of the SAR Mask’, a political theater piece by Zuni Icosahedron that went on stage in the year of the SARS crisis in Hong Kong.

East Wing West Wing – 2046 CE Bye Bye Shouson Theatre, Hong Kong Arts Centre 17-26 / 4 / 2003 Presented & Produced by Zuni Icosahedron Co-directors and Scriptwriters: Mathias Woo, Edward Lam


Angels in America excerpt
Directed by Mike Nichols

“A sleeping Prior is awakened by a man dressed as a 13th-century British squire. After the initial shock, the man tells him that his name is also Prior Walter—he is an ancestor, the fifth to carry the name (the modern Prior corrects him, telling him that he is the thirty-fourth). The man, whom the play designates as Prior I, tells him that he, too, died in a plague even worse than AIDS, the Black Death of the 1200s. Then a second ghost-ancestor appears—Prior II, an elegant Londoner, who died in the plague outbreak of the 1660s. The two ghosts tell Prior they have been sent to prepare the way for the unseen messenger. They chant a mysterious chorus in Hebrew and English, similar to the voice’s repeated refrain.”


Ma Liuming 馬六明
Fen Ma + Liuming’s Lunch
Courtesy of the artist

Ma’s naked androgynous body behind a makeshift stove boiling a fish that was to be eaten by the public. The uncanny spectacle of his naked figure was accentuated by a long plastic tube with one end attached to his penis and the other to his mouth. As if offering himself to be devoured, he connected the sexual with the digestive, suggesting an act of self-fellatio. As in many of his works, beauty and desire meet the grotesque in Lunch. A certain medical dimension also layers the performance, made evident by the presence of a tube and enforced by the artist’s heavy inhalation and exhalation that he recorded and used later for a video version of the work. It seems to ask, “Was this beautiful body sick?” Ma performed as his alternate female persona Fen-Ma Liuming. His appearance expressed the freedom felt in the bohemian commune of Beijing’s East Village in the 1990’s, where artists could carry out their lives as ‘outlaws’ To some extent, their art defied the stagnation of civilian bureaucratized life. Shortly after the performance, Ma was arrested for pornography and imprisoned for two months. His criminalization followed the dismantling of the East Village.


Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Morakot (Emerald)
Courtesy of the artist

Three ghostly voices tell each other life stories, recount dreams, hometown memories, regrets and love poems in an abandoned Bangkok hotel that used to host Cambodian refugees fleeing the Vietnamese invasion in the late 1970s and 1980s. Hotel Morakot has gone bankrupt during the Asian economic crisis that started with the depreciation of the Thai baht on 2 July 1997.


Moe Satt
F n’ F (Face & Fingers)
Courtesy of the artist

Some of these face-hand gestures, like the ones labeled “Closed Society” and “Gun,” embody a reminiscence of fear and repression in Myanmar. However, most of the meanings of these poses are rather subjective, related to feelings that Moe Satt associates with his personal memories. It is almost a celebratory choreography, which could be understood as a reaction against the dehumanization of the individual and the collective in the former authoritarian regime. It is also difficult to ignore the Buddhist iconography in the performance: the shaved head, the reference-rich and ritual-like aspect of his choreography and presence. Like the majority of Burmese men, in a nation that revolves around two pillars — the military and the temple, the artist was at one point in his life a monk.


Yoshua Okón
Courtesy of the artist

Shot in a parking lot of a Home Depot in LA, a groups of unarmed men appears miming weapons; riding supermarket carts and trolleys, or else crawling like commandos on the asphalt. The actor are illegal immigrants and former combatants from the war in Guatemala who, displaced after the war, left their country to find informal work in the United States. In the past decade Central American immigrants are regularly seen at parking lots of Home Depot centers across Los Angeles.


Lee Kit 李傑
Leslie fuck you
Courtesy of the artist


Leslie Cheung 張國榮
Farewell My Concubine excerpt
Directed by Chen Kaige

“Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing (1956 – 2003, Hong Kong) is a founding father of Cantopop music and an outstanding film and television actor. In 2010, CNN made him the third “Most Iconic Musicians of All Time” (after Michael Jackson and The Beatles). Gor Gor (“Big Brother” in Cantonese – as Leslie has been known) rose as a teen idol and pop icon in the 1980s, receiving numerous music awards. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, he became one of the few pan-Asian superstars filling concert venues all over the region. Cheung entered the international cinema arena through the lens of Wong Kar-wai by playing a socially disobedient casanova in Days of Being Wild (1994) and as one of the two gay lovers in Happy Together (1997). However, it was his debut as a cross dresser in the role of the concubine in Farewell My Concubine (1993) that celebrated his versatility and the androgynous personas he could embody on and off screen. Cheung committed suicide at the height of the SARS crisis by jumping off the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, in Central Hong Kong. His shocking death at the darkest hour of the darkest times in recent memory played its part in the mobilisation of Hongkongers, who turned out in huge numbers for his funeral, ignoring the health warnings in effect at the time.” (A Journal of the Plague Year, 2013)


Kim Kyung-man
Courtesy of the artist

This collage of extreme anti-communist propaganda from South Korea exposes the collective fear of its northern counterpart. In voice-over we hear the narrator from an educational government film, while the beeps punctuating the sections create a sense of urgency and evoke associations with censorship. What would South Korea be, wonders filmmaker Kyung-man Kim, without its hatred for its neighbors? He demonstrates the potency of hate propaganda through the story of Seungbok Lee as told in official propaganda films, news reports, and archive footage from the 1960s to the 1980s. This 10-year-old boy was supposedly killed in the late 1960s by North Korean soldiers because he was anti-communist. In a series of highly improbable scenes, the South Korean government seizes upon this event to unleash an unprecedented campaign that feeds glorification of this “martyr” and hatred of North Korea. In a surreal wave of mass hysteria, statues of the child appear, museums and scale models are erected, and schools and TV programs are dominated by the words of Seungbok Lee. A fascinating overview of the influence of propaganda and media on political perceptions.


James T. Hong 洪子健
A Chinaman’s Chance (Dokdo and Senkaku)
Courtesy of the artist

In A Chinaman’s Chance (Dokdo and Senkaku), the artist travels to the contested islands of Dokdo/Takeshima and Diaoyu/Senkaku, where he considers the “rising” geopolitical status of “Asia” and the lingering domination of the West. As disputed territories, these two sites represent mirrored poles of extreme nationalism in East Asia – Dokdo being controlled by South Korea but claimed by Japan, and Senkaku being controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan. Just as these territorial disputes show no signs of a resolution that would satisfy all involved parties, the artist contemplates his own disputed identity as an “Asian American” wedged between East and West, and the enduring effects of racism, nationalism, and pride.