Published: 10:52, March 17, 2023 | Updated: 10:52, March 17, 2023
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Garden of earthly delights
By Madeleine Fitzpatrick

Of Being There... is ceramicist Sara Tse’s tribute to the rich history of Wyndham Street. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Currently showing at Wyndham Social, Of Being There… is ceramic artist Sara Tse Suk-ting’s deeply personal meditation on the rich history of Wyndham Street, manifest in porcelain objects, installations, sculptures, drawings and videos created by the artist since 2009.

Curator David Chan Ho-yeung describes the site-specific exhibition as immersive, and the site-specific exhibition does feel like stepping into another world. The show was partly inspired by Tse’s discovery, as she trawled through archives of local history, that an important botanical garden once stood in the area. To re-create what it may have been like, decals of photos taken on a hike around the Peak have been applied to the floor-to-ceiling windows on one side of the gallery space, inviting bright sunlight to filter through the greens and browns of the trees.

Situated in the lobby of the building that was formerly LKF Tower — now rebranded as 33 Wyndham Street — Wyndham Social is a self-described “contemporary platform for collective exchanges”. Art exhibitions held since the space opened last summer have included Post-Impressionist views of Hong Kong, and a Goldfish Market-inspired collection of hand-embroidered plastic bags.

A visitor enjoys bird and animal illustrations. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Of Being There… is certainly Wyndham Social’s most eclectic offering to date. As the curator notes, Tse’s artworks “shed light on issues as diverse as nature, personal memories, natural history, geography, cartography, family, domesticity and displacement”. It’s a show whose disparate fragments invite reflection: on the history of Wyndham Street as well as the viewer’s own experiences of Hong Kong’s urban and natural landscapes.

On the side opposite the simulated subtropical forest — with the hustle and bustle of Wyndham Street discernible yet somehow kept at bay by more art on the windows — there is a small living room of sorts, with chairs and an old television set, playing videos. In the voiceover the artist is heard sharing memories of her primary school in Kwai Chung, now facing demolition.

Porcelain casts made from leaves collected on a pilgrimage back to the school are displayed on the wall. Among several video clips playing on a separate screen — including one of the artist sharing childhood memories with her own children — is a sequence in which a leaf drifts slowly to the ground, only to shatter on impact. It’s made of porcelain!

Vintage illustrations of flowers, accompanied by paper flowers created by the artist and participants in a public workshop, form the centerpiece of the exhibition. The piece is a homage to Hong Kong’s erstwhile Green Bank, a 19th-century botanical garden that served as a sanctuary for exotic plants. Later, some of these imported species found their way to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, and multiplied across Hong Kong.

Vintage illustrations displayed with paper flowers created during a workshop led by Tse. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

At the far end of the lobby, reproductions of bird and animal illustrations depict both native species as well as some introduced to Hong Kong in the 19th century. They have since become naturalized. Visitors can press a button under each illustration to hear the call of the bird or animal in question.

The exhibition’s Chinese title —  Sheng, Cun, Zai — conveys the idea of living with the dual intention of preserving the past while being mindful of the present. Tse credits Chan with applying this “philosophical perspective”, which she says, “creates critical distance for me to look at my own works”. 

With Chan’s help, a through line in Tse’s oeuvre since 1999 emerged. The artist summarizes it as: “how to regenerate and preserve the disappearing and soon-to-be-disappeared, and re-present the existence of this moment”.

“For Tse, history does not only point to the past,” affirms the curator. “History is something living: a constant renewal of the present.”

If you go

Of Being There…

Venue: Wyndham Social, G/F, 33 Wyndham Street, Central

Dates: Through March 27