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Jan 10 2018

Universal Myths: Kingsley Ng’s After The Deluge

by Brady Ng

KINGSLEY NG, After the Deluge, 2018, site specific installation and soundwalk. Photo by Esther Chan for ArtAsiaPacific.

Some myths are universal. There are stories of a Great Flood told by cultures on every populated continent, often tying a deluge to the destruction of an existing civilization and the birth of a new one. Water (or its lack thereof) still shapes our lands now, as part of phenomena tied to climate change. Portions of nations are already submerged under rising tides, from Bangladesh in South Asia to the Pacific island states, displacing populations that have been settled near the coastlines for generations. 

Tapping into the legend of Yu the Great (c. 2200–2101 BCE), a ruler in ancient China who is known to have controlled the Yellow River’s overwhelming surges in the state’s heartland, Hong Kong artist Kingsley Ng created an installation at a unique site in the port city. 

After the Deluge (2018) was set up in an underground flood water storage facility that is the size of 40 Olympic swimming pools. The massive tank was built to alleviate the torrential rains that would hit Hong Kong during typhoon seasons; for some time, as the city’s population grew and its Mong Kok district became increasingly dense and urbanized, rainwater couldn’t be channeled fast enough in the summer months, resulting in waist-deep floods on many streets. The situation was so dire that, in the late 1990s, Hongkongers referred to Nathan Road, a key artery that zips across the Kowloon peninsula, as Nathan River. The solution was to build a bunker that is seven-and-a-half meters tall to store the rainwater and slowly siphon its contents into the harbor. The infrastructural addition was a success, solving a recurring problem that plagued Kowloon every year. Similar storage facilities were later built in other parts of Hong Kong.

The entrance to the Tai Hang Tung Stormwater Storage Tank, where KINGSLEY NG’s After the Deluge, 2018, was anchored. Photo by Esther Chan for ArtAsiaPacific.

Though the manmade cavern has been used around 160 times since its construction in 2004, it is dormant for much of the year, and its existence isn’t well known. What better place is there to make art about water, cities and people?

The experience designed by Ng begins with the distribution of reflective harnesses—in case any stragglers wander off into the dark—and headphones, which deliver ambient tones and a score composed by Angus Lee for a sound walk that takes participants to the entrance of the underground space. At a nondescript, gray walkway that slopes down below street level, we pick up hardhats, and then step into the dark.

Underground, lines of loose poetry are projected onto the walls, driving the project’s theme forward (the English translation is by Stephanie Cheung):

From the South of Nam Shan

Via Tai Hang Tung East

To Prince Edward Road West

A boundless river on Boundary Street

The Chinese title of After the Deluge, “After Yu the Great,” is wordplay, as its Cantonese pronunciation sounds like “after the rain.” Subtlety is one of Ng’s trademarks, and the artist has repeatedly used light, sound and water in his community-driven projects. He entices participants to, for brief moments, suspend their personal realities, and, as two lines of projected poetry indicate:

At the bend of the weir

It takes a leap 

“Where the torrents bend / Leap in,” an excerpt from the poetry projected on the walls as part of KINGSLEY NG’s After the Deluge, 2018. Photo by Esther Chan for ArtAsiaPacific.

Before a few benches, sheets of white cloth are raised and lowered, blown by fans. Blue light is projected from a distance toward viewers, tinting the fabric with the color of the open sea. This continues until the blue shifts to white, and back to blue again, not unlike the shades that one might see when diving into the ocean, surfacing, and going back down after filling both lungs with new air. Lee’s ambient score offered a fluid soundscape to accompany Ng’s execution; instead of rainwater, sound filled the hall, reverberating in the deep shadows that obscured the space’s limits.

Ng is interested in “urban acupuncture,” a term coined by Brazilian politician and urban planner Jamie Lerner that describes the notion of minimal intervention achieving wide-ranging impact for the betterment of a city’s community. By staging After the Deluge, the artist provides a fresh treatment for a hidden locale, and he told me that one of the aims is to activate an “urban sanctuary” in Hong Kong. In that respect, Ng’s project was a success, with members of the public signing up to see not only his installation, but also to check out a key piece of the city’s essential systems.

Brady Ng is the reviews editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

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