Amidst the height of a global pandemic, we welcomed French artist Théodora Barat for her residency with Micromégas: Hong Kong. Despite all the social distancing restrictions, she managed to conduct in-depth research and to create a work in the context of Hong Kong. Knowing that Barat’s work will only show a fraction of her research on Hong Kong’s electrical infrastructure, K11 Art Foundation’s learning programme is bringing you a curated playlist by Barat and an interview with Barat, giving you glimpses of the residency.
With the curated playlist, Barat is asking you to join her on a journey to revisit the memorable first encounters she had with Hong Kong. Barat journaled all the delicate and complex feelings she had when she was exploring the city. This playlist is a mixture of observation and emotions, creating an entry point for us to unlearn and rediscover Hong Kong from another perspective.
I arrived in Hong Kong under very special circumstances. The quarantine was like an airlock where I could start to see Hong Kong without yet experiencing it. I had a framed view, some smells, noises and colours.
I finally finished my quarantine and went out, at 1 am, in the middle of Chinese New Year. I kept floating for some days, then I landed. I have to confess that the first week was hard. I was in a completely new environment with a total loss of my bearings and way too much stimulation.
Starting to work on the project helped me to settle. I knew that I wanted to experience and study Hong Kong under the light of its electric history. My first encounter had to be Lamma Island's electric colossus. What struck me first was the atmosphere on the island: a complete contrast to the city’s turmoil. It seemed to be a peaceful place with luxuriant vegetation but under the constant watch of these three chimneys. Then I realised the size and the central place the power plant had on the island.
Once I was back on Hong Kong Island, I knew I needed to learn more about its electric history. I looked up the Google Map and it showed some unidentified buildings called “substations”. I then went on an expedition. My goal was to visit all the substations on Hong Kong Island (HK Electric) and in Kowloon (China Light Power). It took me some time. I managed to have a general overview of the electrical supply in Hong Kong after a lot of trips to different power plants and substations, I decided to only focus on the substations of HK Electric. I found the architecture of HK Electric’s power stations and substations very interesting, especially their relations to the surrounding buildings. The substations are always covered with coloured tiles, trying to match with the architectural styles of buildings that had disappeared. A sudden 70s-80s style, in an over-contemporary city.
Studying HK Electric history inspired me to explore different directions for my project. Two themes stood out from all the research I have done. I was interested in investigating the past of the power plants and their legacy. Therefore I made trips to the previous sites and locations of these power plants to trace their geographical footsteps. Apart from that, I found it was intriguing that the ambience of these facilities was giving me a sense of cyberpunk. Simultaneously, I had a sudden craving for Michelangelo Antonioni's filmography, as well as of Noir Tech's classics such as Escape from New York, Escape from L.A. (John Carpenter), The Terminator (James Cameron), and Blade Runner (Ridley Scott).
The more time I have spent in this city, the more I have
experienced and discovered. I was able to see how urban planning and science
fiction would be linked in the context of Hong Kong. My work would be a
mutation, reflecting my growing understanding of Hong Kong and evolving
relationship with this city.
The landscape of Hong Kong Island and electricity infrastructure laid the foundation for me to reimagine the city in the context of science fiction. I was starting to think what would happen if Lamma Island, the only electricity supply of Hong Kong Island, ceased to function? It was the question that led me to think about how my film could represent the impossible scene: Hong Kong Island in the darkness. Turning day into night required me to shoot at dawn, the interval of streetlights are off and before rush hour begins. It changed my impression of Hong Kong Island completely. The dimension was even more impressive. Retired from its usual turmoil, the city had nothing human anymore. Only a gigantic but empty shell remained. Thus, these shooting experiences in the early morning gave me not only an overview of what my film could be, but a glimpse of a possible future. A future where everything ceased.
My last view of Hong Kong was the Northeast Lantau where it is packed with Disneyland, Penny's Bay power station and a quarantine centre. Such a perfect summary of a global situation.