Kowloon Walled City. Don’t bother bracing yourself for the apocalypse, its already come and gone.

Mississippi Van Damn and Curly-Haired friend walk through Kowloon Walled City in the 1988 movie 'Bloodsport'.

I’ve always strangely been compelled by the idea of an impending apocalypse. My favourite films are any that contain an alternate world of the near or distant future, where water is the new currency, and life has barely recovered after a some sort of made-made natural disaster.  A strong focus on Climate Change in recent years has only contributed to escalating fears that humanity has shifted the earth’s balance with over-industrialisation the past hundred years. Indeed, the reality of a Zombie apocalypse hangs over us with mutations of viral strains in the face of the ever degenerative effects of penicillin. A recent article in Zombie Zone News showed the discovery of the plausability of a shut-down of areas of the brain and taken over by parasites such as the Leucochloridium paradoxum. Thus we are faced with plenty of evidence that the end is nigh. Then there is the 2012 thing. And the superstorms we’ve seen recently that are growing in frequency all over the world. Its only a matter of time that we’ll all be scrabbling for the nearest pair of hoop earrings and electric guitar to assume the position of Aunty Entity. That is, if we indeed remain “One of the Living”.

Some of us, it seems have already lived that of the perfect set for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film. In the same tradition of those that wanted to throw themselves under a truck upon seeing James Cameron’s Pandora in Avatar, at the idea of never being able to go/live/visit there, Kowloon Walled City immediately had the same impression on me. KWC was approximately 200 by 150 metres of condensed, lawless living. It began as a military training fortress in the 17th century and was granted one of the only districts that evaded British authority during the 99 year lease of Hong Kong. Its autonomy quickly became a behavioural sink, its rule passed to Hong Kong soldiers, and then to the Hong Kong mafia (otherwise known as the Triads in the 20th century). The attraction to KWC was to that of the vagabond, the rogue, the homeless, the criminal and the social deviants of mid-late 20th century Hong Kong. The economic pressures of Hong Kong in the 1970’s, through escalating property prices created an internal growth of requirements for low rent. KWC acknowledged no such term as critical mass and its infrastructure grew to approximately 14 stories high free of any building regulations and much it built by Hong Kong’s notoriously corner-cutting stack.

The documentary shows Kowloon Walled City as a living breathing (Aunty) entity. Its six main public water sources were tapped taps intertwined amongst the precarious architecture, the water gushing through the hoses like blood coursing through the veins of some sort of living beast. The 14 stories were so tightly built that hardly any light nor window was factored in, a true architectural Horror Vacui. The walls were constantly wet and seeping from the rain, its only drainage the hidden labryinth of streets on the ground level which doubled as an open sewer.

Businesses were set up in the dank tiny spaces and people worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week in poor conditions, and without any sort of health and safety regulation in place. Kindergartens, restaurants, and small factories ran in the Walled city and sustained their fractured economy for generations. In 1987 Hong Kong announced the demolition of KWC, it having decided (despite its lack of authority over the land) that it had indeed reached critical mass at a population of 50,000 tenants.

The beauty of Kowloon Walled City was its thriving perseverance of life in situations of severe depravity. Its autonomous, non-governed system proved that a society is able to sustain albeit in poor conditions.

Kowloon Walled City has been long since destroyed and remains in the memories of the ageing residents who once lived there. I tried to contact the director of the documentary “In Search of the Dragon’s Tale” on Kowloon Walled City in 1997. I have since discovered the footage was destroyed by the Chinese Communist Party and Hermann Lau has not yet contacted me at the time of this writing.

I have found some footage on YouTube, which is a 4 part german documentary with English subs. It can be viewed on my VodPod Feed in the left column.

This blog entry is merely an introduction to the research I plan to undertake on Kowloon Walled City. For now, I fear I may have found my impetus to join Second Life and move into Linden Lab’s cyber-version of KWC. I wonder if they match the politics of the real Walled City? Stay tuned.

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Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble In Little China, 2010

Sculptural Installation

The Binary Equivalent of the digits, 101010 is 42.

The number 42 is pan-culturally significant in aspects of religion; the Judaist word of God contains 42 letters. Ancient Egypt worshipped 42 Deities. In modern technology, the 42nd letter in the Ascii typeset is the asterix (*) and is progamatically defined as “anything and everything”.

In 1966 mathematician Paul Cooper theorized that if one were to travel between any two points on earth, the gravitational pull would paralyse the travel time to 42.2 minutes, regardless of its distance.

Appointing the relevancy and intention of speedily closing the time spent in commuting space we can address the translation of one culture through another. As Europe was fed her empire, the closed Orient kept aggressively quiet.  The mystical continent of Cathay forbade foreign charter and the traded communicative device became its Ornament. As Europe politically and geographically enforced its empirical policy around the globe, aesthetic styles and decorative Ornament became a document to [the popular misconceptions of] a utopian and mysterious Cathay. European Craft applied its basis primarily from literature and the translations dictated by Spanish explorer Marco Polo. In the 17th Century, the word Chinoiserie fell on everybody’s lips.

The pictorial fantasies of Jean Baptiste-Pillement  and Francois Boucher were examples of Chinois wonderment, always suggesting a perfect balance of fine and delicate architectural landscapes harmoniously married with lush, rich foliage. The utopian Cathay landscapes were weightless, floating islands of cross-sectioned earth, often in fusion with a European flourish of whipped gold. The toile vignettes represented a Shangri-La lifestyle and Cathay suggested one of agricultural virility/fertility and social and political freedom.  As a consequence of overlapping misinformation, and much to the dismay of the Europeans, the geographical location of Cathay remained solely in the minds of the artisans and craftsmen who created it.

The work explores the anthropological [mis]conceptions between cultures ; how the fantasies and imaginations of the public consciousness are often passively shaped by the aesthetic sprawl of the Ornament, and how the wide-spread impact of pre-modern kitsch has provided utopian concepts that have echoed over generations.

LUKEWARM 2010.

The Sliding Glass Door

Spigel (1992) correlates the strong ties between the population shift to the mass-produced suburb in the early 1950s and the introduction of Television; the new electrical space. She identifies the return to family values in a post WWII climate – where ideas of the American future were limitless & modernism and technology was increasing at a faster pace. The United States appeared to embrace a higher sense of community values – the suburbs were architecturally drawn to fuse indoor space and outdoor space by introducing larger concepts of glass interwoven with housing. The ‘Sliding Door’ and the ‘wall window’ were two architectural features that blurred the lines between private space and public space.

The social climate of the 1950’s held the ideal that due to a shortage of housing in the overcrowding cities, the suburban way of life was a cleaner, more traditional and domestic lifestyle where families could shelter their nests from the sinful debauchery of the cities populated by the social pollutants of the Coloured, the Homosexual, the Homeless and the Unmarried.

A short education video from the 50’s showing the danger of the worst kind of threat for the new suburbia:

The mask of this suburban social utopia inevitably burdened its inhabitants with the responsibility of upholding these marketed values of a modern, wholesome lifestyle. Symbols of this era have certainly echoed into the 21st century and have become a pinnacle of style in fashion, and domestic living.

Just over twenty years after the birth of this utopian epoch, director Bryan Forbes created ‘The Stepford Wives’ (1975) which became a noted commentary to the impossibility of upholding this perfect ideal of living by revealing the central protagonists – the ‘perfect’ wives of the quiet neighbourhood of Stepford to be robots. The fact that they were inhuman made a strong suggestion that these expectations of a perfect capitalist society where internal problems were ignored and swept under the rug were simply unrealistic even to robots themselves.

The electric space that is central to Spigel’s essay is delivered by the Television and its ability to transport its suburban viewer to far corners of society and the globe. This technology essentially created strong segregative distance between these social pollutants and themselves fuelling the community’s voyeristing sensibility.

We see examples of this in the highly successful ABC dramedy: Desperate Housewives. While the show has its constant dark undercurrent of evil, it is always in reference to the threat of the ‘other’ – in this case, the new neighbours. In each of its seven seasons the show is patterned with a new neighbour or house guest who moves in on the street and almost is always received with scepticism by the other neighbours until the protective ‘instincts’ of the housewives are proved correct. These new neighbours are always secretive and sinister, under constant suspicion and are always the ‘threat’ of the show. Families, children and the wives themselves become threatened in one way or another and are on constant guard to protect ‘the street’ and their clean, morally sound way of life. The neighbour is thereafter pushed back out from the protective boundaries of the suburb and its antiseptic lifestyle after demonstrating some sort of crux in delivering a looming collapse of family/friendship stabilities. Desperate Housewives is a clear reaction to to both of those examples of 1950’s suburbia and Forbe’s The Stepford Wives, whereby the women use their manipulative skills to get what they want from their buffoon male ‘co-stars’.

Although not intentionally, Spigel’s analysis of electrical space of the Television in the suburban sphere can draw parallels with electrical space of the Internet. Spigel quotes from Mercury in 1846, Professor Alonzo Jackman’s utopian fantasy; who imagined “ a transcontinental telegraph line through which all inhabitants of the earth would be brought into one intellectual neighbourhood and be at the same time perfectly freed from these contaminants which might under other circumstances be received”. The internet space has certainly satiated our desires for a voyeuristic society, allowing its users to peer into eachother’s digital backyards from the comfort of our own homes. Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village might as well be our own neighbourhoods, for it s quicker to find out gossip from your neighbour via the computer these days than walking over for a large, useless cup of sugar.

Space, no less.

The Horror Vacui is a Latin term literally meaning ‘the horror of a vacuum’. It refers in physics, to the known concept of nature abhorring voids of matter in space. As theorised by Aristotle and also deemed as ‘Plenism’, the Horror Vacui asserts the idea that all space is filled with varying degrees of matter.