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Essays in Academia



Made in ASEAN: Online Exhibition (Curatorial Statement)

Photographing ASEAN: Manila Pilot Project

Images, Immersions, Investigations (Curatorial Statement)

Nullah No la! 魚樂無渠 Street Art (Curatorial Statement)

Intersection 交界 : Public Art at Prince Edward HK

Twelve Hundred Miles Apart (Curatorial Statement)




MADE IN ASEAN: Online Exhibition
15 November – 15 December 2020)
Held asynchronously in various ASEAN countries
2020 ASEAN 20/20 Vision Project Website

Who is Southeast Asia made of?

We must beg this question of who instead of what, because decades after Southeast Asian countries’ colonial histories the search for a shared identity persists. In 1967 the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was founded as a means of establishing mutual cooperation within the region and since then, it has grown from five post-war countries to ten independent member states. One Vision, One Identity, One Community; the ASEAN motto implies seeing, recognising, and belonging.

Fifteen participants from different ASEAN countries — Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam — and the UK engaged in participatory photography to reflect on what it means to be Southeast Asian and an ASEAN member citizen in today’s world. The main challenge was to reflect on the various ways we might see, recognise, and belong to ‘ASEAN-ness’ using images of everyday life, nostalgia, and places — almost stripping the grand narrative of geopolitics down to what we can imagine with our very eyes and, by extension, what can be observed by our camera phones.

The view of a nameless street from one’s window; intertwining clotheslines stretched out from the kitchen back door; a cupboard overflowing with chopsticks, spoons, pots and pans; a handful of souvenirs and trinkets tucked away for several years; and memories of travel adventures and childhood games. The similarities are uncanny yet familiar to our imaginative eyes; the differences only reveal themselves when we speak of them.

While we remain indoors for still an uncertain period of time, we invite you to visit Southeast Asia by imagining with us. Choose any country, any destination, any place. Only, you will need more than your own eyes and senses to explore. This is why we are offering you ours.

MADE IN ASEAN transforms our collective act of imagining into image-making. As the regional integration project ASEAN Vision 2020 was envisioned to launch this year, our curatorial project offers the public an alternative means of reflecting on the ASEAN’s identity-building efforts in the last fifty years. Who makes the ASEAN? Who makes of the ASEAN? What do we make of the ASEAN? We can only imagine, for now. (Read in available languages here.)

Curator Kristian Jeff Agustin’s MESA SA KWARTO is literally a desk in his room which serves as his only workspace while observing the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in Manila, Philippines since March 2020. He makes do with this desk (mesa) in his room (kwarto) to offer an expandable exhibition space with other participants upon entering a Zoom Gallery.

In ANONYMISED SKIES, co-curator Martin Vidanes (Philippines) invites residents and visitors of Southeast Asian countries to locate their specific co-ordinates while taking pictures of the sky. A panoramic glimpse of the big picture is thus almost made visible: that despite the borders, rifts, and seas within the geopolitics of the region, when looking up at the same sky, we are made one.

Co-curators Kerrine Goh and Andy Chan (Singapore) transforms images into intersections in CROSSWORLD PUZZLE. The popular game is remade into a visual play on words to trigger what we make of various images taken from places across Southeast Asia — snapshots of crowds, cuisines, cities, shops, and, souvenirs. Look at the clues scattered here and there; solve them pic by pic.

An international curatorial collaboration, MADE IN ASEAN presents an assemblage of photographs taken from various locations in Southeast Asia. Reminiscent of the online crowdsourcing of photographs started in 2011 by students in Thailand (eventually made recurrent by the ASEAN Youth Organization’s annual photography contests), MADE IN ASEAN is a challenge to view our imagination of Southeast Asia as a construct, a model, or a product. In other words, the choice to make is in our hands. The exhibition focuses on images that are typically excluded by the visual rhetoric of touristic snapshots and travel selfies, and yet left embedded in camera phones if not deleted. Hence, these images are not necessarily unseen and untaken. But for images as yet unphotographed due to the so-called ‘unmaking’ of the year 2020, this exhibition also opens a space for make-believe.

MADE IN ASEAN runs from 15 November to 15 December 2020, bookended by the 37th ASEAN Summit1 hosted virtually in Ha Noi from (with Viet Nam as ASEAN Chair for 2020) and the 23rd anniversary of the ASEAN-wide adoption of the ASEAN Vision 2020 2 statement in 1997. The online exhibition builds on the year-long participatory photography project led and curated by Kristian Jeff Agustin (Philippines), a PhD candidate at Manchester School of Art. The month-long virtual exhibition features photographs by the project participants: Andy Chan (Singapore), Faizul H. Ibrahim (Brunei), Freya Chow-Paul (UK & Singapore), Katrine Hong (China & Philippines), Dr Kathryn Kyaw (Myanmar), Kerrine Goh (Singapore), Martin Vidanes (Philippines), Dr Nursalwa Baharuddin (Malaysia), Phát Nguyen (Viet Nam), Phynuch Thong (Cambodia), Prach Gosalvitra (Thailand), Rodrygo Harnas Siregar (Indonesia), Yammy Patchaya Teerawatsakul (Thailand), and an anonymous participant (Lao PDR). Photographs from other international contributors are also included (credited in the gallery).



1 12 – 15 November 2020 (via the ASEAN Viet Nam 2020 official website:

2 15 December 1997, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (reference:





Reframing the ASEAN discourse by way of participatory photography
2018 Current Perspectives on Communication and Media Research

1. Introduction: The visual construction of identity in contemporary ASEAN discourse

Donned in their best diplomatic outfits or national attire, Southeast Asian state leaders would traditionally shake hands with each other while forming a human chain with their arms crossed and hands linked – this is how the ASEAN annual summits or official meetings are best pictured – signifying the much touted “ASEAN handshake” and conveying “One Vision, One Identity, One Community” (the official ASEAN motto). Simply googling the keywords “ASEAN”, “ASEAN summit” or “ASEAN handshake” would almost always lead to online images of this iconic picture photographed over the years. This “official” tradition has undoubtedly permeated the public consciousness for decades now by way of the media, especially international news agencies; thus, it has become an undeniably visual rhetoric that has helped communicate the affairs of ASEAN, as much as its aspirations, ideals and policies to its publics and stakeholders alike.

Despite these official photographs being highly iconic and widely recognizable, the sense of regional identity is not always shared among the citizens of the 10 ASEAN member countries, as revealed by three region-wide public opinion polls, which were only conducted in the last 10 years: (1) the ASEAN Foundation’s Attitudes and Awareness Towards ASEAN: Findings of a Ten-nation Survey (Thompson & Thianthai, 2008); (2) The Straits Times’ Are We A Community? online survey (Phua & Chin, 2015); and (3) the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies’ Do Young People Know ASEAN? Update of a Ten-nation Survey (Thompson, Thianthai & Thuzar, 2016). For instance, while the 2014 survey accounted for the increase in public awareness or “we-feeling” regarding the ASEAN integration since the first-ever survey was conducted in 2007, comparing the data between the two surveys also confirmed the need to prioritize identity-building efforts that involve the general ASEAN publics (Thompson, Thianthai & Thuzar, 2016: 182-183). The 2015 survey, on the other hand, delivered seemingly contradictory results concerning the question of a “common identity” (Phua & Chin, 2015), with 65.9 per cent of the respondents identifying with people in ASEAN and 52.7 per cent  disagreeing with the idea that people in ASEAN share a common identity. While these surveys did not necessarily deal with visual culture, they are indicative of how an “imagined community”, borrowing from Anderson (2006), tends to “imagine” itself. 

As exemplified by the iconic picture of the ASEAN’s annual summits, it can be argued that official photographs – which I also refer to as “official images” here – generally and constantly promote a sense of “regional identity” that often lacks public involvement or grassroots representation. Generally speaking, these images only reflect a top-down approach to Southeast Asian identity construction; the photographs only focus on those who are in power. Moreover, they communicate an official discourse that celebrates the notion of regional identity as something that is harmonizing or unifying, and which does not leave much space for critique. And while online platforms and social media have been instrumental in the increase of photographs taken and uploaded by ordinary citizens – which I consider “unofficial images” – the visual discourse emerging from these social networks often resembles the official discourse if one were to compare the official images with the thematic content of crowd-sourced photographs (Agustin 2017: 40-41); for example, the Facebook page formerly and unofficially called “ASEAN Community” (created in 2011 by a group of students from Thailand to informally raise awareness of ASEAN) is now officially the “ASEAN Youth Organization” page, which continues to promote “ASEANality”, which started as an online photography contest (ASEAN, 2013; Planet Foto Indonesia, 2013). In other words, despite picturing everyday life, grassroots concerns and ordinary citizens, these unofficial photographs echo the harmonizing tendencies of the official discourse and lack critical reflection about ASEAN.

For a geopolitical bloc that has prevailed for 50 years, despite the many economic and political crises it has faced, perhaps returning to the question of identity is not only long overdue but also more relevant than ever. Thus, this visual essay, a critical and reflective work as posited by Banks & Zeitlyn (2015: 139-141) and Grady (2008: 29-30), pursues an enquiry into how photography might help in re-constructing or challenging the notion of regional identity in the case of ASEAN.

2. ASEAN identity construction by way of participatory photography 

I chose participatory photography as a method for engaging locals and exploring with them the various ways they might critically reflect on their supposed “ASEAN identity”. Often, ordinary citizens are left out of the big picture that ASEAN wants to project; they often play the role of mere spectators of the regionalization process, despite the ASEAN discourse invoking their supposed “collective identity” as members of this regional community. It is as if some members of ASEAN publics are experiencing what Freire once called a “culture of silence” (1985: 72-73; 1970: 97), which brings about a culture of dependency instead of empowerment among general Southeast Asian publics. Thus, borrowing from Habermas (1970: 144-146), the public’s lack of communicative power or “voice” might impede mutual understanding and promote social inequalities and repression. Through increased levels of participation, society at large might either experience critical consciousness or what Freire would call “conscientization” (1985: 160) which, in turn, could contribute to what Habermas (1989: 118) envisioned as the “enlightenment of the political public sphere” by way of democratic participation. It is, therefore, important that the methodology for this project is a participatory process.

Participatory photography can entail a process of collective, critical and reflexive analyses (Banks & Zeitlyn, 2015: 145; Rose, 2016: 331-330), as it is a way for individual participants to progress from “I think” to “we think”, or in Freire’s (1973: 137) words: 

The thinking Subject cannot think alone. In the act of thinking about the object s/he cannot think without the co-participation of another Subject. There is no longer an “I think” but “we think.” It is the “we think” which establishes the “I think” and not the contrary. This co-participation of the Subjects in the act of thinking is communication. Thus the object is not the end of the act of communicating, but the mediator of communication. 

By inviting ordinary citizens to this project and empowering them throughout the process, perhaps they could find the leeway to express themselves when engaging in the “we think” about their identity as interpellated subjects of the ASEAN discourse. In a way, the project is an opportunity for them, as members of broader ASEAN publics, to exercise their right to express themselves and become involved in the politics and transformation of society in relation to ASEAN. Of course, despite the Manila pilot project’s ambition, we should remain modest, and not overestimate the capacity of one project to immediately alter a very well propagated identity discourse.

Guided by photo-elicitation methodologies, as elucidated by Banks and Zeitlyn (2015: 89-93), Blackman (2007: 42-48), Pink (2013: 96-101) and Rose (2016: 314-332), I designed and organized a participatory photography project in Manila, which ran from November 2016 to April 2017. Following the ideal group size of 5-15 participants recommended by Blackman (2007: 46), I invited a total of 12 participants – a peer group of young professionals, male and female, aged 26 to 33, all of whom have travelled to at least 2 countries in ASEAN – by way of snowball sampling (Kenney 2009: 25) into the project. I also organized 4 major whole-day workshops and several smaller meet-ups, which the participants made good use of, to exchange information and learn more about current events in line with ASEAN’s 50th anniversary activities and events held in Manila (as the Philippines was the current chair and host). We also decided to have a Facebook group where we could continue with the exchange.

The three major surveys (Thompson, Thianthai & Thuzar 2016; Phua & Chin 2015; Thompson & Thianthai 2008), mentioned above, helped me formulate guide questions for the participants. For instance, as I was more interested in the visual culture aspect of community-building and identity construction, I formulated general questions such as “Do you feel that you are a citizen of ASEAN?”, “How do you feel about this identity?”, “Do you identify with other Southeast Asians and do you feel like you share with them a common identity?” and “What similarities might you have with other Southeast Asians?”, among others.

By then inviting the participants to use their camera phones in responding to the initial questions above – and to several more follow-up questions that we together formulated and raised during our workshops – they were able to use photography effectively in putting forward their own way of envisioning and picturing ASEAN, which manifested differences and similarities from one another. I observed throughout the whole process their way of agreeing and arguing with each other, which helped each of them shape not only their individual opinions but also their collective understanding of what their “ASEAN identity” might mean. In effect, again borrowing from Freire (1970), by way of producing photographs, the participants do not only produce images as text (i.e. the “words”) but the act of producing these images and, at the same time, exercising action and reflection, contributes to “transform[ing] the world” (Freire, 1970: 75) for these participants. This approach allowed the invited participants to “put [their] idea[s] into practice” (Kenney, 2009: 97). More importantly, participatory photography helped them, as representatives of general ASEAN publics, to bring their own experiences and personal contexts (Banks & Zeitlyn, 2015: 133; Pink, 2013: 95) into the research process.

The specific photographs selected to be included in this visual essay were also the result of a concluding workshop with the participants, where they were personally involved in the captioning, curating and editing of all the photographs

3. Photographing ASEAN

“A foreigner seated alone by the bar, in a busy restaurant where patrons are enjoying ‘authentic’ Japanese food– or as authentic as we can get in Manila. Isn’t it funny that while we belong to ASEAN, we are all connected by something that is not ours? Something we were taught? Something we didn’t ask for?” © Martin Vidanes (2017)

“The easiest way to explain ‘Southeast Asia’ is just to point to it on the map, where concerned countries lie geographically close to each other. This is not different from how ASEAN is trying to invoke an ‘imagined community’. If we look more closely – be it at any Southeast Asian country – the convenience of mapping the region is disrupted by a more fragmented experience of people going their own way and just minding their own business. Simply put, we do not really consider ourselves part of ASEAN in everything that we do.” © Detsy Uy (2017)

“I took this photo on my way to the office. It’s an everyday situation for commuters in Manila and we get so used to it and sometimes fed up of the stress, going to and from work, that there’s no point in trying to remember it visually. These ways of transportation are similar to those of our neighbouring countries in ASEAN. We see a lot of these similarities among us but achieving regionality seems to be a tad out of reach.” © Shekinah Pensica (2017)

“Although this photo was taken in Manila, for other major cities of ASEAN this image is not unusual. Conspicuous electric cables often draw my attention and this is something that I find interestingly common among Southeast Asian cities.” © Jessica Buen (2017)

“I feel like ASEAN is merely a marketplace that allows us to exchange our goods with one another. At the end of the day, it seems as if it is only driven by commercialism. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that usually when we go to a marketplace, we are in search of things that are of value.” © Erick Divina (2017)

“This is a picture I took inside the train on my way to university. It gets stickier during rush hour. Sometimes, I don’t feel like I’m a citizen of my own country because I have no space here. How can I be an ASEAN citizen when a lot of the time it feels like I’m not even Filipino?” © Beverly Lumbera (2017)

4. Conclusion

This visual essay hopes to argue, as exemplified by the photographs of the participants, that photographing ASEAN should also be a participatory exercise, in order for it to be relevant. While the notion of a regional identity has always been concomitant with the official ASEAN discourse, it is refreshing to see a more local perspective – framed and nuanced by the participants themselves. It is even more revealing to see how the photographs somewhat demonstrated what the latest of the three big surveys surmised:

We can expect that as the ASEAN Community project, especially the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), becomes a more concrete reality, there may be more dissension over the value of ASEAN. (Thompson, Thianthai & Thuzar, 2016: 183). 

Perhaps, this “dissension” is not only an important reality that ASEAN integration is facing but also a challenge in itself that ASEAN must acknowledge and address. While the region has always hailed the “ASEAN Way”, traditionally, the region’s core principles of non-intervention and consensus-building in international relations and regionalization (Quah, 2015; Cockerham, 2010; Acharya, 2007) in its official discourse, there is no denying that the grassroots perspective is equally compelling. Amid pressing issues such as Southeast Asia’s refugee crises and territorial disputes, among others, perhaps the question of ASEAN “identities”, in the plural sense, is key to better understanding why the region is the way it is today. In the words of Kahn (1998: 2):

[N]o nation in the region can credibly claim cultural homogeneity. Everywhere, the evidence of cultural diversity is overwhelming, if only because it is forcibly brought to our attention either by political élites, or by the spokespersons for groups disempowered by race, culture, religion, gender or distance from the political centre. 

Thus, the more the political centre insists on one “official image”, the more reason there is for us all to encourage participation and use our many eyes.



Acharya, A. (2007) ‘Ideas, identity, and institution-building: From the ‘ASEAN way’ to the ‘Asia-Pacific way’?’, The Pacific Review, 10(3): 319-346. Downloaded 2 September 2017 from

Agustin, K. J. (2017) ‘Developing a Viable E-Participation Model for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): A Reflection’, pp. P. Parycek & N. Edelmann (Eds.) CeDEM17: Proceedings of the International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government 2017, 17-19 May 2017, Danube University Krems, Austria. Austria: Edition Donau-Universität Krems Donau-Universität Krems, 

Anderson, B. (2006) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. 3rd ed. London: Verso.

ASEAN (2013) ‘“Stronger ASEAN – Key to Bright Future of ASEAN Peoples,” says SG Minh during 46th Anniversary Celebration. ASEAN.’ Downloaded 17 September 2017 from

Banks, M., Zeitlyn, D. (2015) Visual Methods in Social Research. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Sage.

Blackman, A. (2007) ‘The PhotoVoice Manual: A guide to designing and running participatory photography projects. W. Davies (Ed.) London: PhotoVoice. 

Cockerham, G. B. (2010) ‘Regional Integration in ASEAN: Institutional Design and the ASEAN Way’, East Asia, 27(2): 165-185. Downloaded 2 September 2017 from

Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Hammondsworth: Penguin.

Freire, P. (1973) Education for Critical Consciousness (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). New York: Seabury.

Freire, P. (1985) The Politics of Education: Culture, Power, Liberation. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

Grady, J. (1991) ‘The visual essay and sociology’, Visual Sociology, 6(2): 23-38. Downloaded 17 September 2017 from:

Habermas, J. (1970) ‘Toward a Theory of Communicative Competence’, pp. 114-148 in H. Dreitzel (Ed.) Recent Sociology No. 2. New York: Macmillan,.

Habermas, J. (1989) The New Conservatism (S. W. Nicholsen, Trans.). Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press. 

Kahn, J. (1998) Southeast Asian Identities: Culture and the Politics of Representation in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Kenney, K. (2009) Visual Communication Research Designs. New York and London: Routledge.

Phua, G., Chin, S. (2015) ‘Are We A Community? The Straits Times’. Downloaded 3 September 2017 from

Pink, S. (2013) Doing Visual Ethnography. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage.

Planet Foto Indonesia (2013) ‘Photo Contest: “Raising Your ASEANality”’, Planet Foto Indonesia. Downloaded 17 September 2017 from 

Quah, D. (2015) ‘Is the ASEAN Way the Right Way? (Extracted from a presentation by Professor Danny Quah, Director, Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, London School of Economics)’, The Economist. Downloaded 3 September 2017 from 

Rose, G. (2016) Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials.  4th ed. Los Angeles: Sage.




Plurality of Perspectives on Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement
June 2016

An ‘Occupy’ protest is where the play of power is concomitant with the power of play. In other words, power and play stand on equal ground. Thus, it comes as no surprise when we encounter events that are not only ‘newsworthy’ (journalistic) but also ‘film worthy’ (cinematic). This is exactly what happened in Hong Kong.

It is also in Hong Kong where the ubiquitous Occupy movement is made unique — touted by global media as the ‘Umbrella’ movement, an umbrella term that sought to consolidate the various fronts into one collective action. This is why the question of place forms the crux of the movement: What is being occupied? It is what makes the movement unique to Hong Kong. Thus, in many ways the ubiquitous is made unique, and the unique is made ubiquitous.

Hence, when we observe Hong Kong’s power play, we see a plurality of perspectives.

For instance, we can posit that the ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ binary does not hold up when challenged by alternative perspectives. As we have observed, the tension between Hong Kong and Beijing goes beyond mere taking sides. The taking of sides is mere spectacle; the action takes place beneath this spectacle, where real conditions exist.

With these realities in mind, we can then argue the heterogeneity of the movement — as exemplified by the protesters themselves — where not only Hong Kongers but also people of different nationalities identify with the movement. A better understanding of these perspectives thus entails a critical questioning of the media’s representation and reportage of the movement — not to mention the viability of social media in these processes.

After all, the Occupy protest is more than just a numbers game.




November 2015
(Project Website)

Much of Hong Kong has changed since the Fifties, especially when modernisation made its way to every nook and cranny of Kowloon. Still, much have also remained, especially when we find our way to the Yau Tsim Mong District, where the old and new sit side by side. Thus, while the city is shaped by a tradition of urban transformation, specific places of tradition resist transformation.

The crossing of Nullah Road, Sai Yeung Choi Street, and Tung Choi Street bears witness to this paradoxical scenario. Many would still look for the petrol station that ceased operation a few years ago. Some would remember the theatre showcasing classic Cantonese opera since the Seventies or the old cinema that featured films since the Sixties. And few would recall the nullah or watercourse that was still there in the Fifties or so, when the goldfish market first popped up in the area. For hitherto withstanding the test of time, the District Council awarded it in 2011 a monumental trophy — the infamous Goldfish sculpture most locals and tourists are still raving about.

Amidst the noise of the crowd and the colour of aquatic species that converges in this crossing is a peculiar space of silence out in the open. This space is Nullah No la (魚樂無渠), an empty stage, a blank canvas, a free realm of art. It surreptitiously offers us a window of opportunity to access an imaginary place — an intersection of time and space, memory and territory — by way of art, creativity, and intervention. After all, what better way to defamiliarise our blasé experience of the city’s tradition and transformation than to express ourselves freely?

On 14 November 2015, Saturday, we invited the public, both young and old, to help us transform the Nullah Road Sitting-out Area into an alternative art space together with our six featured artists, who worked on different media from traditional drawing and painting, to sculpture, sound, and performance. Our ‘art day out’ was meant to engage the public, locals and tourists alike, in a meaningful and lively discussion to elicit their understanding of the changeable environment and how they are ultimately responsible for it.

We made this happen by simply recognising Nullah No la (魚樂無渠).




November 2015

Anyone living in or visiting Hong Kong would take note of the lack of space, among many other things wanting in this ‘world city’ of surplus. For instance, public spaces like parks are seemingly rare, hence people tend to gather and make use of ‘other places’ such as shopping malls, tunnels and walkways, and even MTR passages, which are either private or regulated, hence they are considered as ‘quasi-public spaces’ (Li 2002; Lo 2013, p6).

Officially, the Hong Kong SAR’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department lists about 73 spaces for public use on its website1, while the Department of Justice’s Bilingual Laws Information System lists 1,696 spaces for public use (excluding beaches) on its Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Chapter 132)2. When these ‘official’ lists are averaged together with the ‘unofficial’ count of Google Maps and Wikipedia, one can have a rough estimate of nearly 500 ‘public spaces’ all over Hong Kong. In other words, anyone can supposedly find one public place available for every one-mile radius, whether in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, or New Territories.

Using the same spatial logic, curators Kristian Agustin and Vivian Fung explored possible locations for holding a public art exhibition/intervention, Intersection (交界). After mapping the locality within a 1-mile radius from their base — the Hong Kong Baptist University Communication and Visual Arts Building — the curators identified not only one but several open spaces made available for the public. Thus, while there is indeed a lack of space in Hong Kong as many would instantly agree with, ironically, these spaces can be found everywhere — as small, medium, or big patches of land, greenery, or even concrete.

The small park (or as termed by the District Council, ‘sittiing-out area’) located at the intersections of Nathan Road, Nullah Road, and Sai Yeung Choi Street is an example of a public space which is approximately a mile away from our place of study, randomly speaking. However, while this specific park is only a random example, it is particularly interesting because it exemplifies both a lack of space and its palpable existence. Anyone visiting this space would feel this contradiction, especially when one is greeted by the monumental significance of the Goldfish sculpture3 marking the open space a ‘place of interest’, especially for tourists.


To further explore these contradictory insights outside of the classroom, we propose to organize an art intervention/exhibition to be held in an open public space, specifically the Nullah Road Sitting-out Area, which lies somewhere along the perimeter of our estimated 1-mile radius class investigation. While there are other public spaces and similar parks located within this radius of interest, we decidedly chose the Nullah Road Sitting-out Area because it exemplifies the lack of spaces in Hong Kong despite it being an open space available for public use.  The location is also strategic because it serves as an intersection not only of busy roads but also of special interests and urban ecosystem — the touristy goldfish market, the old cinema turned shopping mall, the defunct gasoline station, and the refuse collection area, not to mention the ‘nullah’ or stream of water that runs underneath the area.

In choosing this place of interest, we revisit Augé’s theory of ‘non-place’, or ‘a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity’ (1995, p77-78).  Perhaps, we can even argue, many people notice the lack of space — especially public spaces — in Hong Kong precisely because they merely exist as ‘non-places’. They are spaces where many moving bodies and intersections occur, yet nothing remains, nobody dwells, especially at the age of ‘supermodernity’ (Augé 1995) when almost all inhabitants of the city are inextricably linked to their mobile devices, walking along busy streets, passing through public and private spaces, and traversing time and memory.

Apart from the theory of ‘non-place’, we also propose to explore other theories of ‘space’, ‘place’, and ‘locality’. These include:

(1) place as ‘open’ (Massey 2005) and ‘unbounded’ (Ingold 2007, 2008)

(2) ‘place’ as a theoretical concept, hence it is a cultural construct, and ‘locality’
or ‘location’ as a more geophysical specificity (Pink 2014: 118)

(3) ‘spatial concepts’ as phenomenological, and multi-sensory (Pink 2014:115)

(4) the ‘two-way linkage’ or ‘co-building’ between cities and bodies (Grosz 1992)

(5) the association of vision (or visuality or visual memory) with a particular
landscape to elicit a ‘sense of place’ (Boellstorff 2008:92-93)

(6) the ‘sense of place’ individuals experience ‘online’ through the Internet
(Boellstorff 2008:91); and

(3) the ‘space of flows’ (Castells 1996)
Thus, through a public art intervention/exhibition specifically catered to the public, we can further explore the many concepts of ‘space’ and ‘place’ and how these are relevant to the public and their lives. Perhaps, it can also help us discover new ways of understanding why a lack of space does not necessarily mean a lack of opportunities to be creative and/or resourceful.



Augé, M. (1995). Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity. Translated by Howe,
J. London: Verso.

Boellstorff, T. (2008) Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human.Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Castells, M. (1996) The Rise of the Network Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell.

Grosz, E. (1992) ‘Bodies-Cities’ In Sexuality and Space, Eds. Colomina, B. and Bloomer, J. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, pp241-253.

Li, L. (2002) Indoor city and Quasi-public Space: A study of the shopping mall systems in Hong Kong.China Perspective. Vol.39.

Lo, K. M. (2013) ‘A Critical Study of the Public Space in Hong Kong’. MCS Symposium, February 2013.

Massey, D. (2005) For Space. London: Sage.

Ingold, T. and Lee, J. (2008), Eds. Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Pink, S. (2007) Doing Visual Ethnography (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Pink, S. (2014) ‘Visual Ethnography and the Internet: Visuality, Virtuality and the Spatial Turn’ InAdvances in Visual Methodology. London: Sage, pp112-130.


1 List of Facilities & Venues (Parks, Zoos, Gardens), available from: (accessed 9 October 2015)

2 pages 89-120 of Chapter 132: Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, available from:
(accessed 9 October 2015)

3 a street landmark funded by the Yau Tsim Mong District Council’s Facilities Management Committee (unveiled on 17 June 2011), photographs available from: (accessed 9 October 2015)




千里之遙 似曾相識
June 2015

The movement of bodies is contingent on infrastructure. Urbanity rests on this classic assumption; without architecture, bridges, flyovers, motorways, subways, and skyscrapers, urban space is indefinite, haphazard, and limitless. The metropolis is, in other words, laden with contingencies. Hence, there is no guarantee of security, much less permanence, when urban space is merely designed to channel and control bodies whose ‘wayward forces of desire’ shape the metropolis itself (Tadiar 2004: 111). And what better way to picture the contingent metropolis than to lay eyes on Beijing, the mother (Gk. mētr-; mi̱téra) state, 1,228 miles away from Hong Kong, the city (Gk. póli̱; póli̱s) state? Or perhaps the other way around. 

Twelve Hundred Miles Apart (千里之遙 似曾相識) imagines the reciprocity between the body-space analytic/aesthetic, including its concomitant body-to-body and space-to-space exchanges, whether neutral or political. Through experimental film, archival video, sound bites and transcription, these reciprocities are reconstructed in a makeshift exhibition space — a virtual environment made perceptible via transmedia storytelling, on digital devices and displays, as well as projections and installations. Hence, the experience is not only immersive but also conscious. Here the body bears witness to a historic urban space, only that space no longer exists in situ. Its existence is contingent on the return of bodies reclaiming the city and transforming it into a place of potential: We Will Be Back, in bold. Therefore, the contingent is also emergent, when ‘the sayable’ is tantamount to ‘the visible’ (Rancière 2007, p7).

Thematically linked together by the ‘Umbrella Movement’, the works offer witnesses a return to the hitherto imagined utopia of urban space, a temporal and spatial logic that is never unfamiliar. Each work, however, does not only acknowledge the existence of the idealistic urban imaginary but also testify to the enforced disappearance of independent bodies and free spaces. If the movement of bodies is contingent on the spaces they occupy, and if the transformation of spaces occupied is determined by the movement of bodies, is it not possible that the metropolis acknowledges this reciprocity? What reciprocity does the metropolis want twelve hundred miles apart from its citizens?



Rancière, J., (2007). The Future of the Image. Translated by Gregory Elliott. London: Verso.

Tadiar, N. X., (2004). Fantasy-Production: Sexual Economies and Other Philippine Consequences for the New World Order. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.