A Holly Lee and Lee Ka-sing online magazine
Published on Fridays since January 2019
Writings/ Photographs/ Poetry/ Archives
Both Sides Now 兩面看
Both Sides Now series
photo based work in frame, various dimension
(2013 to current)
My curiosity in seeing things differently always leads me to work a bit out of the norm. Both Sides Now consists of a group of objects connected to me in certain instants of my life: a bowl, a small figurine, a paper cup, a postcard, a bulletin, a cat, a hockey player, a maple leaf, a giant neon billboard or simply a tender thought. I photographed the front and back of each object, and wrote down my thinking on each piece, which sometimes would wander off to become other narratives, like a very short fiction, or a poem.
Each photograph has a story, for which I present them front and back. I acquired frames from stores and chose the ones that were designed or could show images on both sides. Each photograph is a unique object, it can be touched, and examined with the hand. Every object contains a dot, a certain point in life, wherein I pause peacefully to meditate, to reclaim a moment of lost time.
Canada Welcomes You
(Canada Welcomes You, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 470 x 425 x 20 mm, work year 2018)
In the Winter of 2017, we drove our newly-rented Honda to Niagara Falls to see the Winter Festival of Lights. At the end of its 8KM long illumination route, we saw the world's largest illuminated Canadian-American flag. It was installed front and back: the Canadian flag facing Canada and the American flag facing America. At that time the severe and negative immigration attitude of the Trump Administration was hurting the world, and my wistful thinking on the meaning of the flag was not as a tourist passing through, but as a person living on this land. We stayed in a nice B&B run by Lynn, a pretty woman in her thirties. She fed us fresh fruits, hot muffins and baked fruit strata. All was well, we felt so welcome. The only thing we missed seeing was Bandit, the family’s husky.
(Suki, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 325 x 172 x 32 mm, work year 2018)
我是貓媽媽。媽媽叫貓貓坐在她的大腿上看電視。媽媽貓反過頭來要一個吻，嗅嗅貓媽媽嘴裏三文魚的味道。貓貓有很多很多名字：suki, suki 仔, sukimoto, Kiki, suki 貓頭, kitty kitty, 李叔奇, 出奇, 貓珠珠, 貓奇, 貓奇奇。
A Google translation
I am a cat mother. Mother calls a cat sitting on her thigh and watching TV. Mother cats turn a kiss, sniffing the mouths of cats and mama's salmon. Cats have many names: suki, suki Tsai, sukimoto, Kiki, suki cat head, kitty kitty, Uncle Li, surprising, cat beads, cat odd, cat odd.
A human translation
I am a catmom. Catmom calls cat to sit on her lap and watch TV. Momcat turns for a kiss, sniffing the smell of salmon from the mouth of catmom. Catcat has many many names: suki, suki Tsai, sukimoto, Kiki, suki cat head, kitty kitty, Li Su Ki, surprising, cat beads beads (precious precious), cat odd, cat odd odd.
Tomio made this beautiful paper mache after our cat Suki. Later, he made another paper mâché after Tofu, Henry and Wing’s vision impaired dog.
(Bowl, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 272 x 220 x 32 mm, work year 2013)
Words are magic wands
a wave incised a thought
remains for generations
I am lake bright mountain colour
Sounds scenic isn't it? Thanks to our old masters who molded me - a small pavilion on a hill with shady trees, a man lies down, drinks his wine and rhymes his poem, distant hills on the other bank, a boat floats leisurely on the lake. I have been depicted this way for five hundred years. The masters follow the same equation to paint and repeat me, occasionally making some little changes, say, add a person fishing, a few more birds in the sky. This has always been ME! Yet when I look around myself, I feel misplaced, so disconcerted that I want to cry. For I have changed - and have already made a lot of progress. Strange cemented forests sprouting from my body, boats, ferries, cargo ships and cruisers sliding day in and day out over the skin of my water. The noisy bunch! How could nobody notice, or show the courage to acknowledge the change?
I, lake bright mountain colour, am only an age-old idea, a mere ghostly existence?
I am bowl
A bowl that holds rice or soup, to be precise.
Even though I came from the world famous porcelain town Jin de Zhen, I belong only to the civilian class. My clan's long and glorious history has become solely bygones. Despite the fact that I have reached the age of retirement, I am still 30 years younger than my master, my owner. Don't ask about my origin, master is a fool, she can't even figure out her own history, let alone mine. But I guess I was made around the 80's by New Wind - one of the ten big porcelain factories in China. I presume that because they were renowned for scenic paintings on porcelain wares. There's one thing I can be certain of, I must have belonged to the family of porcelain goods at that time exported to Europe, America, South East Asia and Hong Kong.
For your future, brothers and sisters, my advice to you: go along with globalization, gone old greet new, gone east meet west, nationalized style gone Japanese. Me? If not for the love of my master, I would have been buried in the landfill with other garbage. On the other hand, if I am luckier, and able to get more promotion and publicity, I might be recognized, and even able to secure a small spot in certain corner of the museum.
My Name is Pingy
Actually I have several names, Pingy is just my infant name. The bowl you are seeing originally existed as a pair, a wedding gift from my mother for my dinner table. Many bowls and dishes have broken since. I broke this bowl some twenty years ago, but reluctant to have it disposed. Seeing the bowl is like seeing my long gone mother, it is hard and impossible to let go.
The harbour where I grew up experienced no wars, revolutions nor hunger. My slumberous soul floats along historic currents, oblivious to soaring memories of its past, and coming. The China I long for is crafted from literature, history, music and poetry. My favourite poet Du Fu (712-770 CE) once wrote, "The state broken, its mountains and rivers remain. The city turns spring, deep with plants and trees". The overwhelming change today feels like "The state remained, its mountains and rivers shattered. Cities turn concrete gray, wealth and lust are what matter". China will definitely change. Its supersonic train will not stop racing towards a newer, braver but irredeemable world. Flip-flopping. Hello Creator; Hello Destroyer.
很風景畫，是不是？也多謝歷朝歷代的工像畫師，把我塑造成的模樣 — 山丘上有小亭，樹影婆娑。古人臥坐吃酒吟詩。對岸山脈連綿，一葉輕舟飄蕩在湖水上。千百年來，畫師依循公式重覆，或偶作改動，或加上個江人垂釣，這個便是我! 回首看看我的週圍，真迷惘得想哭。我進步神速，三合土森林從土地上長出奇葩，小輪船小氣艇大郵船洋洋灑灑在湖面滑翔。怎麼我變了也沒有人知道？我湖光山色，竟是個陳久的思維，一個魅影的存在？
The Double Double Life of a Tim Hortons
(The Double Double Life of a Tim Hortons, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 200 x 250 mm framed x 2, work year 2018)
I would describe our first two years in Toronto as a leisure, Double Double life of two settlers spending a lot of time at Tim Hortons. Double Double, as we learned in Toronto, is a beverage Tim Hortons offers by adding double cream double sugar in its coffee - a popular choice by many customers, thus earning the iconic name. I remember Yvonne, one of our first Canadian friends, told us three top Canadian things: poutine, hockey and Tim Hortons. Out of the three we seem to take in just the coffee. As our taste changes we take our coffee at Tim's now with one sugar two cream, and no sugar at all when making our coffee at home.
(Maple Leaf, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 273 x 273 x 60 mm, work year 2015)
Tomio our friend is truly our hero. One afternoon he gave us a small present - three beautiful maple leafs he picked up from the street. He definitely has the talent of finding free, good stuffs. When I arrived in Toronto twenty years ago, I wanted to take photograph of the city flower. Previously I had photographed the Hong Kong flower Bauhinia and now that I am living in a new place, would naturally like to photography its city flower. I never did. Perhaps, unlike the maple leaf, it is not as easy to find. Indeed I have mistaken maple leaf as a flower due to its red fall colour, and I was confused about the city flower (Trillium) and national flower. The fact is Canada does not have a national flower, it was only through a nation-wide contest in 2017 that it announced the bunchberry as the flower to represent Canada - unofficially. Bunchberry is flowering plant that changes with the seasons, white flowers in Spring, red berries in Summer, turns great red-purple is the Fall. From where I came from, a small, self-centred cosmopolitan city, we only knew there was one flower and did not think any further. This misjudgment also affects my sense of direction, which needed a lot of careful adjustment, especially when on the road as a new driver.
Old Postcard, 1988
(Old Postcard, 1988, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 150 x 108 x 25 mm, work year 2013)
A friend from Beijing once said, "revolution is romantic". The explosion of hope and energy only youths or the young at heart possess, like tidal waves, pushing forward with great force and determination for a better course or a better tomorrow. Indeed revolution is still romantic today, but are the umbrellas ready to shield off storm that is going to come? When it arrives, is one ready for the consequences? The same helplessness echoed in an old postcard I received from Fai in 1988. "The twilight is brilliant but soon we'll lose the sun", wrote Fai. Now the sun has finally set, leaving the atmosphere large patch of darkness, and muted grey, afraid of its own shadow and sound, fearing repercussion, and betrayal.
We had in truth enjoyed the last but best decade before Hong Kong was returned to China.
This postcard intermittently reminds me of my teen days too. I was living on the 18th floor of a tall building called Skyscraper in North Point. It was one of the few tall structures built upon a hill. Our kitchen was facing west, towards Sai Wan (West Point), where the sun set to grandeur resembling this postcard view. Thus it was the nightly scene I saw while doing the dishes, throughout the time listening and humming to the Beatles song I wanna hold your hand.
Little Green Dancing Hood
(Little Green Dancing Hood, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 150 x 210 mm, work year 2015)
Like many Hong Kong-borns in the colonial era, I was ignorant, and unaware of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-76) - the ten turbulent years that turned the country upside down. Sheltered perfectly from the deeply inhumane and catastrophic storm I watched yangbanxi -revolutionary model operas like The White Haired Girl and The Legend of the Red Lantern with a mix feeling of curiosity and delight. It was with the same mentality when I bought this female soldier figurine - a peaceful looking little green guard, a model made precedent to the rebellious red. At that time I wore green liberation army shoes too. The idea of anything about revolution is sheer romantic, but merely speaking from a distant stand point, without actually going through it.
(Hockey Player, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 150 x 205 mm, work year 2018)
Honest Ed's (1948-2016) has gone. One of the icons of Toronto has become yet another ghost image nestling in my memory box. When I first settled in Toronto I lived and acted as a new person, I thought as a new person and never reflected that I was going to become part of its history. I have evolved or, suffice to say, been eroded in a good way. I bought this hockey player maple syrup when I visited Honest Ed's for the last time before it was closed down in March 2018. This glass figurine fit well in one of my photo series. Two years ago, I wrote a short piece about this landmark discount store called A portrait of two plastic bags. I always regret that I have never been to Ed's birthday parties, nor the turkey giveaway events, both took place yearly, and very conveniently inside and outside the store. Needless to say, after the complete shut down of the bargain warehouse, and all the lights’d gone out, I begin to miss the gigantic neon sign, its luxuriant Vegas style marquee store sign decorated with 23,000 blinking light bulbs, illuminating the corner of Bloor and Bathurst every night - for the past sixty plus years.
Kedi (After a Turkish paper-mache cat)
(Kedi, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 235 x 285 mm, work year 2018)
they strike the same pose
My real cat’s name
he is male
this one is blue
I call it Kedi
Kedi is cat
The Chinese call it Mao
the English call it catt
from the Latin cattus
In Egypt it is mau
in Arab it is qut
in Hebrew chatul
Kedi oh Kedi
who made you?
standing you’re one foot two
Who gave you
this beautiful fur coat
Imagine his name is
Mustafa Izzet Efendi
his student practice before Ayasofya
Kedi Kedi hid in a paddy field
Kedi Kedi camouflaged in green
your orange ears are showing
Blue eyes scanning
see rats hastening
fleeing across the scene
Kedi Kedi 貓貓貓
claws screeching 爪爪爪
rice field guardian 苗苗田
Micky and Minnie
(Micky and Minnie, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 220 x 178 mm, work year 2021)
Despite Disney's enduring success in creating Micky Mouse as the world's most beloved cartoon character, I seldom think of the cartoons, nor the six Disneylands around the world (though I'd visited one in Tokyo in the late 80s), nor all the merchandise, video games and the recently launched streaming series "The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse": featuring the Sensational Six - Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck, Goofy and Pluto. Instead I often think of Hideo Suzuki, a Japanese friend and photographer. Why? It all began by a gift he gave us in 2000, when he came to Toronto for two exhibitions we organized for him, one in our gallery and the other at the Japan Foundation.
The gift was two wind-up tin toys, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse made for the Retro Collection by Schylling. I love Hideo Suzuki's photographs as they are always story telling, his use of small figurines, miniatures and collages are often intricate and interesting. I associate Suzuki more therefore, with mythological and fictional characters, and whenever I look at the pair of tin toys, his face would automatically come to mind. Mickey is now more than ninety years old. He was a rabbit before he becomes a mouse, married to Minnie Mouse who wears a little sailor hat between the two ears, and an outfit with polka dots. Almost a century has passed, they are like evergreen, not a single wrinkle on their foreheads and they are always garbed in fresh garments. Walt Disney was the original creator, and the first voice for Mickey, who cried out "Hot dogs! Hot dogs" in the 1929 cartoon The Carnival Kid. Likewise, when Hideo Suzuki came across this charismatic mousy pair, in a jiffy he connected to their world, and found an opportunity to reinvent himself in the characters; as the adventurous story teller, and he handed us over that kingdom of imagination, hoping one day we would find our stories told, in a book called A Thousand Mirrors and A Mirror.
(Sky Cookies, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 135 x 185 x 38 mm, work year 2021)
I took these cookies out of a round tin can, which was bright red with white stripes, around seven inches in diameter, a good fit to store cookies Iris made for friends during Christmas time. But these cookies were not made by Iris, they were very different, a bunch of them stored individually inside Ziploc bags for eighteen years: they have an identity, they belong to an artwork: the City Cookie project by two artists from Hong Kong. I took a small part in this project by co-ordinating a bakery to produce the cookies. The metal molds were cut by the artists, from which two hundreds pieces were baked in three different shapes. They were presented and eaten in the reception during the opening of the exhibition.
These are sky cookies. They originated from pin-holes photographs the artists took in different cities. Pointing their self-constructed pin-hole camera from ground to sky, they captured the sky and buildings surrounding it. From the prints they made, they separated the sky from encircling buildings and brought out the 'negative' space of the sky, an abstract shape - the shape existing but rarely noticeable thus escaping the gaze of our eyes.
My initial idea was to make a photograph of the spot where the artists took the pin-hole image of Toronto, which I believed was around the financial district, to juxtapose with the Toronto sky cookie photograph. Yet being lazy and lacking energy, I dropped the whole idea. I am happy now, with just the two cookies photographs, displaying front and back: one of the sky of Hong Kong, the other of Toronto, both places I call home, and have made me what I am today.
Harlequin and Columbine
(Harlequin and Columbine, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 255 x 300 mm, work year 2021)
I have very little interest in porcelain before I read "China", a novel by the Taiwanese novelist Jade Chen. In the prologue she wrote that the name China used by travellers long time ago from the West literally meant the place where porcelain came from: 昌南. Porcelain was invented in China, which has attained mature craftsmanship since the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD). In Europe, it was not until the early 16th century that they succeeded in producing hard-paste porcelain. China (the novel) is a 2009 mystery thriller set in the early 16th century where Wilhelm Buhl - a Saxon mineralogist went to work in the imperial Qing court, carrying a mission of spying on the porcelain making techniques so as to further enhance the production of Meissen porcelain. I was intrigued by the description of the ways servants and artists served Emperor Qianlong, how he also played a part in advancing Chinese porcelain development, enabling the craft reach another peak, in small details such as how he insisted the court painter - the Italian Giuseppe Castiglione to change the design and colour of a vase, and when he was pleased he would hand out expensive colour pigments as reward.
I started to grow some interest in the porcelain produced in Germany as I proceeded with the novel. Meissen, Nymphenburg, Frankenthal porcelains...what do they look like? While I was sorting out some old magazines I found an Art Bulletin from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Spring 1990 issue, which featured two porcelain figures in the front and back covers. From the impressum I learned these were Nymphenburg porcelain figures depicting two characters, Harlequin and Columbine from the Italian commedia dell'arte.
Harlequin and Columbine are two of the principal characters in the Italian comedy that flourished in Europe from the 16th to the 18th century. Harlequin is the comic servant instantly recognizable in his multicoloured chequered costume, and a half-mask. Columbine is his love interest, dressed in a complementary bodice with a white skirt heavily decorated with flowers and pattern at the bottom. Both seems to be in a swinging mood, but upon a closer look things start to get interesting. Harlequin is actually carrying a baby with his arms, just as Columbine appears to be holding a dish with puréed with her left hand and a spoon on her left, gleefully pursuing Harlequin to feed the baby. The porcelain figures are 20 cm in height, modeled by Franz Anton Bustelli in around 1760.
There are many versions of Harlequin and Columbine produced at major German porcelain factories in the 18th century. I have seen the couple playing pipes and hurdy-gurdy, in dancing pose, with a large bird cage, feeding fruits to birds under a tree, both sitting on rocks, one playing the bagpipe, the other the hurdy-gurdy again...then I come to know they have a child, and the child, I learn from another piece of Meissen porcelain showing the Harlequin family, grows to approximately two years old.
(Open Closed, front and verso. A pair of archival pigment prints in frame, frame size 205 x 150 mm, work year 2021)
We like the design of this frame, and used it as a functional display stand in our gallery for some years, placing Open and Closed alternatively, day and night, good days and bad days, under sunlight and moonlight, facing blustering winds and splattering rains, yet safely - behind the big window panes. After we closed the gallery in the Autumn of 2019, this stand becomes an object memorabilia, one more item to be salvaged among others. It reminds us of a time, this place that used to be and the people. I'd always thought of photographing it one day. It has aged with us, the pure bright red becomes dull, its edges chipped and worn; but it will change no more. The power of photography has somehow immortalized it. But we still don't know which will live longer: the object, the print, or the digital data.
A Holly Lee and Lee Ka-sing online magazine. Published on Fridays since January 2019. Published by OCEAN POUNDS and archived at oceanpounds.com
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Holly and Ka-sing currently live in Toronto with their daughter Iris, and their cat Sukimoto. Contact with email at - email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org