Spectators as Sky-Eaters
I gave up the hope of finding the exact position, where Chi Wo, in the Winter of 2003 made a pin-hole photograph pointing skyward at a junction in Toronto’s financial district. With his collaborator/partner Sara, they trekked down the city centre to locate that spot, cruising the long stretch of Queen Street West for material to make a cookie cutter, and complained later how cruel the Toronto Winter was.
City Cookie (Toronto Chapter at Gallery 44). Promotional material for the vitrine exhibition in 2003.
It was all about the sky above us, the “negative spaces” carved out by buildings of designated cities for Chi Wo and Sara’s specific project - City Cookie. The work subsequently occurred as a series taking place in Hong Kong, New York, Brooklyn, Banff, Shanghai, Venice, Toronto, Sierre, São Paulo and just recently, being remade in Hong Kong at Tai Kwun Contemporary (2018). The project began in 1999, reincarnating itself every time in a new city, responding to situations, animated intermittently with photographs, videos, sculptures, installations, public interventions and performance.
The Toronto sky (2003) Chi Wo included in the project City Cookie, unintentionally, was part of our making. In the first few years at the Candy Factory, our gallery enthusiastically introducing important Asian and Hong Kong contemporary artists to Toronto. We knew Chi Wo way back in the early nineties, when his collaborative work with Sara, his pin-hole images were featured in DISLOCATION Magazine. Looking back, his photographs were always framed unconventionally, with wood or metal (or a fusion of both) framework made by himself presented as an installation, and once, impressively as a sculpture opening up like a flower.
At the vitrines of Gallery 44. Left: City Cookie (Shanghai Sky). Right: City Cookie (Hong Kong Sky).
At the vitrines of Gallery 44. Left: City Cookie (Toronto Sky). Right: Hong Kong Sky and Shanghai Sky.
In the press release for the exhibition City Mapping: Rough Cuts at Lee Ka-sing Gallery in January, 2003, I wrote, “The photographs were shot in New York in 1999 with a pin-hole camera. Leung’s interest doesn’t lie in architecture, only the sky. Shot from various locations in the city with a pin-hole camera, Leung would later cut out the skies from the contours of surrounding buildings and then reassemble them into fan-like 2-D photo sculptures.” City Mapping: Rough Cuts had featured fifteen work from these assemblages, encased under glass in conventional 30.5 x 36 inch black frames. Happened at the same time, we co-organized with Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography, to stage a smaller show at the vitrines outside its corridor, displaying three pin-hole photographs from the City Cookie series - one of which had to be made in Toronto.
Cookies prepared for the receptions of both exhibitions: City Mapping: Rough Cuts (LKS Gallery, Toronto) and City Cookie (Toronto Chapter, Gallery 44) in 2003. Cookies courtesy Dessert Trends Bakery.
As I opened up the lid of the red and gold striped tin can bought from Dollar Store, a strange combination of buttery and moldy smell emancipated. I picked up the cookies in individually Ziploc bags as carefully as I could, as if picking up relics from the long past. They were really fragile seventeen years after they had been baked, and a few of them already broken. These cookies were made by Dessert Trends using the aluminum cutters Chi Wo provided. Dessert Trends Bakery opened in 1999 by the Vietnamese Chef Don and quickly became the talk of town about its fine pastries, cakes, truffles, sweet tables and cookies. I read an interview of Chef Don some time ago, before inviting Chi Wo to present his show in Toronto. I approached the Bakery and was lucky to obtain their sponsorship of producing specific sky cookies for our receptions - two hundred cookies for the two exhibitions. For a number of years, I shopped birthday cakes at this Bakery without hesitation. It was sad to learn Don had to close the Bistro-Patisserie outlet for good in 2016.
Upon returning the City Mapping: Rough Cuts photographs to Chi Wo, we decided to collect two works from this series: Park - West 28 II and Warren at Church. Both are unique silver prints collage done in 1999. And indeed the work has inspired me to look at sky differently. I’ve become obsessed with that negative space, that piece of almost unnoticeable, unpronounced shape created by surrounding structures, the absence suddenly made present. I’ve become a sky-eater. Chi Wo once said “I am afraid to lose memory. However, when memory becomes vague, it turns into a vivid imaginative space as I try to remember the forgotten.” It would be amusing to think, resisting to feast on lotus, seeking remedy for receding traces, he has found that vivid imaginative space - impression of a pin-hole frame, the silhouette of buildings, the cut-out sky, the cookie, a buttery bite incorporating all of the above, a munching experience that can actually melt deep into your senses.