M+, Hong Kong, © Kacey Wong. Photo: courtesy the artist
Hello, I’m Kacey Wong, a contemporary visual artist. I think Hong Kong people will easily relate to this work, they might even say ‘Oh, it’s a subdivided room’!
This artwork, mimicking a subdivided room, common in Hong Kong, is titled Paddling Home; it’s a functional architectural sculpture. Kacey created it as a critique of Hong Kong’s spiralling property prices. He told us more about it.
One of my artistic requirements is real functionality: it floats, its door and lock work, the doorbell rings, and there is even an earth god to worship. These surreal yet practical elements lead the audience into my story. I think this is a crucial part, the so-called ‘make believe’—whereas reality is filled with limitations and impossibilities.
Kacey trained as an architect but later switched to being an artist. He likes to use commonplace elements in his work; in Paddling Home, he incorporated familiar, local materials.
There’s a phrase ‘vernacular architecture’ in architecture studies; it refers to an architectural style developed from original, local features. For instance, the stilt houses in Tai O, buildings in typhoon shelters, and those floating platforms held together with Styrofoam: these are all structures that exist before architectural intervention. They’re interesting local features, architectural aesthetics and functionality that have derived from everyday life. While making Paddling Home, I visited the typhoon shelter in Aberdeen and watched how the connecting boats operated and how people made that kind of floating boat. The plastic bucket and tyre in my work were inspired by this.
Kacey once used the work to drift across Victoria Harbour, and these themes of harbour and journey help ensure the piece still resonates today.
The combination of boat and house into a boathouse symbolises the notion of journey. It can’t be fixed at one point; it can anchor here and there for short times, enjoying freedom. It’s not about a settled point, but a process, a journey. This is closely related to the collective history of Hong Kong people.
The history of Hong Kong is filled with stories of human movement: people fleeing to Hong Kong to seek refuge, and Hong Kong people heading abroad to study, work or emigrate. This sense of constant drifting, embodied by Paddling Home, underpins most stories you’ll find in Hong Kong.
Paddling Home is a floating apartment created by Kacey Wong. This video, made in collaboration with David Attali in 2010, is a single-channel HD digital video with colour and sound. The duration of the video is 5 minutes and 53 seconds. This video captures the moments when the apartment was launched into the sea.
The video records the process of Wong transporting the apartment to the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade and launching it into the Hong Kong Victoria Harbour during daytime. The apartment floated on the water like a boat. Wong explains his creation in the video. Dressed in a full white sea captain’s uniform, he boarded the boat at the stone breakwater at the promenade and set sail. While the apartment was floating on the open water, Wong carried out a few activities, such as paddling with a pair of paddles, sticking his upper body out of the roof hatch and looking back at the shore with binoculars, putting on a life jacket with orange and yellow horizontal stripes, fishing and golfing on the turf-covered roof, and waving at the audience on the shore.
Paddling Home is a miniature apartment that can only house one person. It’s a concrete-walled cube with sides of four feet, that’s about 120 centimetres, or about the height of an adult’s chest. The cube is set on a floating platform that’s mounted with black tires and blue plastic barrels, with a motor installed at the stern. The exterior of the apartment is tiled with long, pale pink ceramic tiles, and has a roof hatch and a bay window. On the left and right side of the bay window, a vertical white ventilation pipe and a window-type air conditioner are installed, respectively. Below the air conditioner is a lifebelt that is divided into four sections with alternate red and white colourings. Through the lifebelt, a square flap door can be seen on the wall. The captain may sit in the apartment, stick out a boat paddle through the flap door and paddle. The roof of the apartment is covered with turf and the regional flag of the Hong Kong SAR is raised on a pole. On the wall that faces the stern is a stainless-steel door. Next to it is an electric doorbell, below which, near the floor, is a red Earth God shrine. Inside the apartment, the wall is of ivory white colour and the floor is timber. On the wall hangs a life jacket and a photo of the captain. A fishing rod leans against the wall, and the windows are curtained. On the bay windowsill sit a desktop mirror, a pair of binoculars, a small model of a copper diver's helmet, a bottle of red wine, and a wine glass.