一名小偷歉疚的自剖 | THE UNAPOLOGETIC THIEF: SWEET AND SOUR | by KATHARINE TSANG


當我籌備作品時,作曲這個念頭經常在我腦海出現,但我不擅長唱歌。母親建議我去參加歌唱班,改善肺功能之餘,或許可以實踐我不切實際的志向。

I think about songwriting a lot when I plan my work. However, I cannot sing. My mother suggested that I should take singing lessons because it would help to strengthen my lungs and perhaps to achieve this unrealistic ambition of mine. 

很諷刺,因為我害怕自己在倫敦大學金匠學院畢業後,會遺忘或完全停止創作,所以便買了一本書《What Artists Do》作為送給自己的畢業禮物。我回到長大但有些疏離的香港,希望重新喚起我亞洲人的根。這個城市著名於中西文化匯聚,但亦因此帶來混淆與模糊之感。坦白說,我對自己回到亞洲的前途又憂心又興奮。

Somewhat ironically, I bought What Artists Do as a gift to myself when I graduated from Goldsmiths for fear that I would become forgetful, if not, stop making at all. I returned to Hong Kong hoping to reconnect with my Asian roots that I had grown distant from. The city’s convergence of East and West culture is famous, but brings with its feelings of confusion. In truth, I was equally bemused and excited by the prospects of my return to the East.

東方之珠作為成功的國際金融中心,一直被視為一塊充滿機遇的土地。在香港長大,我意識到這是一個過渡空間,充斥著社會和政治矛盾。回來後的一段時間,我生活在前所未有的社會動盪之中,目睹一幕幕令人痛苦的對話,我於是埋頭畫畫,把大部分時間都花在工作室裏。

Throughout history, the “Pearl of the Orient” has been a land of golden opportunity, marked by its success as a financial hub. Growing up in Hong Kong I was aware of it as a transitional space, with many social and political contradictions. Since my return, I have lived through a period of unprecedented civil unrest, and observed the painful conversations at their core. I threw myself into painting, spending most days in the studio.

從畫廊購買《What Artists Do》 後,在倫敦散步的一個晚上 | Evening walk in London after purchasing What Artists Do from a gallery.

我的畫作主要建基於搶劫的誘惑。偷竊最易被人聯想起罪惡,但在繪畫歷史上、整個創作過程中卻非常重要,亦經常被推崇。我不久前卻曾因偷竊而遭受巨大損失,最初吸引我的是偷竊所有來的複雜情感,夾雜羞恥感與困惑。有個問題在我腦海中一直揮之不去—如何把偷竊正當化?是否存在「好的盜竊」及「壞的盜竊」?在道德上又是否說得通?

My paintings primarily draw on the allure of robbery. The act of stealing is most readily associated with crime, but it plays a crucial and often-celebrated role in the history of painting and the creative process at large. I was initially attracted to the complex confusion and shame provoked by theft as I had experienced an enormous amount of loss not so long ago. The question I continually return to is, how can we justify stealing? Is there good and bad stealing? Is it ethically defensible?

當我把「盜竊」重新理解成一種愛的行為,「無辜」與「有罪」的界線變得模糊。在創作新作品的過程,我問自己:「為何我們會盜竊?我們偷了什麼?」。畫作能描繪某些事件,從而反映小偷的不當身分,觀眾能從特定場景,理解到小偷與受害人之間的複雜關係。在新系列中,「身份」無論在情感上抑或理智上都擔當重要的角色,而我正正希望探索當中的緊張關係。

The fine line between innocence and guilt is blurring for me as I reinterpret stealing as an act of love. In the process of creating this new body of work, I ask myself: Why do we steal and what do we steal? Depicting events that reflect the problematic role of thieves, the paintings confront viewers with particular scenarios that indicate a complicated relationship between the robber and the victim. Identity plays a huge role in this new series both emotionally and intellectually. The tension is something I wanted to explore.

回到我的家—香港,卻看到令人心碎的現實,這個城市已成為各國的戰火,更令我意識到生活已無法「如常」。自去年六月的逃犯條例,社會上的憤怒和恐懼一直升溫,期間我開始思考真相何時才算是足夠?我把畫作當做一種嘗試,試圖與界線外的討價還價、給多一次機會,與在邊緣的協商,希望能解開這些令人沮喪的矛盾。

Coming home to the heartbreaking reality that Hong Kong is caught in crossfire between world powers, it occurred me that it is business as usual no more. Public rage and fear, first triggered by the extradition bill last June, have since escalated. It is during this period when I began to question when is the truth enough? I saw my work as an attempt to bargain with transgressed boundaries, offering a second chance and negotiation for the sidelined in an attempt to reconcile with these upsetting circumstances.

在工作室日常:整天都需要不斷思考、尋找及等待,而沉思的時間往往比著手執行的時間長。我的工作室習慣、以至創作模式幾乎沒有改變,會輪流乘巴士和地鐵前往工作室,練習觀察別人,有時更會把沿途出現的一些細節放入畫作。我通常先從構思題目開始,接著把一些對我個人及本地歷史有重要意義的材料配對,我收藏的影像一直是創作的重要來源。

A typical day in the studio involves a lot of thinking, looking and waiting. The meditative part often takes longer than the actual execution. My studio habits have not changed and my process has more or less stayed the same. I alternate between taking the bus and the MTR (the local underground system) to the studio so I could practise people watching, during which little details that I picked up on route sometimes make their way into my paintings. I often start with titles that I have previously come up with and pair them up with source materials that are significant to my personal and local history. My archive of images continues to be an important source for all my work. 

最近我在嘗試上底色的不同技巧,希望能對麻質畫布的質料有更深入的了解。我開始先上兩層的兔皮膠,然後再塗一層至兩層薄的打底劑。這些細微的改變,讓我在工作室找到不少樂趣。

Recently, I have been experimenting with different priming techniques to better understand the fabric quality of linen canvases. I began priming them with two layers of rabbit skin glue before applying another thin layer or two of gesso. Small changes like this keep me entertained in the studio.

我二月到阿爾卑斯山旅遊,當時新型肺炎疫情在歐洲急速蔓延。幸運地我趕得及在畫廊及博物館關閉前參觀並購買大批材料。最初我很害怕會感染這致命的呼吸系統疾病,不過遼闊的阿爾卑斯山就像盾牌一樣。我在自己選擇的行業上掙扎,在藝術造詣上奮鬥,遠離繁囂的少女峰此刻慰藉我的心靈。

I took a trip to the Alps in late February, as COVID-19 infections spiraled across Europe. I was lucky to have caught shows before galleries and museums closed their doors and bought supplies in bulk. At the same time I was anxious about catching this deadly respiratory disease, but the vast stretch of Alpine hills acted like a shield. Physical distance on the Jungfraujoch offered me comfort as I grappled with employment, commitment and artistic merit in my chosen field.

我的工作室 | My studio

「學如逆水行舟,不進則退」,我經常責備自己進步得不夠快,甚至乎停濟不前。我無法在工作室以外的地方作畫,但疫情期間卻被建議要留在家中、最好寸步不離,令我很擔心自己會失去繪畫的動力。有很長的一段時間,我對自己的進度感到不滿,時常催迫自己突破、跳出以往的框架,這種失望感又熱切又美好。我知道過份依賴作品來證明自己的藝術家身分是有問題的,但這段時光卻很珍貴。

I was beating myself up for not improving quickly enough or that I would stop improving altogether. I was also worried that I would lose my drive to paint because we were advised not to leave the house, and I cannot paint without my studio. For a long time, I was feeling unsatisfied about my progress as I was always pushing myself to develop my work beyond what I was capable of doing at the time. The disappointment was sweet and intense. My extreme dependency on my production as a validation of my identity as an artist is problematic, but moments like this are valuable.

政府延長社交距離措施令我投放更多時間在網上社交。互聯網令我看到一些原本無法接觸的展覽及收藏品。在互聯網世界,我們都會被驅使、投入於虛擬社區,從中尋找觸感。我很幸慶自己能去工作室,這個習慣亦從未停止過。我遵從一個嚴格的時間表,並打算一直保持著。新的社交習慣令我重新確定自己獨處的生活方式並接納自己。我不得不說,線上的東西真的無法跟我們以往的生活模式比較。

With extended social distancing measures, I became increasingly invested in online relationships. The internet has enabled access to shows and collections that would otherwise not have been available. In the search for tactility in the internet world, we are all driven to attach ourselves to a virtual community. I never really stopped going to the studio, and I am grateful that I could go. I follow a rigid schedule and I intend to keep it that way. New societal habits reaffirmed my solitary lifestyle and allowed me to come to terms with myself. I have to say though, this online thing is really no match for what we used to have.

在這段困難時期,我繪畫的主題沒有改變。現時我正嘗試更大型的畫作,希望自己能學會畫得更有效率,不再過分執著於細節。我對特定顏色的品牌十分講究,例如要牛頓學生級油畫顏料的鈦白色及鉛白色、米高哈丁的印度棕色、佐治油畫顏料的鈷藍色、專家級的鈷紫色、林布蘭的冷灰色、威廉斯堡的康乃馨紅色等等。我不確定這會如何影響顏料的稠度,我透過購買不同牌子的顏料而學會分辨它們各自的特性。

My subject has not changed during this period of crisis. Currently, I am working on bigger paintings. I am trying to go up in scale so I could learn to paint faster and stop being overly obsessive with small corners. I am very particular about the brand of paint I use for specific colours. For example, Winsor & Newton’s Student Grade Oil for titanium white and flake white hue, Michael Harding for indian brown, Daler Rowney’s Georgian Oil for cobalt blue, Artist Grade for cobalt violet, Rembrandt Oil for cold grey, Williamsburg for dianthus pink and so on. I am not sure how this would directly affect the consistency of paint but I learnt to distinguish the different makes through my shopping hauls.

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大廈大堂內叫人戴口罩的告示 | Notice for wearing masks in office building lobby.

有趣的是,我開始以不一樣的角度閱讀參考文獻,從盜竊出發,思考人際關係的本質。為了維護和享受正當關係,人與人之間關係被拆開、又重新組合。從道德的觀點來看,我們絕不應該偷竊。但有些人為了生存而犯輕微的罪行,這衍生出一個問題:如果偷竊是出於愛和義務能否讓我們不用被定罪?這種矛盾的行為讓我們重新審視社會制度的核心—真相和信任。

Funnily enough, I start to read my references in a different light thinking about the genesis of human relationships through recognising theft as a bond. Relationships are dismantled and reassembled as one struggles to keep and enjoy what is rightfully theirs. From a moralistic point of view, we should never steal. But some people engage in petty crime to survive or to provide, which raises the question of whether stealing out of love and duty could free us from conviction. The paradoxical qualities of such act reassess truth and trust that are so central to participation in a social system.

在疫情期間,我繼續探索「偷竊」,試圖在畫作中,以「偷竊」作為最真誠的恭維。我發現自己再次倒數在香港的時光。新推出的《國安法》令人更憂心及不滿,許多人更形容是香港的世界末日。這條法例可能會嚴重打撃香港作為全球經濟通往中國的大門、亞洲最大型藝術中心的地位。在自我審查很可能出現的情況下,創意社區幾乎不可能繼續蓬勃發展。

As I continue to explore stealing as the sincerest form of flattery through my paintings during this Covid season, I find myself counting down my time in Hong Kong again. Feelings of distraught and discontent are amplified by the newly proposed national security law, which many argue to be the end of Hong Kong. I worry I’d give into the pleasure of solitude time and time again, as an escape. This legislation could severely undermine Hong Kong’s status as the global economic gateway to China and the biggest arts hub in Asia. It seems improbable that the creative community could continue to thrive when self-censorship is likely.

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從南朗山俯瞰海洋公園(在港島南區的樂園)| Brick Hill overlooking Ocean Park, an amusement park on the south side of Hong Kong island.

事件不幸地發展並非完全出乎意料,問題是現在、將來會發生什麼。我的學歷、背景和職業再次把我卡在中間。我開始創作這件作品時,很大程度是出於熱誠、想憑個人努力探索全新的生活。瞬息萬變的環境踏著貪婪和憤怒、盲目的愛和無法原諒的步伐,有著獨特的味道。示威重啟,我們繼續下注於不確定性。新的一周來臨,我惦念著那些曾留下、離開、又再回來的人。

早安、午安、晚安—

The unfortunate development of events have not been entirely unexpected. The question is what will and can happen now. My education, background and career once again put me in the in-between. When I began this body of work, it was largely out of fervor, a personal endeavor of navigating through this new season in life. There is a particular flavour to the caprices of rapidly changing circumstances, treading on greed and anger, blind love and the unforgivable. And as protests resumed and we continue to gamble on uncertainty, my mind begins to wonder about those who have stayed, left, and returned as we embark a new week.

Good morning, Good afternoon, Good evening and Good night.

結語

在這七天中我腦海閃過不同的片段,並嘗試整理思緒、構思文章。我想到不同的時刻,一個在這篇文章出現之前的時光,但是如果我跟你說是那是一個更美好的時光,我一定是在自欺欺人。我很反感偷竊所帶來的悲傷及損失,這亦使我對一段早已破碎的關係感到歉疚。我無可奈何卻又無可救藥地陷入一個我既無資格、亦未做好準備的小偷角色。這種不光彩的事情令我感到恐懼、亦為自己判斷錯誤感到尷尬。這同時令我好奇,如果沒什麼可偷,是否就沒什麼可失去?

雖然仍不清楚我們強烈反對的國安法當中的法律條文,但我開始覺得,我們所引以為傲的一切都將在時間中消失。一年前的我倉卒決心回港,意識到不得不重拾自己中國人的身份。問題不在於我覺得自己是中國人抑或香港人、英國人抑或中國人、英國人抑或香港人,而是對我來說,理解並接受從追溯家族歷史而得知的真實身份非常重要。

Epilogue

Many things came to mind over the seven days as I try to gather my thoughts for this piece. I thought about a different time, a time well before this feature came about. But I would be lying if I told you it was a better time. The revelation of grief and loss evoked by the act of stealing that I so obsessively dismissed made me deeply apologetic for my already dysfunctional rapport. In fact the trouble seemed to be that I had hopelessly fallen for the role as a thief that I was neither qualified nor ready to play. The dishonour frightened me and I was embarrassed about my poor judgement. This episode provoked my curiosity if there’s nothing left to steal, there’s nothing left to lose. 

It’s hard to not talk about the close ties between Hong Kong and Britain without looking at Hong Kong’s past. I wonder if the generation born in the late 90s could recall anything from the colonial era or even feel as conflicted and confused about our roots, heritage and identity. More and more are fighting for “One Identity, Two Citizenships” as Beijing signals the end of “One Country, Two Systems”. While it is still unclear what the much opposed national security law entails, I’m starting to feel that everything we take pride in would all become a time lost. When I frantically decided to return to Hong Kong just a little over a year ago, I felt compelled to reclaim my Chinese identity. The question was not if I feel more Chinese or Hong Kong, British or Chinese, British or Hong Kong. It was important to me to understand and accept the only authenticated identity tracing back my family history. 

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