George Major, UK / Hong Kong

Residency Period: September 18, 2016 - May 31, 2017


Bio

Native of London, UK and currently residing in Hong Kong, George Major holds BA (Hons) in Fine Art and Philosophy from University of Reading, (2006) and a MFA in Art Writing from Goldsmiths College. (2012) His work approaches epistemology and historiography, and has been presented and performed at Chisenhale Gallery (2011), Whitechapel Gallery (2012), the ICA (2012), and the Barbican Centre (2013). In 2014, his collaboration with artist Maru Rojas, Urban Myths of the Near Future, was shortlisted for the Camaradas award, presented by the Mexican Embassy in London; as well, their Moby Dick Murder Mystery (bilingual) Floating Participatory Theatre featured at the Dieppe/Newhaven Art Festival. From 2008 until 2012, he was director of the itinerant gallery Squid & Tabernacle. S&T staged exhibitions, live events and film screenings in a variety of spaces including a disused tailor’s shop, a shipping container, art festivals and studio complexes. Between 2011 and 2015, he was a prominent member of the free alternative arts education initiative AltMFA, who as a group, exhibited widely, appearing at London’s Art Licks Weekend and Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn.

URL: www.georgemajor.com


On-hiatus Proposal Summary

George used to run with an athletics club when he was at school. He has always liked the idea of doing an ultra long distance running race although while living in London, he had barely broke into a jog in 15 years. Instead, he would walk everywhere, imaging the streets as a kind of palimpsest document of stories, myths and history, appended with literary references and creative possibilities. He developed an intimate relationship to his own city through walking, a source for many ideas for his art practice.

It was two years ago when he moved to Hong Kong that running suddenly came back to him; he entered a 50 km mountain race and since then, he has ran four 50km races, a couple of mountain marathons and so many shorter races that he has begun to lose track of them. He has explored more of the territory’s countryside, passed through more backwater fishing villages and isolated hilltops than many Hong Kong born people – to a point that he toyed with the idea of declaring that his artistic practice is now chiefly concerned with running.

George’s on-hiatus residency at RFAOH might be directly related to his obsession with running (an obsession his girlfriend finds “unhealthy”.) He will train for and run a 100km race as well as aim to beat his previous times in each of the other races he has done. Whether he will finally come to declare that “running”=”his art” or not, he hopes that his on-hiatus activity and its documentation as a creative exercise will be a chance to reflect on the impact of what he’s choosing to do, and reawaken his practice. He also wants to get to know his new city, a bit faster this time, than the 30 years he took for his hometown, London.


Final Report

I haven't thought much about art-making over the past year. At the start of the residency I was thinking about parallels between my hiatus activity and being an artist. Both, I think, require a similar mindset; bloody mindedness, ability to derive satisfaction from something that is not always fun and that can be hard to explain to others. Distance running is very much a lonely, solo pursuit where your main opponent is your own self-doubt. Yet it is also something that is done in big groups much of the time. This dichotomy may have some equivalence to being an artist. There is an unspoken rule at races that people congratulate each-other on their performances no-matter how badly they've done, there's a general camaraderie. I've never quite been able to work out how this compares to being an artist in a social setting around other artists.

Speaking of social activity. The past season of running I have become far more involved in the social side of the activity, but I've had increasingly little interest in writing about it, posting pictures on social media and so on. As far as running in races has gone - I had moderate success to start with. But, as I've written before, I overdid it and it stopped being fun for a while. I'm now really looking forward to when the racing season starts again, but as for art-making... I quit teaching at Christmas to concentrate on writing (I'm now editing magazines for a living), and that has opened new avenues for me. Over the past month I have got to know the city's art galleries a lot better than I did before. I think the gallery scene in Hong Kong is far less accessible than in my native London, had it not been for my writing work, I don't think I would have been able to make any gallery contacts. Not that I'm looking at getting a gallery show or anything. A vague idea has been knocking around in the back of my head though.

I've loads of bits of writing I've been sitting on for ages. I need to finish one or two of those. I'm doing some work for Hong Kong Art Gallery Association, so I'm really glad to be getting involved with art in HK at last. And I'm still running, I'm signed up to a 168km race in December and a few between now and then.

For a city of its size, Hong Kong is very lacking in art museums. I've a vague notion of doing a sort of HK reworking of Broodthaers' Musee d'Art Moderne Departement des Aigles - although I'm hesitant. I don't want to create a snarky/internet meme/bantz piece of work. I've not had much contact with London-based artist friends and former collaborators so far this year - although I did write a text for a publication by a group I used to collaborate with, in which I tried to sum up why I wasn't making art at the moment. I've reproduced the text below:

 

THERE’S NO HOME WITHOUT A HAUNTING

I am a sub-urbanist, I have gone out looking for the city’s grand narratives along my own nondescript residential street. For years I never looked further than I could walk in a day.

I was in London most of my life; a city of one thousand and one villages that have merged over time to create a single conurbation. On my tours of mundane suburbia I became interested in the origins of place names. Many places, according to various local myths, got their names during the black death. But in almost every case, the folk etymology was demonstrably wrong. Still, that the same untrue grand narrative was repeated so frequently suggested that the trauma of the second bubonic plague pandemic is still echoing around the collective subconscious even after centuries have passed. I moved to Hong Kong. For two years I enjoyed life in a ballardian high-rise apartment. The city seemed strangely familiar, but when I wandered my new local streets looking for stories, I found none.

Later on I moved to an older part of the city. My new apartment was a little run-down but surprisingly cheap, given its central location and large size. I joked that maybe something terrible had once happened there. Hongkongers are generally very wary of potentially haunted houses. You can bag a real bargain by checking the database of addresses where murders and suicides have occurred. I decided it was best not to look up my new address on the database. Just this week I learnt that when the third bubonic plague pandemic reached Hong Kong in 1894 the outbreak was centred on the village of Tai Ping Shan, which stood metres from where my apartment was later built. I learnt that my neighbourhood played an important role in Franco-Swiss scientist Alexandre Yersin’s discovery of the plague-causing bacillus.

According to the story I heard, unclaimed corpses were left in the local temples during the outbreak. I had already noticed that during the Hungry Ghost Festival in August, when offerings are burnt in the street to appease restless spirits, my new neighbourhood became very active and the air filled with smoke.

Tai Ping Shan Street is now home to a mixture of hip coffee shops and traditional coffin workshops. The area is popular with young French-speakers. But back in colonial times it was an overcrowded, unsanitary slum. When the plague arrived the British burned the village to the ground. (Hong Kong, 3 November 2016)"


archives

SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
      1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031     
      1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30      
   1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031 
       
   1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728    
       
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031    
       
    123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031
       
  12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930   
       
      1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031     
    123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930 
       

 

recent comments

On May 11 2017, marisa commented on Catching up... Vegans... Fun: What?!? No photos of the runners in fancy dress! I'm intrigued. Definitely make sure it's fun. [...]

On Feb 3 2017, co-director (s) commented on New year, new goals: Is the race this weekend the 9 Dragons you were talking about in the last report? Or you've already [...]

On Feb 3 2017, co-director (s) commented on Archaeology: We also get held hostage by the park deers in Nara, Japan; they really search through your pockets f[...]

On Jan 23 2017, co-director (m) commented on Archaeology: In Vietnam, We were once held hostage for a bit by some vicious monkeys on an island called 'Monkey [...]

On Jan 22 2017, marisa commented on Archaeology: funny to warn about the monkeys! I had a run-in with a monkey in Nara, Japan, near the waterfall. [...]


Urban Exploration

After last month’s post about exploring abandoned villages I want to tell you a little bit more about opportunities for urban exploration in Hong Kong. When I first arrived in the city I found it a real challenge to engage with the history of the place. My ballardian high-rise apartment just wasn’t conducive to doing psychogeography. But since moving to an older (tattier) flat in another part of town I have been coming across all sorts of interesting local history. I recently discovered that the area just behind my new flat was the site of a village where the third bubonic plague epidemic arrived in Hong Kong in 1894. The British occupiers burned the village to the ground to stop the spread of the plague, but not before the Franco-Swiss scientist Alexandre Yersin had arrived and become the first person to successfully isolate the bacillus that causes bubonic plague.

A distant folk-memory of these events seems to persist in local coffin workshops and temples and during the annual hungry ghost festival in August, when offerings are burnt in the street to appease restless spirits.

Anyway, there are a couple of very easily accessible sites for exploration that I discovered early on in my time in Hong Kong. The first is Kowloon Walled City Park.

At its height in the late 80s, Kowloon Walled City was home to around 33,000 people inside a plot measuring just 210 x 120 metres. Its reputation is one of lawlessness and squalor, but the walled city’s population formed a close-knit community, surviving with apparently little or no external government support.

Over the decades more and more buildings were crammed into the small space, around 350 buildings packed in, around and on top of one-another, reaching up to 14 storeys high. It was possible to traverse the city from end to end through its dense network of passageways without touching the ground. 

In the 1990s the whole place was demolished and a park built in its place. Some of the foundations of the walled city can still be found there, along with this bronze model of the city as it once was:

Not far from Kowloon Walled City Park is the old Kai Tak Airport. Kai Tak closed in 1998, but in its day it was notorious as one of the most difficult places to land as a pilot, and most terrifying as a passenger. Approaching Kai Tak’s runway from the north, planes had to fly low over a range of hills and make a dramatic last-second turn to avoid the skyscrapers of Kowloon and reach the runway.

Today, what appears to be a newly built but empty airport terminal building stands on the site of the old runway: 

It is, in fact, a cruise ship terminal, big enough to accommodate thousands of passengers, but vacant for the majority of the time when no ship is docked.

It is a nice spot for a picnic too. 

Leave a Comment (1)

Wayne Lim wrote on Jan 21:

I can imagine the landing at the old Kai Tak airport to be quite an amazing sight though!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1s7Q-Z2PGQw