“Motives for Remembering,” 2nd book launch conversation for Our Manifestos 2: Videography, Documentary Impulses took place on-line 28 May with participating artists from outside Hong Kong. The conversations continue as Natalie A. Chao, another participating artist, wrote to Linda Lai to follow up on her postscript with Zach McLane, this time delving into how our body remembers and why manifesto-writing will not be obsolete. … 「錄像宣言2」新書發佈會2 — 網絡研討會『為何要記住』5月28日在據點舉行。繼 Zach McLane 傳來研討後記,另一位年青影像創作人趙芷妮又透過電郵與黎肖嫻進行跟進討論,想起身體如何記住,為何還要寫宣言。

 

**feature image: courtesy of Natalie A. Chao 趙芷妮 | updated 4 June 2021, 4:27pm

Postscript 2 (published with Natalie Chao’s consent)

3rd June 2021

Dear Linda,

I saw the postscript that Zach sent and felt so compelled to message you – for the few days after I had lingering sentiments that I wanted to somehow relay to you, so maybe it’s best that I don’t hold anything back and just articulate them as rawly as possible :

To be very honest, since the last workshop we had in 2020 – I  have been really struggling to understand my motive to remember. So, coming in to FP that night I was quite nervous and wasn’t sure what I could really contribute in a time where I feel so overwhelmed by the burden of who I was. For a few months I’ve been thinking a lot about this loss of self; I find myself nostalgic for who I was two years ago when I first met you — wide eyed, curious and wanting to prove something. My homecoming as you know was very fateful timing, and for the longest time I didn’t know whether or not I was going to stay. Each time we met you would ask if I planned to leave, and each time I resisted — without a clear explanation. I didn’t know where else to go, and back then staying felt like a responsibility, and still does.

So, when you very bluntly asked all of us why we believed this act of writing a manifesto mattered – and whether it is now obsolete, I knew in my heart there was an answer — but I still couldn’t really articulate a reason beyond helping me hold on to something in a time when I feel very lost about why images matter. But I believe in what I said about the responsibility to remember. I think that is the most important thing to hold on to in these absurd times. We need to question why we must remember so as not to forget so quickly. I think of the tens and thousands of words I had written in 2019, and all the emotions I carried with me when I had so much I wanted to understand, to confront and resolve. As of right now I am still working on a long-term feature project tied to the protests. In fact the night of our talk I just came out of a 12-hour editing session and my head was full of images of violence. There were a few things I wanted to mention that night about the HK context — about remembering, and I am so grateful you spoke up about it because I was just not in the right frame of mind to do so. I think in my own personal work, and what I am in the process of creating now, trauma is very much tied to the act of remembering/forgetting. A question I wanted to raise was: how does the body remember? As I spend so many days editing, I realise a lot of my body is still reacting to these images that don’t necessarily strike any feeling to me anymore, but sometimes a scream – a shot of tear gas – screams and shouts – sirens, will trigger goosebumps. But at the same time, I am trying to narrativise all of this and feel a lot of burden, and what scares me is that on a conscious level, I am losing the will to remember and archive my own emotions about the transformations taking place here and with myself — I used to do so on a daily basis but now I scarcely even read the news (to preserve my own health).

There was a time in 2019 when I thought video was evidence, that stories, no matter how important they are on a subjective, emotional level, had to offer some sort of justice for what we were all witnessing during that time. But as I fast forward to now when so many of the institutional, political structures have been eroded — a time when even the act to document, whether in a journalistic sense or not, is being criminalised, and we are challenged with so many broken, fragmented and twisted narratives — I kept questioning the point of filming violence. I tried my best not to add to the pixelated trauma – but it felt wrong also to not hold those with power accountable by not showing what was happening on the ground. But at the same time, now that we are just left with these images, they don’t shock anymore because we are all numbed by it. And this is not just in HK obviously — we have seen this happen everywhere, it has always been happening. Now it depends on where you choose to look — how do we direct that attention then? Who has the power to tell stories that will be heard? To document something and be able to present it in a context where that ‘evidence’ matters? Video is not evidence. Evidence will not always bring justice. It is always going to be a fight for narratives, for the right to speak. Without manifestos, we will forget how to articulate our wants and desires, our moral values attached to the medium we choose. Without actively trying to acknowledge why we do what we do, we can easily turn our cameras into weapons. I still feel like I am shooting sometimes rather than filming. But I need to remember there is a difference. Even if justice is not possible in the way that I imagined, does that mean we stop looking? Absolutely not. I still believe that stories are all we have left, as long as we are willing to tell them — this still counts as resistance. The official narrative will always be pitted against us, but if we cannot remember our own personal manifestos, our own personal memory, then collective memory cannot be realised.

Hope it’s okay for me to drop my thoughts like this, I very much appreciate the space you and the Floating Projects foster for conversations like this, we need it more than ever and please let me know if there is ever anything I can do to support you all.

Best,

Natalie

 

4th June 2021

Dear Natalie,

It’s very sweet and generous of you to write yesterday. I often feel I’m so totally overwhelmed by work that I have missed chances to have deep and slow exchange with people around me.

Your sense of loss totally understood… I just experience it on a different level, not so much about who I am/was/would be — a question I now supersede by acting out instead (I am what I do) — but about the irony of history. I once again stand here looking back: how knowledge of the past had been so marred with problematic narrative rivalries, or the scramble for the power to dominate other inconvenient truths, that the power game has long decided who speaks and who would be remembered and how. It is tragic and astonishing that we don’t study facts enough and we are totally short-memory and remain ignorant of histories — I mean, competing accounts of the past. And when I look at surviving facts, I feel what an existential sociologist J. Douglas says, “So much of what really counts to people in our society goes on in secret.” There is then also our experiences which need a place-holder, and art seems to provide it. There isn’t much of a choice other than persisting in knowing and articulating as long as the means are alive. Narrative activities have special meanings for me, thus…

There is no fateful timing other than when we are sober and feeling… You have a unique chain of experiences, and some episodes of your life are not the most welcome. But it makes you, there is no doubt about it.

Your pain is bodily. Same here. Mine in the form of sudden flushes of tears when alone — but that is much better than brooding in blatant depression, right? I’ve been thinking a lot about the dead: my father, and several super talented former students who have departed way before they could ask, “Who am I?”

Honestly, I’m staying distant from those images you talk about; not that I can’t face the horror of truth, but that I do not want to indulge in sensationalism, as that is what is expected of us… to be disarmed from action, to burn ourselves in perplexity and anger rather than to take tactical reasoned actions. … And, there are so many stories to tell, and so many stories to unveil behind those images, some long rooted ones…. Narrativity must go on.

Do I believe in manifesto-writing? I have answered that in the introduction of the book. But I also re-open the question of our “documentary impulses” — what does that mean? how do our experiences facilitate, generate and delimit our act of documenting?

Remember I once engaged you in a deep conversation — but in a formal ritualistic impersonal way? I must admit it is my self-conscious self-defense to stay away from melancholic sentimentalism with others: I can only cry by myself as for now.

I know you’re taking root in Hong Kong, and that must be understood as concrete doings.

Have a good day!

Linda

photo by Linda Lai