Good Night Analogue, Good Morning Digital

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Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery Until Jun 3

There is an episode of British sci-fi show Doctor Who in which the time-travelling hero is transported to a French village circa 1888 to savour the hospitality of one Vincent van Gogh. Infatuated by the Doctor’s travelling companion, Amy Pond, the Dutch painter suggests they take one of his self-portraits as a memento. The Doctor, of course, refuses, for fear of irreparably altering history.

Lee Lee-Nam has no such compunctions. In Good Night Analogue, Good Morning Digital, Lee conscripts an army of the most decorated paintings in the Eastern and Western canons to do his bidding. Across a plethora of video screens and media installations, Lee animates these famous works of art, fabricating fantastical fabulations of narrative whimsy and gleefully rewriting history in the process.

The exhibition both takes history as its concern and is deeply concerned about its future, in view of the mass digitisation of everyday life. As a consequence of the proliferation of digital technologies, our experience of the world has become commensurate with experiencing reality through representation. The result of such a condition is the dissolution of the line between reality and representation in our perceptions. And because of the ubiquitousness of smartphones and laptops, our experience of the world is no longer beholden to a single moment in time or space. We cannot simply be in a single place at a single point in time. We occupy, at all times, all places and all moments. The question that Lee’s exhibition poses is: given this condition, what becomes of history?

The exhibition’s title announces that, despite the apparent totality with which digital technology has colonised both the farthest-flung regions of the world and the most intimate territories of our experience, certain facts of life remain immutable. Permeating each of Lee’s fantastical narrativisations of famous objets d’art are the mundane perpetuities that continue to govern our lives: the passage of day and night, the changing of the seasons. They act as an absolute limit upon the dominion of representation and suggest a conception of history irreducible to representation, and ineradicably representational – the history of lived experience.

It might seem that with the technologisation of everyday experience, our very existence is constituted by its erasure, just like the time-travelling Doctor, who traverses every terrain of history but never lives it. But at the end of the aforementioned Doctor Who episode, despite having refused the memento of Van Gogh’s self-portrait, they find, at the bottom of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, a dedication: ‘For Amy’. The history of lived experience always leaves a trace.

Simon Zhou

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