Take Me To The River, Draw Me A Star

A View of Hong Kong, from 1963 to the Handover

by Stephanie Bailey , Published on artreview.com

Law Yuk Mui, Star Score, 2023, punched holes on paper, 13 pieces, 21 × 29 cm (each).

Courtesy the artist and Tomorrow Maybe, Hong Kong

In 1963 Hong Kong endured its driest year on record. Extending existing policies based on endemic shortages, tap water was rationed to four hours every fourth day at the peak of the crisis. Eventually, the colonial government struck a deal to extend an ongoing trade in water with Guangdong, but not before it considered ferrying water from Japan. This was the Cold War, after all, and Hong Kong’s dependence on China for water was – and is – an important political tool. That some Hongkongers took matters into their own hands at the time is something to which Law Yuk Mui’s most recent exhibition refers: Take me to the River, Draw me a Star is anchored to a rainmaking ritual performed on 2 June 1963 by Sheung Shui villagers on Wa Shan, next to the Ng Tung River.

Divided into three sections, Law’s show portrays elements of that ritual at one end of the gallery titled ‘1963’. There, the three-channel looped video Bugang Tadou (2023) comprises a vertical green-screen leaning against one wall emitting ambient sounds of a hike to Wa Shan, next to a reedited cut of Law’s two-channel video Rainmaking (2021). One vertical display shows a rotating 3D animation of a stone altar, while a horizontal monitor depicts a figure arranging pebbles on the floor – a reference to ‘Bu Gang Ta Dou’ or ‘Pacing the Big Dipper’, in which the seven brightest stars within Ursa Major guide the footwork of Daoist rituals. That celestial framing extends to the show’s middle section, titled ‘1963/2023’ after the fact that these are both Water Rabbit years, hence the two ink and gold-leaf on paper star-charts on view, based on the longitude and latitude of Wa Shan at 2pm on 2 June 1963 and 2023 respectively. Props for a performance are arranged in the area, with a video showing Law hammering holes into a circular black tarp that’s raised at one end so that light projects constellations onto the floor through its punctures. Star Score (2023) extends this astral cartography: holes punched into a black-card scroll laid on two music stands mimic, according to exhibition materials, formations of the eighth-century Dunhuang Star Chart.

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