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[Exhibition + Performance] ShumGhostJohn, Thousand Papers 千紙 (2019)


ShumGhostJohn, Thousand Papers (2019), Poplar, London. Photo: Jeffrey Choy

Weaving Together the Stories of Resistance


As Hong Kong artists and curators living in London’s East End, a bustling immigrant and working-class neighbourhood, we are always interested in investigating the city’s local history. During our research on Poplar and its inheritance, the mural commemorates the Poplar Rates Rebellion of 1921 reminds us of the social movements in our home city Hong Kong.

In Poplar, the mural records 30 imprisoned councillors who refused to pay precepts as a protest against the inequity of the system of local rates. In Hong Kong, the Lennon Walls have been mushrooming on the streets with colourful Post-it notes of political messages demanding democracy. People wrote down words of encouragement and solidarity. The mural and the walls tell the stories of resistance.

Our durational performance, Thousand Papers 千紙, transforms a range of accessible media including recycled paper of junk mails into a democratic and emotionally charged installation that embodies the artists’ personal memories and weaves together the stories of the Poplar community to show solidarity in our history of resistance.

Thousand Papers 千紙 is inspired by the Japanese origami art of crane folding recalled from our childhood memories. In East Asian culture, traditional funerals often include the burning of folded paper as a way to send gifts and companions to the people who passed away. During the performance, we fold papers and make origami together, expressing our feelings, thoughts, stories and memories in the space. We collectively create the work with the audience. With repetition in the action of folding, the performance is a process of social meditation and community healing, enhancing the connection between our friends and family.

The work also takes inspiration from physical gestures and positive energy at social movements. As making origami is cheap and easily accessible, it is an activity for everyone, including the grassroots. These origami will be tied up and hovered in the air, holding memories and hopes of the Poplar community. The hovering of the origami allows us to put our hopes and dreams high. The strings of origami symbolise the connections of the community.

Thousand Papers 千紙 was presented at Bow Arts, Goldsmiths and Queen Mary, University of London in exhibitions of Hong Kong’s stories in 2019. Now, we are broadening and adapting this piece in a street store and discovering what chemistry it will create with the local community in Poplar. A live broadcast of the durational performance will be presented in Poplarism! – a digital arts festival celebrating the centenary of the Poplar Rates Rebellion of 1921. We collect stories through Facebook posts and Instagram story questions.

The collection of origami will become the story of Poplar, the collective memory of the Poplar residents. When the participants are preserving their wishes and hopes, our performance is a physical embodiment of the collective movements, merging the past and present into the moments when the work is being created or viewed. Together, we write, sing, dance, celebrate and make origami…

‘也許故事從未結束,暫此封印在千鶴內。Tell us your never-ending stories, hopes and dream. So then we can build the Senbazuru of ours.’


Article published on .ART, a domain zone created specifically for the global creative community.

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