Surplus Time


Surplus Time 
Hu Fang


       Sunday afternoon: Picnic with friends and hand-painted cloth at Yung Shu O, Sai Kung, 2003
       One day: Lunch with mum and friends with hand-painted cloth at home, 2003
       Another sunny day: Picnic with friends and hand-painted cloth at Wan Chai, Sai Kung, 2003
       One night: Dinner with friends and hand-painted cloth, 2003
       Public holiday: Picnic with friends and hand-painted cloth at Lamma Island, HK, 2004
       Ideal standard: (A perfect setting: nothing to do at home with the hand-painted cloth as table cloth and window curtain, 5-4-2005), 2005
       A holiday: Hand-painted cloth as picnic cloth and bed sheet in hotel in Singapore, 2005
       How long?: Picnic with friends with hand-painted cloth at Repulse Bay, HK, 2006
       Lunch in prison: Lunch with friend and hand-painted cloth at Victoria Prison, HK, 2006
       I went for a drink with friends during my short stay in Beijing, Sept 2007. I brought along my hand-painted cloth to the bar and left it there, 2007
       Hand-painted cloth used to clean the windows on a rainy day, Wellington, 2007
       An afternoon with Ron and Mark with hand-painted cloth as tablecloth, Wellington, 2007
       Chatting with Samuel and Sara on hand-painted cloth as my bed sheet, 2008
       To someone: Hand-painted cloth as tablecloth, 2008–09

       And so, did these hand-painted cloths, Lee Kit’s earliest form of painting, just disappear into the abyss of time?
       They disappeared gradually, so that you felt you were standing on the crystalline ocean surface watching the fish dive into the depths, and maybe the speed of their disappearance corresponded precisely to the amount of time Lee Kit spent painting each cloth over the years. Back then, the hand-painted cloths were a kind of manual labor for living someplace else, accumulating a kind of conviction; but these accumulations were not leading to a definite form, as most of them were in fact preparation for the eventual dispersal of the work. Where did those moments disperse? Where did those paintings scatter? And with whose daily lives did they develop relationships?
       Recognizing one of Lee Kit’s blue hand-painted cloths in the curtain of a friend’s bathroom, I smile inwardly to myself—it’s like bumping into a long-lost friend. Even though Lee Kit’s work was never intended to enter into other lives, people still seem to want to live with the hand-painted cloths.


       The inculcation of time. Between 2006 and 2009, in those early years when he used his studio as his living space, Lee Kit often sat at the table, unconsciously digging his fingers into its surface. Some people received the postcards he mailed, upon which was written: I am scratching the table surface. This was a communication that did not seek a reply. And after many years this table preserving the traces of Lee Kit’s scratching at last became a painting, but the moment it first started to take shape was only one moment in life.


       In another moment, he appears at the venue, pouring coffee for each person, with an ashtray placed next to the coffee pot, while the video in the corner shows an ashtray slowly filling up with ashes.
       What’s fascinating about Lee Kit is precisely how he can become just another “person” in this scene, so that the scene, with its blend of coffee fragrance and smoke, constantly reappears in my mind. It is not a performance. Years later, when I once again mention this to Lee Kit, he replies, “Basically, I believe I am just ‘doing some things,’ and at most it is only when these things are put in the context of performance that some qualities emerge that allow them to be packaged like that. It’s probably not so interesting if you see it as performance, and in any case I feel it’s more about arranging things on a table together, instead of shining a light on them. And the situation contained by these incidents may seem light, may seem really slow, but it’s actually not so light…there’s always a sense of burden, like a lightness with weight.” I think this may be the mood shared by all the people present, just that normally when we perceive this situation, there is no way of prolonging the feeling.
       The process of filling an ashtray is also the process of filling surplus time, and this unexpectedly becomes the kernel of the encounter with Lee Kit’s work. Here, the duration spent in the encounter with the work can be converted into the process of activating body/consciousness, like in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.


       Most of the time in front of Lee Kit’s works, we seem to be waiting for the appearance of a certain moment, which is somewhat different from the general idea that we should be keen to recognize the work and evaluate our relations with it.
       At least, the reason I have slowly learned to try to accept a certain passiveness in my encounters with Lee Kit’s works is precisely because they manifest the kind of relief, or even surrender, that follows extreme mental agitation. If we could further observe how an artist responds with an ambivalent attitude to the cultivation of his sensitivities by consumer society, then this passiveness might not be without its own appropriate sense of resistance.
       Accordingly, painting is not about image production and is instead a process for sharing ambivalent images with others—is the crystallization of flows of consciousness. Similar to how the overlaying of images can achieve an inner portrait in the intersections of space and time, if moving images make the crystallized structure of time-consciousness more evident, more permeable, directly turning it into a projection of consciousness, then the divide between moving images and painting is certainly one of reciprocal flux. This perhaps explains why, in his gradually developing painting practice, Lee Kit slowly permeates his moving images. That is, he rediscovers painting in the nebulous zone between moving image and painting.
       There, unspeakable obsessions can be endlessly recounted on loop, and no matter whether it is a word or a sentence, everything moves toward its opposite meaning in this endless recounting: tragedy becomes comedy, comedy becomes farce.


       Another means of resisting the world can be achieved entirely through the actions of the hand. With their simple appearance, a pair of hands—extremities of the body’s nervous system—returns us to our fundamental point of contact with the world. We can actually witness more expression within seemingly tedious, monotonous repetition. But what makes these hands so rich in expression is that they are precisely an immediate “bare existence,” and through them, we enter into humanity itself as a fundamental limitation of existence—as are its desires and prejudices.
       Things that approach a level of obsession probably constantly prey upon the mind, such as a pair of hands clasped together—the completely still and almost broken parts of the hands—or the process of endlessly spreading paint on a wall. In the distance, there’s probably a gray, spectral structure.
       If you’ve ever experienced such moments, what are they?
       How were these seemingly broken timelines able to resume their lives in a given space by such ambivalent means?
       Just as it is only after a long time that certain colors fade, certain memories are restored, or two opposing narratives become one.
       In a viral narrative space, the frequency of the curtain’s fluttering is probably the same as the swaying of the branches beyond the window.
       Just as how with each layer of color painted on the tabletop, the wood beneath appears all the more distinctly.
       So, sentiment is no longer possessive.
       The interest in hands may be an interest in the world’s psychic extremities. But it could also be a portrait of the everyman.


        “Cut out the fragments of the world, stretch them beyond limit.” 


Text © 2015 the Author