The art historian Jonathan Hay writes about the “Suspension of Dynastic Time” in relation to artists and scholars who found themselves caught between the bian 變 (‘transformation’) from the Ming to the Qing dynasty. Individuals were torn between maintaining allegiance to their birth era and the new Manchu regime which now held the ‘Mandate from Heaven’. Artists who chose to distance themselves from the new dynasty are referred to as yimin 遺民 (‘remnant subjects’). Within this broad range of remnant or ‘left-over’ individuals, some committed suicide, others took refuge in monasteries, some continued to write or paint in particularly ‘obscure’ and allusive ways, while others mourned for an official period of time and then became part of the Qing state. These moments of transformation are where I’ve always considered the work of 西西Xi Xi—not in the 17th century transfer of dynasties, but as an ever-evolving chronicle of a place that has never been any one thing. As the character ‘Braids’ in My City rests her head upon the dictionary, all of the previous and possible incarnations of Hong Kong appear on the page. And within these stories, myriad people searching and establishing identities from the mid-1950s to the present day. Xi Xi’s gift is in her ability to maintain equilibrium within this transformation, orbiting through landscapes, sometimes as surreal as the Luis Chan painting on the book’s cover.
Senior Editor, Zephyr Press; Curator + Publisher UMAG.