By Siu Tung
Since the first night on residency at Tai Sang Wai, Paul Yip has got into the habit of keeping good hours. He always woke up early at 4 am. Although the sky was still dark, the chirps of early birds resounded throughout every corner of the village. Between the twitters, Paul strolled to every spot around the fishponds to study the sunrise at different angles. Sometimes the sun glows behind the woods and illuminates the branches floating on the fishponds; at other times, it hangs on the sky and embellishes the ripples with rounds and rounds of glittering circles. At dusk, he would also search for the best angle to watch the sunset. He would sit on the lawn and wait blankly. All of a sudden, when he raised his head, he would find an orange sunbeam cast on the fishponds. And the backlight would turn the wooden boats on the fishponds into dark silhouettes...
Paul, being an urban dweller, had not stared and observed the subtle changes in nature with this much attention for a long time. He videotaped these natural scenes and matched them with soundtracks for his artwork Gazing. The work is comprised of two parts. The first part is "video installation", which is a music score device made with fishnet, leaves, stones, and discarded objects found in the village. Through this installation floating on the fishponds, sounds become "objects" visible to viewers. Every time the fishing net submerges or the sunlight, the wind, and the fishes move, the music score floating on the pond transforms accordingly.
The other part of the work is a "sheet music module" which was intended for public participation and collaboration. Paul brought some handy materials, including hundreds of pieces of lead firmly affixed on the fishing net, from the village to the city for the participants to insert to and modify the soundtrack.
Paul lived in Auntie Laan's house during the residency. Hence, he lived together with Auntie Laan for quite a while. It was winter when Paul was in the residency. Despite the rather cold weather, Paul forced himself to get up early and search for beautiful sceneries. Soon after Paul did his first round of shooting, Auntie Laan would arrive at the fishponds and start working around 9 o'clock. Paul would then learn from Auntie Laan about how the fishers in Tai Sang Wai farm fishes. For that reason, Paul knows that Auntie Laan feeds the fishes with milk powder and bread. He also learned that the colour of the pond water he stared at does reflect the pH level of the water. Through a glimpse of the colour of the water, Auntie Laan will know whether she needs to pump air to increase the water's oxygen content.
At noon, Paul would return to Auntie Laan's house and have lunch with her and her family. Paul felt especially honored as he had the chance to taste the "salted fresh fish", a kind of salted fish which is pickled for one night only, prepared by Auntie Laan. Apart from that, he also tasted Chinese sausages handmade by Auntie Laan and farm-to-table lettuce, which was handpicked and cooked by her neighbour. Auntie Laan would go to the village office to play Mahjong after lunch, and Paul would go to bed for a nap after parting from Auntie Laan before heading out again to the fishponds to search for the best sunset scenery. The fishing village enlivened when he went out in the afternoon, children were playing football or cycling, and he would hear the sound of radio and television from the village houses. In the evening, he would also dine with Auntie Laan, savouring the grey mullet farmed by Auntie Laan at the fishponds. Soon after dinner, Paul would go to bed early.
Next to the fishponds, there are a few fruit trees planted by Auntie Laan. Auntie Laan would talk about those trees every time when Paul passed by them. She would also pick the mangoes, citrus fruits, guavas, and bananas on the trees and give them to Paul. "I'm glad to share the fruits with visitors. But the visitors who picked the fruits without asking are simply disrespectful." Auntie Laan pointed at the banana tree and said as she was picking up the fruit.
This is more or less the everyday life of Paul during the residency. In essence, he was looking forward to the sunrise and the sunset every dawn and dusk, enjoying the comfort, tranquility, and peacefulness of nature. Even though the egg york like sunset vanishes in a flash, it is still a scene worth him waiting patiently by the pond every day. At the same time, the reflection of leaves juxtaposed with the glitter of the fishponds like an exquisite ink painting.
In the next morning, Paul brought his recording devices to sample the sounds of birds. He had to slow down his steps so as not to disturb the singing birds as they have a watchful vigilance. Paul noticed that the smaller birds usually can sing and have bright chirps while the bigger heron makes rumbling sounds and do not sing. At that moment, a village cat walked to the side of Paul and kept running around him until he stopped working and pet it. Once it was tickled, the cat followed on his side in satisfaction.
Paul then returned to Auntie Laan's house for lunch as usual. Auntie Laan said that fishers live a simple life with minimal drama each day; she has accustomed to such humdrum life. Although she does not earn much with fishing, the lack of worries has led her to a pleasant life.
"Nowadays, people often live a busy and hasty life. They don't have the leisure to observe or discover the trivial matters. Hence, they have overlooked the beauty in the uselessness that worth savouring and contemplating." Paul reminisced about the inspiration for his work Gazing. He hopes the viewers would appreciate the beauty of tranquility through his work and become more patient in observing the subtle changes of nature scenery. "An attentive gaze brings about a more profound affection, leading one to reflect on the meaning of the humdrum in everyday life and uselessness."