By Siu Tung
SZE Ka Yan (Sze) makes straws with reeds picked from the fishponds in Tai Sang Wai and turns them into a wall of which the straws can be taken away by visitors. The stem of the reed was used to be a natural material to make straws but then was replaced by plastic because of the slow extraction and production processes.
On the day of the interview, Sze came to the side of a fishpond in Tai Sang Wai with a bag of dried sweet potatoes. She sat on the lawn under the dwarf trees and gazed quietly at the migratory birds catching fish above the fishpond, ladybirds on the grass and the fluttering reeds in the wind by the fishpond.
She wanted to make art with reeds. Since she came to Tai Sang Wai for a residency two years earlier, she often heard the villagers talking about the reeds when she got along with them. She was told that once the fishponds were abandoned, the reeds overgrow. It takes a lot of time and manpower to clear the reeds. In the eyes of fish farmers, the reed is a bad weed. However, there was a time when Sze went to an abandoned fish pond. She saw the slender reeds with flowers fluttering in the wind and a sheep raised by a group of villagers came over to feed on the reed. That scenery in front of her was magnificent.
Over the past year or two, Sze has become interested in weaving after making fire dragons in Ping Che Village and performing the fire dragon dance in the mid-Autumn Festival. When she saw reeds at fish ponds, she thought that they could be used to make some knitting works. She didn't want to produce useless exhibits only for the exhibition. Therefore, she chose the reed as it is an attractive natural material as well as a unique product with continuous supply from the fishponds. She also felt as if she was helping to clear the weeds by using them.
"You can only do this because of this place and this material." She hopes her work can show people the peacefulness and the daily life in Tai Sang Wai. At the same time, she also hopes this work can provide people with an experience. "I believe experience is important because it makes you remember more easily. It may be the smell or taste of certain things that recalls you for what you have done."
The "experience" of Tai Sang Wai that she remembers the most is also related to food. There was a time when Aunt Laan caught a lot of fish from the fishpond, Sze followed her to learn how to stun, gut and clean the fish. It was the first time she did such thing in her life. So she was very impressed. Later, Aunt Laan made fish soup with those fishes. Sze tasted it and found it really delicious. Up to these days, she still reminisces about that flavour.
She came to Tai Sang Wai for the first time two years ago. That was her first close contact with fish ponds. At that time, she spent a lot of time getting to know the villagers and learning the cooking skills from them. She found that most villagers were very knowledgeable about food—like where to buy the ingredients, how to gut and clean fishes, and when the best time with the right wind direction to dry salted fish, etc. "Such little wisdom is actually great; it is derived from accumulated experience."
She remembers seeing villagers cooking with firewood when she first came to Tai Sang Wai. It would soon be Lunar New Year. She learnt from the villagers the way to make rice cakes and steam rice cakes, turnip cakes and taro cakes with firewood. When she was gutting and cleaning fishes, she over-heard villagers' discussion that the fishponds might soon be left unattended as more and more fishponds were abandoned. She knew that the disappearance of fishponds would affect not only the people’s lives, but also the migratory birds coming for food. Fishponds are vital to a lot of lives, but not many people are going to listen to the reason when they are told and explained. However, useful items like reed straws allow visitors to experience something and find some connections with Tai Sang Wai.
Her cherishment of rural villages in Hong Kong was originated from the "emptyscape" project she collaborated with her friends eight years ago. At that time, they used some vacant spaces in Hong Kong as performance venues. In those days, the North East New Territories New Development Areas Planning was underway and villagers yearned for others to care about their villages. Therefore, they held festivals at villages in Ping Che, Kwu Tung North and Fanling North. "It often costs a fortune to rent some places for art, but you know there are many unoccupied places which I think they can be used." Eight years ago, she was still an urban dweller who thought soil was dirty and insects were horrible. However, when she spent more time in the villages, she heard stories from villagers talking about raising pigs and chickens. Then she thought Hong Kong is not only a city with urban areas, but there is also beautiful space entirely different facing demolition.
She didn't want everyone to pay attention to these places only when these villages are going to be demolished. Therefore, she attempted to make different artistic creations in Tai Sang Wai to attract others to go inside and at least see the kind of place the village is. That is why she came to Tai Sang Wai two years ago.