Artist duo Zheng Mahler’s collaboration with the artist and filmmaker Tiffany Sia Hellscrape conjures a series of animated videos produced by a generative adversarial network (styleGAN) algorithm trained on a dataset of media images of significant sites in Hong Kong’s 2019 anti-extradition protests. The dataset was scraped from Google image searches of Harcourt Road, Tamar Park and PolyU and trained for one hour.
The resultant morphing landscapes hover in a liminal state, between the known and unknown datasets, moving through horrific trans-imaginary moments of time where multiple threads collapse into one.
The images are also a synchronic map of the artists IP address details at the time and place in which the image search was undertaken that simultaneously function as a particular, mutated typology of the media’s site-specific representation of the protest sites themselves.
Consequently, the images are viewed as formal agglomerations of art historical and photographic landscape conventions weighted towards the cinematic spectacularization of protest.
Amidst so much resistance against surveillance, facial recognition and the technological apparatus of the state within the protest, the work raises questions around the queasiness of using AI generated imagery and the reappropriation of the ongoing “capture” that unfolded in those months, and comes to take on the subject position of the state itself in order to critique it. Snippets of concrete poetry composed by Sia, leaks from her forthcoming book Too Salty Too Wet 更咸更濕, a hellish scroll about affect, geography and the occult in Hong Kong, are additionally threaded into the images, woven in the style of voice-over text or subtitles which come to embody what film theorist Michael Chion describes as a kind of talking and acting shadow – “These images although static contain hundreds of threads of time, and a voice emerges from this void as an atemporal, spectral being – ‘a special being’”.
Our times of political unrest are at once etched into our digital timelines, our bodies and our dreams. Accordingly, these phantasmagorias challenge traditional images of landscape photography and painting, these images asking, what does the landscape of affect look like?
Zheng Mahler are an artist (Royce Ng) and anthropologist (Daisy Bisenieks) duo working together on research intensive, community based, site-specific projects often utilising digital media, performances and installation to explore relationships between art and research practice. Drawing from each other’s respective backgrounds, they examine the limits as well as the methods and strategies of expanding both their familiar disciplines while experimenting with new interdisciplinary possibilities or cross pollinations, where anthropological approaches are applied to art practice and artistic methodologies are utilised as research exercises in the studies of anthropology.
Together they have presented their work in numerous solo and group exhibitions internationally, including at the Johann Jacobs Museum in Zurich, Switzerland (2014 and 2016), PERFORMA: New Visual Art Performance Biennale in New York City (2015) Parasite, Hong Kong (2016) Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2017), the Akademie der Kunst der Welt in Cologne, Germany (2019) and Shanghai Biennale XIII (2021)
The presentation of the selected zines from ZINE COOP as part of the work Hellscrape was made in collaboration with VOLUMES.
ZINE COOP is an independent publishing collective based in Hong Kong. They collect, curate and educate through zine publications, workshops, and exhibitions. Founded in 2017, they operate across Hong Kong, Japan and Canada without a fixed or hierarchical membership system.
VOLUMES is a non-profit organisation and collective created in Zurich in 2013 to support the local and international DIY-facet of art publishing and introduce it to a larger audience in Switzerland. Exploring the creativity gravitating around the practices of small scale art publishing, they create events such as book fairs, exhibitions, performances, workshops, projections, talks, symposiums and curated libraries. Anne-Laure Franchette, Patrizia Mazzei, Gloria Wismer