By Chris Gaul
During a recent mass-march through the centre of Hong Kong, protesters left hundreds of messages over the road and on walls, street signs and bus stops.
Afterwards, the authorities ordered workers to clean away the messages. Most were painted over, but the messages on tram stops were only smeared.
Although the purpose of smearing the messages was to erase them, they have been unexpectedly transformed into something expressive and evocative – in the photographs of artist and designer Chris Gaul.
“Even though most were unreadable, I was struck by how they capture the energy and essence of the moment in Hong Kong: upheaval, collision, anger and violence—but also resistance and hope,” Gaul said.
Gaul said it reminded him of classical Chinese ink and wash or abstract expressionist paintings; art forms that seek to “capture the spirit or essence of things, rather than what they look like.”
“In this case, there are two ‘artists’ who represent both sides of the conflict: the protestor and the cleaner (working on the orders of the government). The brushstrokes of the cleaner reveal an impressive degree of gong fu,” he added, in reference to workmanship or the mastery of a skill.
“But their feelings about the protest messages, or the situation in Hong Kong, remain a mystery.”
In some cases, demonstrators wrote over already smeared messages from earlier protests. These too were smeared; the different coloured inks of the messages combining to create striking images.
“I spent three nights photographing these strange ‘artworks’, dodging traffic and tear gas. But as I worked, they were beginning to disappear; replaced by new advertisements for investment banks and life insurance.”
“Although the messages will soon have been erased completely, the sentiment behind them remains as strong as ever.”
Chris Gaul is an artist and designer who has been living and working in East Asia for the past three years. His work is focused on finding moments of contemplation in everyday life, and he has a particular focus on the material culture of Hong Kong. His work can be viewed on his website.