On the 21st of June, at the ZHdK’s »Connecting Spaces« gallery in the centre of the Hong Kong city, a group of more than twenty artists, theorists, historians, professors and students gathered in front of a vast 10-metre-long image spread over three walls to spend two long afternoons on taking a deep dive into the history of the global information society.
The project we were looking at was a brain child of an independent transdisciplinary working group based in Vienna, Austria, and many of its members were now in Hong Kong: Felix Stalder, Sylvia Eckermann, Doron Goldfarb, Gerald Nestler, Axel Stockburger, Ina Zwerger and Margarete Jarhmann.
With their deep understanding of the processes underlying the modern society and years of working of the project, the creators felt the lack of a perspective coming from the outside of the modern Western paradigm more than anyone else. And here they were, in Hong Kong, opening the project to the people from a different part of the world.
The first afternoon focused on the timeline as a whole, familiarised the participants with the structure and the content, explored the potential and limitations of the approach. Behind the idea as simple as a straight line from 1900 to 2017 lay and waited to be explored a multidimensional interconnected space of colour and symbol codes.
Questions started to arrive almost immediately, touching on possibility to have something like a local timeline when working on a subject of this kind where globality is practically inevitable, on possibility and necessity of objectivity, or lack of those, on aims and purposes of the project.
Already in the first hours the conversation tended to oscillate between the timeline content, its aesthetics, and fascinating detours into the local history and society. The participants were eager to suggest new entries, too. The most attention was given to the last decades, time when all of us at the table were born already and hence experienced the reality first hand.
The breaks were filled with exploring the timeline in alternative ways: beautiful infographics posters, iPads and printouts were a rich source of additional information, enough to spend weeks on.
People in front of the timeline. The creators say, almost everyone tends to first come and look at the year of their birth.
More discussions, more suggestions, more questions. When the first day of the workshop was over, it took us a long time to finally stop discussing and move those topics to the next day.
Day two was even better: it’s when the project was opened to all participants in full. Armed with markers, they moved to the timeline and started adding their own entries while always keeping in mind a simple rule: one doesn’t only have to persuade the others in the importance of the added event, but also find the event that would have to be removed, and persuade others in doing that as well. The cruel but necessary limit of 500 entries has made us more responsible and encouraged to think twice.
When we were finished, the timeline got much denser. Our handwriting was now part of the project, and part of the exhibition that would show the enriched timeline to the local public starting the next day.
The vernissage itself has granted us an even deeper look into the project: Doron Goldfarb and Margarete Jahrmann gave lectures on topics adjacent to the timeline data and its possible developments.
Now the exhibition was officially open: a straight black thread embellished with 500 beads: historical, cultural, economical, political, ecological, critical, simply stated, local, global, online events that might have been exactly the reasons of why we were now where we were. Or maybe they were just tiny marks on a vast historical map, telling more about what’s unseen than what’s obvious. Something worth seeing, something that will fill your head with questions, which are, as we know, more important than answers.
Text: Natalia Malysheva
Photos: Marco Spitzbarth