In Hong Kong’s dense New Territories, hundreds of interconnected alleyways form an elaborate maze, the city’s pulsating veins. Here, Michael Wolf captures the flotsam of the city, providing a record of human activity that’s akin to an anthropological survey. The German photographer’s Informal Arrangements has just opened at London’s Flowers Gallery.
Hong Kong has always struggled with overcrowding – it’s a running joke that one can steal salt from a neighbour’s table with an opportunist arm out of the window. With the 1970’s economy boom came an increasingly aspirational city, one that realised it could not grow outwards – just upwards. Wolf’s large-scale photographs reflect this, capturing imposing grid-like tower blocks, that are perforated with windows. The magnitude of the concrete city’s hyper density is realised in these imposing works.
With such little space, inhabitants’ homes readily over spill into the streets. A selection of makeshift ‘bastard’ chairs, have been erected in the gallery space. Composed of broken fragments and bound with salvaged material. These rudimentary objects become shrines to the ingenuity of the local residents.
Wolf documents an array of objects; mops, gloves, disowned shoes and coat hangers that are organised into typologies. Animated with the spirit of human activity, they each form the outline of personhood. Wolf deconstructs his assemblages and allows us to consider every humble part. Each item takes on a symbolic power; an umbrella becomes a relic that is key to understanding the locals’ lives.
Informal Arrangements feels like an ode to the reliance of the city dwellers. Yet there is a troubling sentiment, it’s strange to see modern artefacts presented as ancient relics, and mortality seems to inch closer. Is this how we will be remembered?
Michael Wolf: Informal Arrangements is showing at Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road until 9 January 2016