Artist captures the fairytale of Kai Tak

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 July, 2012, 12:00am


It is 14 years this month since the last plane rolled down the runway at Kai Tak, yet memories of jumbo jets thundering low over the mountains and tenements of Kowloon before landing on the edge of the harbour still send a shiver down the spines of Hongkongers and aviation fans.

And the hair-raising reputation of the airport and the place it still holds in the hearts of many have inspired an Italian artist's latest work, an attempt to captured the nostalgic, almost mythical reputation of the beloved airport.

'The airport is a sort of a legend, like a fairytale you tell children,' said Marco de Mutiis, a creative media research associate at City University, whose first experience of Hong Kong when he arrived in 2009 was of the vast new airport at Chek Lap Kok.

'I know someone who has never been to Hong Kong, but they know all about the old airport.

'Kai Tak's identity is in limbo and even though it's quite recent that it closed, the spotlight is on the new airport, the focus is on the future,' he said. 'So the work is about this concept of memory versus history.'

Mutiis' piece is on show at Videotage, one of the galleries at the Cattle Depot artist village in To Kwa Wan, a stone's throw from the old airport.

It features a web of red wires that spread across the room from a central point on the ceiling.

At the end of each of the 26 wires is a single flip-board module, similar to those that showed arrival and departure times at the old airport. The artist used his laptop to control the letter or number displayed on each module, displaying aviation terms, famous destinations and quotes from documents and extensive interviews with the former airport's neighbours in To Kwa Wan and Kowloon City.

He collected a patchwork of memories, including how children would go to the airport in the evening to do their homework in air-conditioned comfort.

'Some said the noise was so loud,' Mutiis said. 'Others said it was not so loud. So we will never know what Kai Tak was.'

Mutiis hopes the distinctive flip of the module will bring memories of Kai Tak flooding back.

'The sound is very specific to this medium and it triggers something in every one of us,' he said.

'Sometimes I want the audience to get lost in the sound and personal memory.'

He stripped the modules from a display board he salvaged last year at a regional railway station near the Italian city of Bolzano.

They were made by the same company that supplied the display boards at Kai Tak. Mutiis prefers using analogue, rather than digital technology in his works because he sees it as 'more human'.

'It makes mistakes and I can relate to it more,' he said. 'We always want to replace the old with the new because it's more perfect.'

But it's the imperfection of memory that interests Mutiis most.

'I want to suggest this embedded imperfection in our memory as there's this ambiguity between the real and the fiction,' he said. 'I like this idea of reality built by fragments and not one absolute truth.'

Mutiis believes the idea has resonance in fast-changing Hong Kong, where the old is quickly replaced with the modern.

'There's not much space for memory or history in Hong Kong and the memory of the airport is not defined,' he said.

'It feels like it could be legend of a distant past, but it's just 14 years ago.'