Homage to a rare spirit whose works drift on in the memory

Geoffrey Han

On June 27, 2003, the body of Joey Luk, a 22-year-old Hong Kong artist and recent graduate of City University, was found deep in a forest near the village of Pirogova, about 50km outside Moscow. The fragments of information that have been uncovered since then trace only a blurred picture of how a promising young artist ended up a murder victim in Russia.

Continuing until February 14, Para/site art space in Sheung Wan is holding a commemorative exhibition entitled 'An Open Rule: Blink, Space, Drifting Presence' that shows Luk's videos and projections of her writings.

There are also workshops aimed at perpetuating Joey Luk's artistic vision. At the solemn opening last Sunday, friends and family of the artist were present to relive the memory of a talented, young artistic spirit.

'We've tried to play down sentimental aspects of the exhibition,' says curator, friend and former professor at City University Linda Lai. 'Joey wouldn't have wanted it any other way.'

Luk was a drifter, a label she was proud to wear. She believed in an art movement known as 'Automatism', started in the 1920s by French surrealists, and one that borrowed from Walter Benjamin's idea of the flaneur, who was fundamentally an urban wanderer.

While still a student at City U, Luk began 'automatic' drifting exercises, walking without conscious or voluntary control, and she extended the practice to her travels across America, Western Europe, and eventually Eastern Europe.

'Joey was one of the most intelligent students I ever met. She was very much into drifting and wandering in urban spaces. She invested personally into drifting, extending the idea into her art and into her life,' says Lai.

In April 2003, Luk enthusiastically accepted a three-month artist residency in Estonia. On her return to Hong Kong in June, her connecting flight from Moscow was postponed overnight. 'There was a delay,' says Lai. 'She was detected by surveillance cameras drifting around, walking through the city, drinking a coffee.

'She was last seen at Red Square entering a cab alone. Her luggage ended up arriving unattended in Hong Kong. We retrieved some video tapes that she shot in Estonia and watched them.'

From early on, Luk showed special artistic and intellectual promise, and published an article in Young Post when she was still an secondary school student.

'I met her when she was in Form 7 when I was the director of a summer video workshop', says Lam Hiu-Tung, a close friend. 'While her peers were making scary movies and movies with storylines, Joey recorded a video of her fingers dancing. She was very mature for her age and asked a lot of important questions. She was a very talented artist.'

'People used to ask for her autograph in university,' says her mother, Chuk Siu Lan. 'When exams were near, she'd lock herself up for three months in her room studying. She would study, study, study. She would get so bored. As soon as she finished her exams, she would go out no matter what, even if there was a typhoon 8 warning. She would go crazy if she didn't go out. That's the way her character was.'

Luk was different from most young artists and often searched for means of escape. 'She had a very special character,' says Chuk. 'She had her own point of view. She would set a goal and she would accomplish it. If she wanted to go travel, she would do it. There was nothing I could do. She was very stubborn.'

The large turn up at the opening was evidence of Luk's impression on the art community around her. 'She had a lot of friends,' says Lam. 'It's a very small art circle.'

As her friends and family participated in opening-day 'automatic' exercises in her memory, Joey Luk's notes and works, which were exhibited on the walls of the gallery, seemed to echo quietly around them. Some of the words include, 'run', 'hide', 'escape', 'stillness and darkness', and 'memory of'.

An Open Rule: Blink, Space, Drifting Presence. Para/site Art Space, G/F, 2 Po Yan Street, Sheung Wan. Tel. 2517 4620. Until February 14.