Botrytis cinerea is the parasitic fungus behind grey mould, a common plant disease that lays waste to vegetable and fruit crops. In viticulture, however, this same fungus can materialise as “noble rot”, a beneficial infestation that, by perforating the skin of grapes and enabling water to evaporate, results in a sweeter wine. Named after this paradoxical phenomenon, Para Site’s latest two-part exhibition asks 18 emerging artists to explore the tension between decay and transformation – a timely exercise when mainland China’s tightening grip over Hong Kong has many wondering whether the city is moving towards ruin or regeneration. Projects by half the line-up are currently on view at the non-profit art space, with the rest to be unveiled in January. “Noble Rot” is made up of new commissions under Para Site’s “2046 Fermentation + Fellowships” programme, a special 25th anniversary effort that asserts the organisation’s mission to incubate creative talents in the next quarter-century. 2046 is also the final year before Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” principle of semi-autonomy formally expires , at which point the city itself may undergo a metabolism of sorts and be absorbed completely by China, 50 years after Britain handed over its former colony. In keeping with the metabolic theme, several of the projects in “Noble Rot” delve into processes of biological degradation. Hou Lam Tsui’s Hard Tongue on Pillow (2021), for instance, takes the medical condition of geographic tongue as an allegory for the power of naming. A large-scale projection shows a close-up of salt and sugar being sprinkled on a stuck-out tongue, forming patchy islands that resemble the lesions on the tongues of sufferers from the condition, while superimposed text compares the pattern’s shifting contours to the borders called into being by colonial mapmakers. In Natasha Cheung’s to prime II (2021), a pig carcass embodies the hidden cruelty of the photographic medium. Black-and-white photographic prints produced with 19th century techniques portray a suckling pig, referencing the historical importance of gelatin – made by boiling the connective tissues of animals – for preserving photographic images. Yet the deceased pig is barely discernible in the shadowy prints, alluding to the abstracted violence of artistic production. The only obvious sign of slaughter in to prime II is the red hanging lamp, of a type commonly seen in Hong Kong’s wet markets. Photography has supported oppression in the past, from colonial images that perpetuated the myth of the “savage” to colour film that failed to capture darker skin tones. Cheung’s project adds to the conversation by foregrounding a non-human victim that is powerless as a subject and in substance, viscerally confronting another kind of harm in the history of image-making. Elsewhere, Winsome Dumalagan Wong’s moving-image experiments explore the degradation of memory. In Passing Sceneries (2021), short clips of tourists, passers-by, and an empty basketball court are projected onto layered acrylic sheets, causing the imagery to recur and overlap. Moreover, the backmost panes are roughly etched with isolated scenes from the footage, further deforming the projections as viewed from the front. Wong’s distortions visualise the imperfect nature of human memories, which are susceptible to unconscious alterations over the course of time. By contrast, Vanessa Lam Man Ting examines deliberate omissions in a pair of screen prints, Unerasure #8.4 and #8.5 (Brick Wall by the Staircase, Shek Lei Estate Bus Terminus) (2021). Each has a grey splodge at the centre, mimicking the ubiquitous voids left by cleared posters and graffiti since 2019 when protests rocked Hong Kong. Yet these flattened images invert the act of removal: the negative space is registered as a positive imprint. The works are placed in dialogue with The Starry Blue Sky You Told Me You Saw (2021), a set of watercolours inspired by a conversation between Lam and her grandmother soon before the latter’s death. One shows yellow stars arranged in a billboard-like structure; another depicts the shapes dissipating in trails through outstretched fingers. Together, Lam’s series invoke poetic forms of memorialisation that resist effacement and loss. It seems fitting that, in one way or another, the artists in “Noble Rot” all contend with time. After all, rot is a measure of change. The theme is most overtly addressed in Chu Hoi Ding’s Embedded Aggregate at 573°C (2021), in which a waterlogged clock is entombed in clay and debris. The installation invokes contrasting temporalities: human stasis versus geological time. Yet Chu also injects a sense of immediacy via a hidden air pump which causes the murky water trapped inside the clock’s casing to bubble away, as though constantly on the verge of bursting forth. Embedded Aggregate at 573°C not only evinces how time shapes land and life, but also aptly distils the exhibition’s ethos. It hints at the generative processes that lurk in destruction, yielding possibilities of rupture. “Noble Rot Part 1”, Para Site, 22/F, Wing Wah Industrial Building, 677 King’s Road, Quarry Bay, Wed-Sun, 12-7pm. Until Jan 16, 2022.