When I was 21, I moved to Hong Kong to study at the University of Hong Kong. I loved the efficient society, the dripping hot weather, and the food which is as good as it gets anywhere in the world. Hong Kong at the time was a melting pot of British colonial rule, and it was the entry point for every Western corporation which wanted to crack open the opening market in China. Ex-patriots from all over the world made Hong Kong home, and this farm-boy received a fast education on the ways of the world. My life revolved around welcoming new arrivals and saying goodbye to good friends, studies in Chinese philosophy and international economics, dinner parties and junket trips to swim on some outlying island, and the annual summer trip to Taiwan to earn my keep teaching English. No longer a gay misfit in Minnesota, I arrived in a place where I was a misfit and yet belonged, and I thrived off of the ping-pong of cultural exchange. I loved every minute of the 3 years in which I made my home there, and cherish the my friends and memories from those days.
The photographs of Michael Wolf’s exhibition and book “Architecture of Density” bring me back to my time in Hong Kong. Wolf documents the architecture and the vernacular culture of Hong Kong, revealing on a macro level the difficulty of housing over 7 million people on a 20 mile squared land mass. Life in Hong Kong is claustrophobic, and living space is at a premium. People live like sardines. I was lucky to live in a dorm room, but many of my ex-Pat friends lived in tiny one bedroom apartments where the you could touch all 4 walls at once when standing in the kitchen and bathroom; where the living area was no bigger than 12 feet-squared; where the bed was a separate room. Needless to say, Hong Kong is a place where very few people entertain guests at home, and city is alive with night life.
This sounds horrible to a Westerner, accustomed to expansive spaces, but this was life in Hong Kong. And people learn to live with the hand we are dealt. Needless to say, these photographs trigger deep-rooted memories and associations. If I can disassociate myself from these memories, I can admire geometric patterns present in these images, a repetitiveness broken by the yearning of people to create their individual mark. Mind boggling conformity and repetition interrupted by free-spirited originality. Even when things are not so original, they stand out in a refreshing way. Let’s face it, when is the last time you saw a purple high-rise in the US? I hope that you enjoy.
David Bjørngaard, March 2015