As the Union Jack was gracefully lowered onto a flagpole for the last time, the five-star red flag was simultaneously raised to the song, "March of the Volunteers.” It was a rainy night in 1997, and I was sitting in front of the television at home. The reporter told me that this historic handover ceremony ended the 156 years of British rule.
How could the construction of a memory occur without the occasion of an anniversary? I was only eighteen when the handover took place. Perhaps I was too young then; all I remember now is that, after watching the ceremony, I met my first lover online. Since then, my memory of the handover always goes hand in hand with my personal history: the best "how we met" story coherently comes with the most historically-significant day of Hong Kong, giving an ordinary person a taste of a seemingly epic love story.
For many Hong Kong people, the imagery of the handover can be recalled like it was just yesterday; the red and blue backdrop is the place where the memory immortally resides. For others, this significant moment, although caught in time, has not remained static. Rather, it has been extricated and reshaped between memory and reality countless times, forming a logical verisimilitude of the past.
One way or the other, the year 1997 appears to reside within that imagery. In the past twenty years, images of the handover were commemorated, simultaneously reenacted over time, and relentlessly relived in the present. As for memories of 1997, fragments of truths were conjured both for and against the event, neatly rationalized and imbued with the official and mythical narrative of history. 1997 is thus embodied either as an authentic experience or as evidence of history’s failure, secretly upheld by the romance of our familial gaze.
As of here and now, time is maintained through celebration. Our memories are mediated again and again by visual evidence, coming to terms with power as if they are quietly making an attempt at an historical truth.
Perhaps the experience of 1997 is irretrievable and it was only unfamiliar in connection with the unreconciled present. Does the memory of 1997 allow history to come forth, or does history create our collective memory? When 1997 is caught in time within an image, is that image an equivalent of memory?
31 June 1997 charts an alternative historicization of Hong Kong’s visual and social memory. By problematizing the past, David Clarke, together with Oscar Ho Hing-kay and Xu Xi create an nostalgic, poetic, and, at times, paradoxical experience for the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong handover. Drawing on image politics of the handover and a constellation of historical fragments, this exhibition is an attempt to bring alive a captivating simulacrum of 1997, with an agenda to unpack our desire to fix history in place.