Water Pail is a sculpture and sound art installation about the artist’s Donna Chang’s intersectional Chinese-Australian identity and her mother’s and her maternal grandmother’s life in Hong Kong during the 1960s-80s. The work is based on the stories we documented from Donna’s mother, Monica. Monica lived during Hong Kong’s water famine, and experienced significant hardship and poverty. As a young child Monica had to carry a pail of water up multiple flights of stairs everyday to get fresh water.
In a video work, Monica’s voice recounts the story of a family inheritance in which only men could take over assets, leaving Donna’s grandmother impoverished. The water pail represents the labour/burden that migrants, their descendants, and their forebears have to carry, and the intergenerational effects. It is also a reminder of the very real water crises we face.
The music is an immersive 8 channel haptic sound artwork responding to the stories and sculptural objects. Many of the water pails in Hong Kong during that time were repurposed cooking oil drums. The work explores their historical significance and sonic potential in an 8 channel array of these drums, each containing transducers that vibrates and distorts the surface of the metal. The red Chinese words imprinted on the drums say: 水 = water 女 = female 马 = horse 劳 = work 兔 = rabbit 家 = family – Donna’s mother was born in the year of horse and Donna, year of the rabbit, representing matriarchal lineage. While 8 drums were used for this installation, future iterations of this work could include any number of these pails (10, 16, 21, 40 etc.) so they fill the entire space, and can include multiple percussionists. Donna performs a solo percussion piece on a bamboo/water pail structure (which sits on top of a lazy susan allowing her to turn it.) The work is a composer/performer theatrical piece devised in collaboration with Daniel. The music is inspired by the genres of contemporary classical, experimental music, and new music theatre. Drawing on Helmut Lachenmann’s musique concrète instrumentale, Mauricio Kagel’s absurdist instrumental music theatre, and Harry Partch’s instrument building. The solo performance is accompanied by the ‘oil drum chorus’.
“The works use of absence through image isolation, blackness and silence within a growing grating biting of sound that suddenly disappears is disturbing and poignant. Its beauty is absence of sound and sight to make the isolation of shape and materiality of sounds poignant—representative perhaps of trauma within a materiality-metal bamboo and timbre harshness envelope highlighted by absence which speaks to both a specific cultural context and the human condition.” written in the newsletter: Music & Music Therapy Discipline, Volume 3, May, 2021.
From the 2021 conference: Bold Transition Seminar, Memory, Raw Materiality and Transformation: Fracturing Through Hybridity of Experience as Authenticity. Music & Music Therapy Discipline, Western Sydney University.
Female Inheritance Movement
As a backlash to the gender-based discrimination experienced by Donna’s mother, there was a historical “Female Inheritance Movement” in Hong Kong in the 1990s. The New Territories Female Indigenous Residents’ Committee (NTFIRC) campaigned to abolish the discrimination of women’s rights to inherit property. They encouraged their sisters to fight for their rights, using peaceful means, like signing petitions and singing songs, to lobby for public support.
In the plaza in front of the Legislative Council building, amid shining office buildings, the indigenous women, dressed in the oversized hats of farm women, sang folk laments with new lyrics about injustice and inequality. Demonstrators from women’s groups made speeches about gender equality and, at times, tore paper chains from their necks to symbolise liberation from Chinese customary law. (Chan 1995:4).
The campaign is considered a significant historical event in the Hong Kong women’s movement. It is a milestone in the struggle for gender equality through legislative means. Here are some photos from that day:
Sources: http://word.world-citizenship.org/wp-archive/2003 – https://wikipeacewomen.org/wpworg/zhs/?page_id=1125
Merry, S., & Stern, RachelE. (2005). The Female Inheritance Movement in Hong Kong: Theorizing the Local/Global Interface. Current Anthropology, 46(3), 387–409. https://doi.org/10.1086/428800
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