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【ACO Book Reviews Open Call】Cleo Adler - "Making Space: A Collection of Writing and Art"


Cleo Adler - "Making Space: A Collection of Writing and Art"


Making Space: A Collection of Writing and Art tells stories of Hong Kong from its geographical beauty to incurable scars with an intimate touch. In the manner of the collages it features, it puts together poetry, fiction, article, artwork, and photography by home-grown and expat artists and writers of English and Chinese. It asks, how can we break free from confinement, for all our physical and spiritual constraints, especially in the aftermath of hard times?


The book begins with Mary King Bradley’s reflection on coming to terms with the unnervingly cramped living spaces in Hong Kong as a foreigner. It sets the overall style of the collection—with every piece comes a personal narrative. Reading the works, I felt a strong sincerity as if they were speaking directly to me. There are bits and pieces that ring a bell, even if readers may not find them all relatable. Bradley’s envisioning of Hong Kong as a ‘glass tank’ uncannily recurs. Jocelyn Li’s ‘The Other Ariel’, which re-imagines the amphibious legend of the city as a half-human-half-fish by trapping it in an aquarium, is one of the instances. The glass container, seemingly invisible and invincible, poignantly symbolises captivity, especially at the height of social turmoil and the pandemic. While Karen Cheung and Lee Chi Leung lament the collective loss of our city, Cheung takes a step further and looks to self-healing forged by human connections. Reconciliation, whether familial, social, or individual, runs deep. On the other side of the coin, the tank may be our sanctuary. If so, the way to move forward is to mend the ones inside us and keep them intact.


What do we take away from Hong Kong beyond nostalgia and emotional bondage? I am intrigued by works that open up fresh ways of thinking about this question. Yam Gong’s poem may be misread just this once as a self-reflexive query: when we are so eager to represent our home city, have we forgotten to zoom out to more universal questions underlying what we chalk up to local roots? Perhaps poetry can toy with this wonder. Tim Tim Cheng’s vignettes of ordinary activities take local sites out of their locations and steer her whimsical observations to our hearts. Poems by Ilaria Maria Sala and Mathura start from typical Hong Kong concepts, but situate them in everyday musings and the urban experience. Both touch upon the body: Sala employs tactic sensory to picture the struggle with space; whereas Mathura’s helpless prawn imagery reminds me of Mary Jean Chan’s ‘Flesh’, which pertains to famine, though his work has to do with personal rumination. Verses like these add refreshing colours by looking at the city in a new light. The heart of the matter is not just this place, but how we choose to position ourselves in the world as human beings.


Making Space is both a light-hearted and weighty read. It shows an endeavour to open up the imaginations of Hong Kong from socio-political attributes to broader themes encompassing cacophonous voices.


(Images provided by Cleo Adler)



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