Bright light has much the same effect as ice*

Installation of text, light boxes, original artifacts and refrigerating system, dimensions variable, 2012

Installation view


Installation view. Vinyl text, quoted from the official website of the Hong Kong Observatory. “The lowest temperature ever recorded at the Observatory was 0 C on 18 January 1893. Sub-zero temperatures could occur on high ground and in the New Territories, where there were occurrences of frost and even snow.” (Hong Kong Observatory/ Wong Tak-kan)

Commissioned for the Guangzhou Triennial 2012, it is a project to explore the mythical fact of renowned Hong Kong photographer Pun Lun capturing the snowy scenes of Hong Kong in 1893 that nobody today have ever seen. Based on the texts from 1893, a freezing silver coin of Hong Kong minted in the same year juxtaposed with original photographic productions by Pun Lun to prompt tactile and visual perception for a poetic intervention.


20 cents silver coin, Hong Kong, 1893, diameter 22mm, connected to refrigerating system and power switch.


LED light boxes with engravings on Plexiglas and framed in steel, each 125x81cm, original image by Pun Lun, A studio setting of five men eating around a table, albumen print, 25.5x20cm, 1870-75, courtesy Dennis George Crow.

While the silver coin-button was pressed, the light boxes in the opposite would be turned off and the engraved text on top would be apparent.


Detail of LED light boxes

Engravings on light boxes from The China Mail on Jan 16 & 17, 1893:

"It was a novel experience to the majority of the residents to be confronted by the white-capped hills on the mainland, to find the thermometer registering a low reading, and to find all around a wintry aspect which suggested sarcastic thoughts of a tropical clime." 
"The sleet which has been drifted up at various points on the roads to a depth of over half an inch, and as the pedestrian tramps along he produces the crunching noise which reminds him of snow." 

"The bamboos and firs are weighted down under their increasing load of ice and some of the trees look lovely in their unwonted wintry garb."
"Each leaf, each twig, each branch is most exquisitely enclosed in the ice, which only wants the sunlight to sparkle into diamonds, rubies and emeralds." 

Detail of LED light boxes

Left: Carte de visite of view of large fleet of ships in Hong Kong Harbour, albumen print mounted on paper, 6.2x10.5cm, c.1870, framed in wood and Plexiglas.

Right: Text printed in ink on paper, quoted from The China Mail, 21x29.7cm, framed in wood and Plexiglas.


Imprint on reverse: “PUN LUN. PHOTOGRAPHER, has always a large and choice collection of Views for sale. NO. 56. QUEEN’S ROAD, CENTRAL. Up-stairs. HONGKONG. 香港中環繽綸影相”

Quoted from The China Mail, 19 Jan 1893:

 “Mr Pun Lun, the well-known photographer, took a number of views in the Peak district during the two days that ‘Jack Frost’ was reigning supreme there, and he is now offering for sale the results of his enterprise in the form of a series of very interesting pictures, which will serve as mementoes of the phenomenal ‘cold snap’ which the colony has just experienced and ought to be very refreshing to look at when the hot weather comes in and the thermometer gets away up about sixty degrees above the point at which it stood when these photographs were taken . The views are very well chosen to illustrate the unwonted aspect of the vegetation of the Peak under its coating of ice, and Mr Pun Lun’s name is a sufficient guarantee for the excellence of the workmanship in the production of the pictures.”


*The title is actually an direct quote from a letter dated Feb 4, 1893 from Charles Ford, Superintendent Botanical and Afforestation Department of Hong Kong Botanic Gardens, which was included in a report by W. Doberck, Director of Hong Kong Observatory published in Nature, Volume 47, Issue 1223, pp. 536 (1893).

The original paragraph is:
(23) Accompanying this report are six photographic views which were taken on January 16 showing the ice at various places in the Peak district. It is somewhat difficult to represent ice in photographs, as bright light has much the same effect as ice which owes its white appearance merely to reflected light, but it will be understood that the white in these views is produced by ice.