Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Golden Slumbers - Kah Bee Chow's One Day Sculpture

“Once regarded as the most notorious slum area in New Zealand,” Wellington historian Lynette Shum notes, “Haining Street today is an industrial area that bears little indication of its sensationalist past.”*

As the centre of Wellington’s Chinatown from the late 1800s-1940s, the street also bore witness to one of the most violent episodes in Chinese New Zealand history, when Englishman Lionel Terry shot dead Joe Kum Yung opposite 10 Haining Street in 1905 as a protest against Chinese immigration into the country.

Kah Bee Chow’s One Day Sculpture project, located at that site and entitled Golden Slumbers, is partly conceived as an imagined narrative of Joe Kum Yung’s afterlife. Chow says: “Joe was a miner, destitute, alone at the time of his death with long-abandoned dreams of the elusive ‘Sum Gum Saan’, a new gold mountain, the faded promise of the Otago goldfields.” The artist is creating both a fanciful wish-fulfilment and antidote to Joe’s invisibility as his biography was eclipsed by his murderer Terry’s folk-hero notoriety.

Chow draws a common aspirational connection between herself and Joe Kum Yung. “We are separated by 100 years but Joe and I, as first-generation immigrants to New Zealand, perhaps shared in common the impossible spectacular projected fantasies onto this land that drew us here.”

Chow immigrated to New Zealand at age 12 and her delusions were less gilded but not less imagined, and age-appropriate. “I held onto the prepubescent persistence that New Zealand would equate to my Southern Hemisphere Sweet Valley, as appropriated from sugar-coated American teen fiction.”

This memory of things that never existed in New Zealand links Chow to the strangeness and tragedy of the delusions of grandeur that initially tied her, along with Joe Kum Yung and Lionel Terry, to this place.

Project curator Paula Booker notes, “Kah Bee Chow’s One Day Sculpture imagines and re-creates the gold miner’s Sum Gum Saan but she also spatially and socially engages with the memory and disappearance of the things that actually did exist.”

Wellington’s Chinatown has disappeared, due to a range of circumstances including urban development and changing views towards immigrants that led to greater acceptance of Chinese migration to the suburbs. Golden Slumbers is built upon conversations with the present Haining Street community, the people who have an investment in its history and the Chinese community.

This is not an exercise of inserting history into a site that no longer remembers its past, but an attempt to study the perseverance of spatial and cultural memory in lieu of, or as a compensation for, its physical disappearance.

Sunday 31 August 2008 9am to 9pm
Backyard, 10 Haining Street
Central Wellington

One Day Sculpture
a Massey University College of Creative Arts, School of Fine Arts, Litmus Research Initiative.

Curated by Paula Booker
Commissioned by Enjoy Public Art Gallery
147 Cuba St

Kah Bee Chow's One Day Sculpture is made possible with support from the Asia New Zealand Foundation and the Wellington City Council's Public Art Fund.

image: 10 Haining Street, June 2008. Photo by Maia McDonald

*Lynette Shum, “Remembering Haining Street: With Both Eyes Open” in http://www.stevenyoung.

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