by Sheung Yiu

“It is not about the image anymore” is a resonating sentiment among contemporary photographers. Perhaps it is the fact that we are surrounded by the ocean of images, constantly bombarded by visual stimuli, photographic artists began to reexamine the art form from a wildly different perspective than their predecessors. While acknowledging photography as a representational medium, a new wave of photographers often show a critical awareness of its limitations and challenge them in experimental ways. Like many of his contemporaries, Li SanKit shares a similar philosophy about photography. In his recent work ’Well, I already miss you. That's why I decided to bring You back to Hong Kong with Me’, Li uses photo sequences to transform ethereal encounters and connections he made during his study abroad into art objects. Partly fuelled by his fascination with analogue photography and partly inspired by the fleeting long-distance friendship, Li’s photography poses interesting questions about fate, encounters and journeys.

Conscious of the triteness of travel photography, Li re-examines his intentions in taking these photographs. He keenly revisits them. He treats these portraits of his friends not only as a stagnant memento but a conduit to extend a relationship. This project is as much a photography project as is a record of performance to overcome distance and time using photography. His work is a poetic and meaningful introspection on the connection between travel, human connection and photography.

How do you define yourself, a photographer? an image based artist? Or do you even find this definition necessary anymore?

Li SanKit (L.S.): Generally speaking, I do not feel the need to define my artistic practice, but in some situations, in order to let people more easily grasp what kind of work I am doing, I will say I am a photographer. In fact, this is a question I frequently ask myself: "Am I a photographer?" I usually say I work in visual art. I would think my work is not straightly photographic. While other photographers focus on creating a certain aesthetics in their work, I explore the use of images, or more precisely, the question of why we photograph?

© Li SanKit, Pick this up, you are going to need it someday. Tempo pocket tissue, Digital print on paper with handwritten text (2017). 

© Li SanKit, during exhibition 'We Weren't Here' at Floating Project, Hong Kong (5/5 – 26/5/17). A pack of re-designed tissue according to one of my experience came across with a pack of tissue from OK convenient store. Visitors can take it freely. Hopefully it lead to a conversation with stranger.

Can you tell me more about your work 'Travel Hundred Miles To See You Without My Eyes'?

L.S.: The project began with a simple observation I made when I was travelling across Europe. I saw tourists, especially Chinese tourists, obsessively taking pictures wherever they travel. I saw people took pictures of famous paintings without betting an eye on the real thing in front of them. While their way of travelling baffled me, I realise I am also complicit in this culture, I also have this inexplicable need to take a commemorative photo in front of the Eiffel Tower.

This realisation led me to wonder how it would be to travel without seeing. I have severe short-sightedness. I cannot see without my glasses. At around the same time, I heard this story from my creative partner in Germany about his aunt, who leave Hong Kong to travel the world in the 70s', ended up marrying a Danish husband and staying there ever since. So naturally, I decided to go visit his aunt without wearing my glasses. And so this project becomes not only an exploration of what it is like to travel without seeing, but also to get to know someone without clearing seeing her face.

© Li SanKit from 'Well, I already miss you. That's why I decided to bring you back to Hong Kong with me'. Travelling, Documentary, Experimental Video (2016)

© Li SanKit from 'Well, I already miss you. That's why I decided to bring you back to Hong Kong with me'. Travelling, Documentary, Experimental Video (2016)

© Li SanKit from 'Well, I already miss you. That's why I decided to bring you back to Hong Kong with me'. Travelling, Documentary, Experimental Video (2016)

How do you feel about the trip? Can travelling without ever seeing anything clearly satisfy you in any way?

L.S.: I am quite satisfied with the experience. The trip changes how I interact with people. When you cannot see well, you rely on your other senses, you pay more attention to his voice and you become more sensitive to his existence. Before that, I rely heavily on my vision when I interact with people, now I learn to use my other senses. On top of that, I develop a unique relationship with this unique character, which to me makes the trip all worth it.

Many of your works centre around the motif of a journey? How do you understand the word, journey?

L.S.:I like to give myself assignments when I travel. It is a way to train my perception. Especially in the last two years when I went to study in Germany, travelling became a chance for me to create my own artwork. To me, a journey is about encounters. After my first year there, I felt an urge to preserve these memories I have with certain people, in certain times and spaces. I realise the close friends I made here will eventually grow apart, that our friendship, no matter how intimate it was, would not survive the physical distance. My work began with this simple desire to preserve a relationship. For example, in ‘Well, I already miss you. That's why I decided to bring You back to Hong Kong with Me’, I transformed relationships into an artwork. Each photo sequence is a monument to these connections I made in Europe.

© Li SanKit from The Wall. Photography, Polaroid 350 Land camera, FP-100C.  (2016 - present)

The encounters we made in our travels are certainly magical and almost ethereal.

L.S.: For sure. I met Jordan at an exhibition in Centre Pompidou in Paris, who is one of the people I photographed in my series. I was marvelling at an original Mark Rothko for so long, a face began to emerge from the painting. Confused and curious, I asked a stranger sitting next to me, who happens to be Jordan, if he saw the same thing. That is when we began this two-hour conversation in front of the painting and later I found out that he is a brit studying a master degree in painting in Paris. We talked a lot that day. I was appalled how much common interests we shared. It is almost like getting to know another you on the opposite side of the world. The feeling does not necessarily have to be romantic, sometimes it is pure friendship. The feeling that you share an experience with a stranger. The realisation that fate brought us together, that the encounter would not have happened if I was not at the right place and did the right thing. Until this day, I still cannot help but be amazed at this incredibly fately encounter.

So that is the time when you began working on ‘Well, I already miss you. That's why I decided to bring You back to Hong Kong with Me’?

L.S.: I did not start the project until I came back to Hong Kong. At the time, I take pictures simply to record my journey. I began the project firstly because I felt that the friendship I made started to fray. Secondly, when I looked at the photos, I felt something is unfinished. It partly came from my own sentiments towards the subjects, this emptiness of a portrait; and partly came from an introspection about my relationship with portraiture as a medium.

© Li SanKit, 'Bring Jonathan to see an old friend' from 'Well, I already miss you. That's why I decided to bring you back to Hong Kong with me', Archival inkjet print on fine art paper, wood frame / (2017)

I can see that your intention is to represent the relationship itself rather than the subject of your portrait. I especially remember the collage of 'I found your Alfa Romeo'. In that work, you place a portrait of your friend on the car, which is the exact same model that he drove in Germany. I heard you spent quite some time finding it.

L.S.: That is one of my favourite pieces. I was elated to find the same model in Hong Kong. I have a friend who is a car collector. He helped me find the car. My german friend’s car is blue, but the one I found is red. This visual contrast somehow added an extra layer of meaning to the anecdote: even if I find your car, it will never be the same.

© Li SanKit, 'I found your Alfa Romeo' from 'Well, I already miss you. That's why I decided to bring you back to Hong Kong with me', Archival inkjet print on fine art paper, wood frame / (2017)

Photographing friends, taking pictures during our travels is what we all collectively do, what makes your artwork different though, I think, is how your visualise fate, encounters and interpersonal connections.

L.S.: I sometimes asked myself whether this work is meaningful to the audience. After all, we all take pictures when we travel, but then I think the true meaning of this work lies on the transformation of a photograph into an art object, and by doing so, these photographs transcend their conventional role as the vehicle of memories. It is more than making pictures. It is about the visual narrative it creates. It is an act of looking back at the memory and continuing the story. That is one why analogue photography still hasn’t lost its appeal to me because I think the wait between taking a picture and developing the film is part of photography. Revisiting these memories is an integral part of the photographic experience.


Li SanKit
Urbanautica China