Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Logo-01.png

GUANGDONG, CHINA

2018-2020

Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Logo-01.png

reconnecting to the haunting past in this small southern town

GUANGDONG, CHINA

2018-2020

F o r e w o r d

The great-grandfathers are watching you.

 

You live in a modern house where there is no longer an altar for them. You no longer offer them incense on important days. You abandon their houses and villages. You raze their land and rebuild a new world. On a day when you find yourself drifting in rapidly changing modern life without understanding who you truly are, it is your late great-grandfathers who are haunting you.

 

Religious rituals and photography share a similarity - they are both about searching for eternity in our private history. Every year on this spring day in early April, the uphill graveyard is still turned into a misty and mysterious wonderland as before. People still bring roast pig, fruits and wine here, carefully repaint their great-grandfathers’ names on the tablet and burn stacks of fake paper money. The ceremony becomes a conversation between the two worlds: the one with the sacred and the one with the profane. You can still smell the ascending clouds and hear the echoing noise from the firecrackers. As a child, sometimes you wondered if it could wake them up.

The truth is, they never left. You just need to speak to them again.

C h a p t e r  1

Your concern is not with the moment, but with the past and future......

 

Arresting past and future, may, though, be a way of momentarily entering eternity. The opposite of the eternal is not the ephemeral but the forgotten.

- John Berger, ‘Between Here and Then’

Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea

“Ever since my great grandmother passed away in 1995, no one has been living here for over two decades.

 

Except for these snails.

 

And I remembered sharing an ice-cream with her under the doorway in a hot summer afternoon.”

 

December 2018

Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea

“There is a smell of mosses.

 

The portraits of my grandparents are gone. but not the one of my great great grandmother. ”

Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea

"The Lord of Heaven hasn't been visiting for a while.

 

Meanwhile, on the floor, there is a tablet covered with dust, written with some of the ancestors' date of birth and death. That was once hidden behind the ancestral shrine. I have never heard of their names."

Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak, To The West Of The Solitary Sea

April 4th, 2019

The Cemetery of Dalan Gang, Xiaolan, Zhongshan

Local Idiom

To The West Of The Solitary Sea

The Great Grandfather Shares Pork

- everyone gets their share.

“Every year in April, the uphill cemetery will turn into a misty wonderland. The idea of ‘tomb sweeping’ is to clean the tomb for the ancestors, to get rid of mud and weeds and to repaint the washed-out names on stone tablets. And light up a pile of firecracker for them at the end. The echoing sound of firecrackers can be heard from miles away.

 

Each family brings a roast pig onto the hill as an offering; Afterwards, the elders of the family will cut the pig apart and share it with every member of the family. The biggest joy of a kid is to take a bite of some of the offcuts.”

Tony Mak, To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak, To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak, To The West Of The Solitary Sea

"When I was a child, I once asked my father why we do have to light up a firecracker over the tomb.

 

He said that it is for waking up those who were asleep."

Tony Mak, To The West Of The Solitary Sea

Solar Term

To The West Of The Solitary Sea

Qing Ming / Clear and Bright

 

the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 15°

usually on April 5th.

“The three-hour tomb-sweeping trip is nothing about leisure. 

 

It’s sensational. 

 

The smell of gunpowder.

The loud crackling sound.

 

We are either dodging firecrackers or avoiding smokes.”

Tony Mak, To The West Of The Solitary Sea

“If the nether world exists,

those are what they are receiving on the other end.”

Tony Mak, To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak, To The West Of The Solitary Sea

“When burning becomes a form of conversation.

 

Becomes a moment of dematerialisation.”

To The West Of The Solitary Sea
To The West Of The Solitary Sea

“The revival.

 

The restoration of the old house.”

 

January 2020

C h a p t e r  2

The world wishes to see itself; the world lives in an active curiosity with ever open eyes. In uniting mythological dreams, we can say: The cosmo is an Argus. The Cosmos, a sums of beauties is an Argus, a sum of ever open eyes. Thus the theorem of the reverie of vision is translated to the cosmic level: everything that shrines sees, and there is nothing in the world which shines more than a look. 

 

- Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie.

To The West Of The Solitary Sea
To The West Of The Solitary Sea
To The West Of The Solitary Sea
To The West Of The Solitary Sea
John Thomson

Village Road North River. ca. 1869

 

Attributed to John Thomson (British, Edinburgh, Scotland 1837–1921 London)

Albumen silver print from glass negative

Gilman Collection, Purchase, Robert Rosenkranz Gift, 2005

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

“There is always a wise old man at the entrance of the village, who witnessed changes for centuries and bears itself with generations of memories and dreams, who guides you the way home. 

 

The forest is the city for archaic man. It is full of unknown, full of the sorceries of our ancestors, and concealed with the most primordial memories of human beings. 

 

The alleys in the villages are so narrow that they were not even shown on the mobile navigation application that people are heavily relying on in modern days. If an outsider steps into the village, he may not be able to find his way out. Whilst local villagers possess an empirical map in their mind that leads their way home in darkness.”

To The West Of The Solitary Sea
To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak
Tony Mak
Tony Mak
Tony Mak
To The West Of The Solitary Sea

“I recall my childhood experience of finding my way at night to my grandparents’ house.

 

After turning into the alley at the crossing of that hardware store at the end of the road, I would get a strong smell from the family who were still raising pigs in their yard. Several houses after that, I would hear a dog barking viciously whenever pedestrians pass by. And my grandparents’ house would be the third down to the house with dog. I could also tell which house it was by identifying the poem written on their scrolls on the door as well.

 

The barking dog and the smelly pig experience became so identifiable that they guided me through the darkness.”

Tony Mak
Tony Mak
Tony Mak

“The other day at dusk, I walked by a vacant land, where supposedly the old house had been torn down yet the new one was still not ready to be built. I could tell that it had been vacant for at least a year as there had been weeds wildly growing. But I went up for a closer observation, I found that those were actually wild chrysanthemums instead of some random wild weeds. 

 

 

I had so many doubts in my mind, were the seeds already in the soil? How come, in the most non-intervened way, it was the chrysanthemums growing out of the soil instead of other species of plants?

 

 

It reminded me of the story of the nickname of my hometown - the Town of Chrysanthemum. It is to believe that when our ancestors escaped wars in central China and first arrived on the island a thousand years ago, they saw wild chrysanthemums all over the hill then decided to settle down on the island. 

 

 

Since then, they had formed a habit of growing chrysanthemum in their yard and had a flower show for every sixty years. Chrysanthemum is a character for seclusion in Chinese literature. Our ancestors’ affection for it must have been for the wishes and dream for a peaceful and settled life in this corner of the world. 

 

 

As it aroused my curiosity, on a winter afternoon, I went up to the hill where they first landed on; where had already become a cemetery for centuries. As expected, there were wild chrysanthemums all over the hill. It was a scene very few people had witnessed because every year before Qing Ming Day - the day they come and venerate their ancestor - the flowers will all be weeded for fire safety. And no one would come here on a regular day unless there is a funeral. 

To The West Of The Solitary Sea

“At that moment, I shared the same view as my ancestors.”

To The West Of The Solitary Sea
John Thomson

A Garden in Canton. ca. 1869

 

Attributed to John Thomson (British, Edinburgh, Scotland 1837–1921 London)

Albumen silver print from glass negative

Gilman Collection, Purchase, Robert Rosenkranz Gift, 2005

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

“In the 1980s, the town underwent the modern transformation for the very first time. The urbanisation process was quite gentle and considered carefully with history and culture. Unlike city planners who focus more on real estate nowadays, people back then actually built something elegant. 

 

And

 

time has stopped in People’s Park.

 

 

Everything looks the same as thirty years ago. 

 

The fairy at the gate is greeting us just as before.”

Tony Mak
Tony Mak
Tony Mak
Tony Mak
To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak

“I hope that you all stay farming for the rest of your life.”

 

So as I heard from some city planner.

Tony Mak
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
John Thomson

Garden, Canton (雲津閣文塔,廣州荔枝灣). ca. 1869

 

Attributed to John Thomson (British, Edinburgh, Scotland 1837–1921 London)

Albumen silver print from glass negative

Gilman Collection, Purchase, Robert Rosenkranz Gift, 2005

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

“Junks used to be their main transport tool. Not only they transported people but also brought supplies to every household. 

 

 

Some junks had vegetable and fruits to sell, while some collected wastes to use as fertiliser on the farm. 

 

Every fifty to a hundred metres on a canal there would be a small dock, where people could take water or do laundries. 

 

I can never picture such a life that was empowered by canals”

Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak

“Younger generations today make fun of the elders calling rivers surrounding the town ‘sea’, but little do they know that their hometown was once an island. 

 

Similar to Venice, the towns to the west of the Pearl River estuary once had dense networks of canals, which were also the waterway connecting Macau and Guangzhou (Canton). In the Qing Dynasty, if foreigners wanted to enter China, they had to land on Macau first and pass the border control to continue on their journey to Guangzhou by boat. As Guangzhou used to be the only opened custom for the whole country and Macau was then occupied by the Portuguese. The network of canals then took on the responsibility of international trade and transportation. 

 

Waters are dragons,

They bring vitality.”

Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak
Tony Mak
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak
Tony Makpg
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
John Thomson

Fishing Boats going out Macao (澳門南灣). ca. 1869

 

Attributed to John Thomson (British, Edinburgh, Scotland 1837–1921 London)

Albumen silver print from glass negative

Gilman Collection, Purchase, Robert Rosenkranz Gift, 2005

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

香山縣誌.jpg

寧安鄉大欖都,故永寧鄉潮居里,在縣北一百里。

七十里海中村二,曰:大欖、小欖。

 

Rough Translation:

“Dai(Big) Lam(Olive) Do(Town) - Ning(Tranquility) On(Quiet) Heung(Township)

former Chiu(Tide) Gui(Reside) Lei(Town) - Wing(Eternal) Ning(Tranquility) Heung(Township),

Located at a hundred miles north of the county.

 

Seventy miles out in the sea, there are two villages, 

named ‘Dai(Big) Lam(Olive)’, ‘Siu(Small) Lam(Olive)’”

 

 

明朝嘉靖廿四年《香山縣誌》,日本國會圖書館藏

Hong Shan County Record (1548)National Diet Library, Tokyo

Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea

"Looking toward the Solitary Sea."

Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea
Tony Mak

- The End -

Tony Mak
Tony Mak To The West Of The Solitary Sea

The Solitary Sea - estuary of the Pearl River, Guangdong, China. November 25th, 1964

Film scans acquired from United States Geological Survey

Digitally reconstructed by Tony Mak