Patricia Grzonka: Choi Yuen Village (2010)

„Although our village is not very, very beautiful and prosperous, it is very harmonious, comfortable and very natural“.
Martin Krenn´s video: Choi Yuen Village

Choi Yuen Village documents the civil protest against the government-mandated demolition of a settlement in the so-called „New Territories“ on the outskirts of Hong Kong. According to the plans of the Chinese government, the village of Choi Yuen should give way to a railway line that will one day connect Hong Kong to mainland China, destroying the livelihood of about 500 people. In his video Martin Krenn shows us the strategies of the resistance movement against the government’s plans. The video is based on interviews with villagers and statements from activists who defend themselves against the destruction of Choi Yuen – by peaceful means.

A priority of Krenn’s work is depicting various forms of protest and the alternative and activist opposition to the phenomenon of local or transnational globalisation. This is especially visible in his long-term project In between the movements that arose from the conflict in Choi Yuen Village. In this multi-part video series, Krenn presents strong community-oriented engagement with the concerns of activists whose participation and involvement in the cause is crucial. His projects achieve high acceptance through research that uses informal channels and alliances. Krenn’s artistic work expresses various forms of political resistance through documentary film and a collaborative focus to develop strategies for artistic-political intervention.

Choi Yuen Village focuses on the grassroots democratic organisation of the protest. The villagers, together with activists from an independent media NGO, provide tours of their village to many people interested to see an alternative view of the city. The purpose of the tour is not merely sightseeing, but rather to inform people about government’s plans and show the value of the community. The tour is promoted via internet platforms such as Facebook instead of traditional print media. Krenn films one of these tours from its start at the edge of Hong Kong that meanders through the village. We see that the houses are poorly built and residents are simple hard working farmers. Villagers live together with many generations and the settlement is a prime example of how people can live peacefully and harmoniously together. The village representative, Ko Chung-heung, states: “Although our village is not very, very beautiful and prosperous, it is very harmonious, comfortable and very natural.” The key reasons for protest are that the villagers were only informed of the city plan’s for a railway line by written letter and they were not offered an alternative place to live. The government argues that the village is illegitimate because the farmers unofficially occupy the land and that is why they must leave. However, the village has been established for fifty years as a result of the Chinese migration from the mainland during the Communist cultural revolution in Hong Kong.

From this historical background, we see in this video masses of demonstrators with banners and chanting slogans to bring to the attention of the politicians the situation of the people of Choi Yuen. Also shown is the premiere performance by the “Drama Workshops” that took in place in Times Square in Hong Kong. In this way we get to learn about this special chapter in China’s history, which is even more significant than the protests themselves. It is remarkable that even in this exceptional situation Martin Krenn does this without displaying an ethnographic point of view. He achieves this feat by not showing the interior of any building or details of private and family affairs. Rather, he leave the peculiarities of the village in the background. The engagement of people is shown from a distance, yet sympathetically.

The material for the video Choi Yuen Village was shot during Krenn’s visit to Hong Kong in September 2009. He also captured a series of colour photographs that show a different aspect: That of individual and personal protests. The villagers hung self-made banners to bring to attention their acute situation. The messages, written in chinese script, are slogans targeted to both the authorities as well as unwelcome intruders: No Relocation – No Demolition – No Moving No Removing – No unauthorized entry for non-villagers – Enter at your own risk. As well as: We pledge to safeguard Choi Yuen Village. Without emotionalism and similar to the video, it is suggested that these works engulf the people and bind their sense of identity to the resistance, which is a result of the “politicisation of misery” (Krenn).

in GZK Katalog, Graz, 05/2010