Below is wing chan’s contribution to our ongoing series that focuses on weather reporting through artist-driven texts and gestures. A translator and editor based between London and Hong Kong, wing introduces a story about the body. The body is resilient, adaptive, fragile, and cautious at times: it learns, it breaks, it remembers, it predicts, it warns, it speculates, it whispers. wing draws on knowledge grounded in bodily experience, in relation to her homes and the weather elements that surround them. Unfolding over the past nine months, the piece weaves together three places and moments in time: January when wing wrote a response to our first conversation about weather forecasting in Hong Kong; August when she transferred her text onto a wall, next to a garden of migratory plants in Kassel; and September when she penned the second part of the text in her home in London.
Commissioned for the World Weather Network, a constellation of weather stations located across the world, and with the invitation of SAHA – Supporting Contemporary Art from Turkey, this series addresses the artistic strategies to measure, report, fabulate, and tell stories about the weather, air flows, circulation, and other high to low pressure aspects of our practices and cities. At m-est.org, we prioritize and host artistic responses to ideas of change, crisis, and future, focusing on various elements of the weather as an embodiment at the intersection of bodies, peoples, and landscapes. –Özge Ersoy
weather forecasting lake
in the summer of that year i joined a volleyball team outside school that took part in the local league. there i learned how to jump. before then i was trained on the street and was just wild, putting hours in and not knowing what counted as skills and the sports science behind it. experience told me that my muscles carried the memory of yesterday’s actions and that was how my body learnt. it had always been like that. in the team training i realised that people move, touch, jump, hit, block, and roll in a particular way. they used the word “mechanical,” meaning to follow patterns in order to maximise speed and the quality of movement. i had my own house style that did not fit in visually and technically and i secretly concluded that mine was more stylish and intuitive. despite our differences they still taught me everything, including how to jump. i kept my old knee pads and bought a pair of volleyball shoes specially made for professional games. the shoes had brown bouncy gum rubber soles that helped me jump higher and land stable. you stretch and expand your upper body in the air while contract the muscles of your back, stomach, lower back, back of thighs, then the calves as much as possible until a recognisable “C” shape is formed, then you find yourself suspended longer while jumping. you are flying indeed. near-zero vertical velocity in the mid-flight. the effect is a higher jump and a chance to store energy for a harder spike. i was an outside hitter, the lead attacker in the game. when i made my first appearance in the league, i was extremely nervous. i hit the air, not the volleyball. embarrassed. but my heart was beating, alive.
it was nice to be proud of your body. so i jumped until it could not, exhausting any possible moment to try. muscles memorised, adjusted, and grew. my body was flexible and fluid. in sports history, nicknames have a long tradition of reflecting an athlete’s style and ability, and i had mine too: ‘human spring.’ it described a person who walked like a spring bouncing, as if every step i took was ready for a leap. maybe it was a joke among friends and competitors. hilarious and yet not far from the truth. every move was practice. every jump was my anti-gravity delight. i had all the time to me at the peak of a jump and i felt free. my body was fit for games every day, until one day it refused. it happened in a match where my team had only three more points to goal. i was confident and my footwork quick. i jumped, hit the ball, and when the gum rubber soles touched the floor there was a clarity in the body that it was something new. the support was not there. i knew where my feet were but where were my legs? i was not going to land. i was waiting for the fall. then i fell properly, folding the body in, rolling backwards, safe. the moment my vision was clear my sightline was lower than the net and interrupted by many lower bodies. i saw myself sitting on the floor and my arms reaching to my left knee. the action sequence was done in one perfect shot and that was also my last jump.
ligaments on the front and side of the knee were torn, meniscus that once looked like a crescent moon was no longer, as if marginally survived a storm. my knee lived a life of its own as time passed. it started registering the becoming of rains and thunders and winters. like an animal it possessed a survival instinct, sensing movement of humidity in the air and barometric pressure, preventing itself from being harmed by the weather to come. when the survival mode was on, it translated anxiety into a form of sensation inside the tissues that resembled metal plates sliding over and across one another or intense pressings on bruises. the sense was so sharp that it compelled me to pause and be fully present in the moment whenever storms were about to arrive. there was no need to rebel. the sensation did not last but it had the right to come back.
i carried the weather forecasting leg with me, first with dismay, then with affinity. it was a landscape that i carried around, like a tattoo that is there, changing as the body changes but it has never been away, always available. it made me pause on my way to university, pause on the slope walking to my first job, pause on the van to my first adult home, pause in breakfasts, lunches, and suppers, pause in bed, pause at kitchens and libraries, pause on the road, pause in conversations, pause in laughter and sadness, and pause on my way abroad. it was an eyewitness without vision. it was being in person, to be around. its strength accumulated and became larger than itself, larger than oneself.
when i arrived in a foreign land, the air and earth and water changed. the winter was much colder, but the sensation was gone. the lake was frozen that it forgot it was once a moving water. in late october of another year, i packed a small luggage and a backpack for a trip back home of which i did not know what to expect. people moved out. people stayed. i was both going and coming. i was reluctant to take a thirteen-hour flight and imagine being in a long queue to be only transported to a hotel for a long quarantine. what would homecoming be like after all these things that had happened and all these rules that apply? i took the tube and changed to the express and said to myself that i might not be ready. then came a distinct, shivering sensation from the only part of my body. shocked and confused, but soon i felt close and closer. it is always there, never been away, the weather forecasting lake. i paused on the way to the boarding gate, and kept going.
hong kong, january 2022
the walls resist
in the spring and summer of that year i developed a growing appetite for fish. it had never come natural to me. i remembered being in the fish market with my mum and elder sister, my hand in my mum’s and a sense of danger approaching. the recurrent childhood episodes connected my memory of fish with dizzying shouts, savoury seaside smells, the melting of flake ice on all sides of fish, the punctuations of puddles on the ground, and the wetness that they entailed. i didn’t like it. i was in a serious crisis of drowning in those funky little pools of water. whenever my chubby chunky pair of legs became all the more tender, i knew my crew was reaching the fish market soon. that was my first recollection of resistance. i felt weak. i didn’t want the fish. this primary expression of resistance was a gentle one. the struggles happened only internally within muscles and were not shared. i didn’t dare to protest, to walk away from the scene, or to confront the melting ice, as a baby, hence my first experience of inertia too.
my dad is the chef in the house. he believes that nutrients come from a variety of sources and cooks with no standard recipes or labels in mind. that’s why my sister and i grew up being exposed to a wide range of foodstuffs. our bones and spines and teeth are strong. what is unsettling in this story is that my dad’s culinary expertise is in preparing and cooking fresh fish. depending on the fish types or the way of cooking or the sheer economy of resources at home, he steams, deep-fries, smokes, or stews fish, and often tops it with aromatics such as spring onions and ginger, or chilli and fermented black beans, or simply sizzling soy sauce. he’s adventurous in accepting new tastes, textures, and structures despite at times he fails. he introduced me to the knowledge of how versatile and resilient fish can be. the fish suppers that my dad made were simple yet delicious. over the years they trained my taste buds and sense of smell. they marked the tastes of home that i would eventually miss. despite all of these delicacies, i wasn’t particularly interested in fish until much later when i was more aware of the waves that were and are still hitting many lives, mine included. i haven’t mentioned that i’m also afraid of the sea, where marine fish live and compete in predatory and reproductive cycles. ironically, because of this fear for the ferocious sea and the intentional distance i set myself from it, i begin to be attracted to its enigma instead.
the curious thing about resistance is that the cognitive realisation of resisting something often arrives later than the sensations that a resistance gives. that is to say, before you can articulate and process it, your body sees and knows. it’s an anticipation of risks on the level of material, of matter. ever since i was physically away from my dad’s suppers, i started fiercely devouring fish and seeing signs of water and its leaps alongside. be water as a strategy, they said. i was munching on a fried sea bass coated with a thin layer of batter and served with tartar, as water cannons were fired at people and burning their skins in my city and its neighbours, thailand and myanmar, just to name a few. i was learning to marinate grilled sea breams with lemon, dill, and caper sauce, when my friends were steadily depressed as the philippines’ anti-terrorism law and elections progressed. i was exploring whole smoked mackerel, when i got to meet ukrainian artists and botanists for the first time in town as the war intruded their kitchens and gardening routines. i was greedily savouring masala fish and inhaling its omega threes, when floods caused by more severe than ever monsoon rains and melting glaciers were devouring one third of pakistan and displaced tens of millions. it’s difficult, isn’t it. everywhere there’s resistance that we are led to stir.
the vulnerability in my childhood muscles leapt to the foreground and transformed into a daring jaw, plotting my exploration of new feasts. as i confront one fish after another and gobble them down, i relive the emotions and experiences that are strange but known to me. they multiply the tastes of home. every sense of danger and hope activates my digestive system. sometimes, they are presented to me in unrecognisable shapes, but my taste buds remember that they are all fish. the question of funding, the fictional and humid climate zone, detention centres, pop and rock gigs, sun ra and his anti-gravity delights, heatwaves, waiting areas and the urgently produced harvest are all fish.
the curious thing about resistance is that the bodily sensations of resistance can be telling. the day before the wall resisted i waded in a stream diverted from the river fulda with my newly met friends. we saw the shimmer refracted by a rock in the stream as we dragged to say goodbye to each other. at that moment, i realised that what i had intuitively fought against in the wet market was not fish but the way fish were conditioned to inhabit. it was the suggestion of enclosure that i feared. it was the cooling systems and the consequent erosion of the fish’s possibilities of leaping that i resisted. differing from a lake, which is static and enclosed, the stream constantly flows and meanders. it would eventually come to terms with the river and meet the mouth of the sea in its lower course. the night before the wall resisted i was warmly served with canh chua, the vietnamese tamarind-based soup typically made with salmon, tomatoes, and bean sprouts, as we shared a table next to a migratory garden, where seeds and plants made escape attempts to reunion with their people, re-enacting the many daring sea voyages undertook by hundreds of thousands of boat people decades ago.
i said goodbyes to my friends in the next morning and decided that i no longer need a single weather forecasting lake. i was determined to leave the lake behind by imprinting it on the exterior wall of a home we had temporarily made. but it wasn’t easy. i didn’t know that the wall would act when the marker pen was pressed on it. my finger muscles were the first to notice the fight or flight response of the wall. it alternated between bouncing back to defend against the pen and turning soft to increase the co-efficiency of friction for much harder finger and arm movements. the same signs of disobedience were then sent to the larger muscles in my wrist, shoulder, neck, lower back, and legs. within two hours my body was drained. the wall was telling me that it was porous and elastic and capable of claiming its right to resist.
london, september 2022
wing chan works at afterall and likes thursdays. ig: wingchanwww