Witches Own Without (W.O.W.)
Participants: Mirwan Andan, S.Yiyao Chao, Ysabelle Cheung, Olivia Chow, eteam (Franziska Lamprecht + Hajoe Moderegger), Christopher K. Ho, Pararailing (Jie Shao, Sixing Xu, Xuecan Ye), Peng Ke, Xiaoshi Qin, Qu Chang, Studio Hik, Yuk King Tan, Wang Tuo, Wong Binghao, X Zhu-Nowell
Curated by Wong Kit Yi, Eunice Tsang and Lok Wong
When it comes to introducing a project about witches and spells, it feels imperative to start with a point about spell-ing. Witches don’t practice magic. They practice magick!
The ‘k’ at the end changes the energy of the word, and is a mental queue for us to think more in terms of the spiritual than of the clever or contrived. Many witches insist on this spelling to differentiate what they do from magicians’ stage magic. Magick often involves spending considerable time building up energy and focusing that energy, before releasing it into the universe in the direction of a goal.
Witchcraft dates back as far as Paleolithic times—about 25,000 years ago, pre-Christian times in North-Western Europe. For a good part of its history in various regions, it has had to be practiced underground, due to persecution of witches by certain institutional religions and the state. In Great Britain, for example, the last law against witchcraft was not repealed until 1951. There are many reasons why it might have been deemed a threat against the status quo. On the one hand, it sometimes served as a means for women to gain a level of independence and free themselves from traditional patriarchal expectations. On the other hand, some of its ideas undercut certain beliefs central to institutionalized religions. One example is that of the Divine Feminine, whereby the divine spirit is understood to have feminine characteristics and feminine energy. Witches believe faith cannot speak to the entire human condition when it only acknowledges its male side. That said, it should be noted that the term witch is not gender-specific. Witches are any ordinary people who have discovered a powerful nature-based religion and adopted its practices for themselves. Nor should witchcraft be construed as a Western tradition. It has thrived in many different cracks and corners of the world up until today.
We are currently in the midst of something of a witch renaissance here in Hong Kong. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of New Age practitioners here since 2014, when Occupy Central took place, with New Age practices known to draw heavily from witchcraft, among other influences. Part of the attraction may lie with the fact that witchcraft and the New Age practices it has influenced are free-flowing in form, with no central governing authority and a rich collage of denominations to choose from. A notably similar phenomenon was seen in the US in the 1960s, where increased interest in all things New Age emerged following the spread of anti-establishment and countercultural movements. Again New Age beliefs and practices were likely appreciated as alternative source of meaning and spirituality that aren’t tied to hierarchical or authoritarian institutions. Some might view these trends as indicative of a tendency towards escapism, but a proper understanding of witchcraft and the New Age movement reveal them to offer a deeper way into reality, not a shallow way out.
Hongkongers have experienced a lot in the past few years, from the development of vibrant and dynamic social movements to dramatic political changes and stringent pandemic measures. It wouldn’t be surprising if the continued increase of New Age interest also stemmed from young people’s desire for a means to cope with the stress of living through uncertain times, one whose practices involved getting in touch with one’s inner emotions in a therapeutic way. When it comes to promoting self-care, most of the dominant knowledge production in the modern world tends to be constrained by two major influences: mainstream religion and scientific materialism. Witchcraft and the traditions it has shaped offer us knowledge that sits outside the shadow of these influences, for which they are sadly often scorned or mocked.
Yet the practice of witchcraft in Hong Kong is not limited to New Age enthusiasts. A more traditional local practice that displays many of the typical features of witchcraft and has long been immensely popular is that of “villain hitting”, or da siu yan, where elderly folk sorceresses put a hex on anybody whose photo one might choose to provide them with, by beating said photo “to death” with a shoe or slipper, as is most famously seen under the Canal Road flyover by Causeway Bay. The villains put forward for such hexes can be anyone from your next door neighbor to people in high positions of power. To get a sense of just how high in the case of the latter, consider this clip (https://www.instagram.com/reel/CHJSAFUnZ1I/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link) of a notable beating that went viral in October 2020, before the US presidential elections.
To turn to the site and the labor behind this project, Current Plans is located in a tong lau in Sham Shui Po, sandwiched between the commercial space below and residential space above. Its distinct but humble architecture helped to inspire Witches Own Without (W.O.W), which involves more than 18 participants. Some of these participants’ primary professions are in writing and/or curating, and a few of them will be contributing artwork for the first time ever. Many works in this project were developed over slow conversations, back-and-forth emails, whatsapp messages, over a period that saw much illness, financial hardship and unemployment, both locally and globally.
This project is not meant simply to counter the mainstream depiction of witches, but hopefully to open up more ways to witch, as it were. The following ways are put forward by different participants in the project:
To listen to plants and water; to question what technology wants from us; to rest and challenge the idea of productivity/non-productivity within the capitalist system; to advocate for minority/non-binary art workers in the art world; to make and share space; to exchange knowledge; to reflect on the contemporary landscape politically, socially, personally; to free shamanism from appropriations that rob it of its power; to be a witch.
The title Witches Own Without may seem strange. It was deliberately chosen to appear part of an incomplete sentence, so as to allow the participants to complete it in their own way. But one possible way to complete it for today: witches own without possessing. Through collective ownership, we can own something without necessarily possessing it. The word “possess” is intensely individualistic, and can have connotations of greed and selfish desire. It is a word that can run in two different directions at the same time. When we selfishly possess something, it can also possess us, casting a kind of spell on us. Witches would likely know enough to be wary of such spells or undo them.
巫術團: Mirwan Andan 馬讓‧安登, S.Yiyao Chao 周亦瑤, Ysabelle Cheung 張伊婷, Olivia Chow 周宛昀, eteam (Franziska Lamprecht + Hajoe Moderegger), Christopher K. Ho 何恩懷, Pararailing (Jie Shao, Sixing Xu, Xuecan Ye) 欄杆外（邵捷、徐思行、葉雪粲）, Peng Ke 彭可, Xiaoshi Qin 覃小詩, Qu Chang 瞿暢 , Studio Hik, Yuk King Tan 陳玉瓊, Wang Tuo 王拓, Wong Binghao, X Zhu-Nowell 朱筱蕤
項目由Wong Kit Yi 黃潔宜, Eunice Tsang 曾智愛怡 及 Lok Wong 王天樂策劃