In the Name of Victoria
In this former British Crown colony, one name rings especially resonant: Victoria. For this, we can thank Queen Victoria, under whose reign we became a dependent territory of Britain in 1842. It’s apt that now, over a decade since our sovereignty was returned to China, Warren Leung Chi-wo offers us a playful, witty reconsideration of this name in his exhibition, In the Name of Victoria, now showing at Korkos Gallery.
Two light boxes in the gallery’s street-facing window set the show’s tone. Each highlights a photograph emblazoned with a quotation in lacy white script: “I will be good” floats above an image of vegetation on Victoria Peak, and “I’m still me even after all that’s happened” hovers over a close-up of water in Victoria Harbour. The artist’s ironic sense of humour shines through when you realise that the first was spoken by Queen Victoria herself, and the second was uttered by none other than Victoria Beckham. (How the mighty have fallen!)
Inside, this humour takes a mordant turn. In the middle of the gallery space sits a small box pasted with a postcard of the harbour. The work, called From Victoria to Victoria, features a tiny hole on its cover – a gesture towards a pinhole camera, and a reminder that despite her lasting influence on our shores, Queen Victoria never set foot here herself. The gallery’s walls are even more critical, showing large-format photographs of the bleak, empty interiors of Victoria Prison – now defunct, it was Hong Kong’s first penal institution, and today stands as a symbol of colonial order and control.
Up to this point, Leung handles the Victoria conceit with an admirable lightness of touch. However in the final two pieces, it begins to feel laboured. A sculpture from 1997, a cracked pyramid whose interior reveals fragmented views of the Peak’s shopping mall, carries less impact than the more recent light boxes pitting Her Majesty against Posh Spice. Meanwhile, a looped video installation overlaid with a monologue collating the testimonies of women called Victoria comes across as forced and grating.
Nonetheless, these are small criticisms in what is, overall, a clever, engaging and highly relevant show that throws light on a name we often encounter, but rarely take the time to think about.