I have been back to my childhood home, Hong Kong, since July last year. Having spent seventeen years in England, it feels great to be back and to experience my home city as an adult. COVID has prolonged what was supposed to be a short visit. Having no studio and a small living space typical of Hong Kong, making space, the theme of the virtual residency, also means making “making space” possible as an artist and make do with what you have. I hot desk between the dining table and the folding desk in my bedroom, and have consecrated a corner of my room as an altar. The space outside contrasts greatly with the space inside of my bedroom. Looking out from my window helps create space in my mind.
The altar was made partly in preparation for a new film idea on ancestors, but also for the real purpose of an altar. Being Chinese, honouring and worshipping your ancestors is a fundamental part of the Confucius tradition. Ever since you are old enough to hold a pen you are asked to dedicate incense to your ancestors. Before you deposit he incense sticks you close your eyes, bow three times and ask for their blessings. It is not about asking for favours, though. Our ancestors brought us to the world, nourished us and prepared for the conditions under which we became grown adults. Paying respects, honouring and remembering their lives and memories is about fulfilling one’s filial and spiritual duties. At my eldest brother’s home, an altar (a proper one as opposed to my makeshift one!) is set up to honour our grandparents.
Rituals to honour ancestors are extremely important must be carried out properly. This will ensure family members and future generations to receive blessings and protection from the deceased family members. Misfortune in the current life can indicate that due respects have not been paid to your ancestors.
How can the dead be aiding your life in the present? You may wonder. Is this not just some grandma’s tales and old superstitions that our current scientific age should pay no regards? Perhaps this is not the right question. Our ancestors are the roots of our existence. They are our life force. Paying respects to our ancestors are to pay respects to our roots, our life force and by extension, our relations with nature, heaven and earth and the universe. It is to honour the ideal that life continues after death, the cycle of renewal and regeneration.
There is much more on the topic of ancestors and the cycle of renewal and regeneration. More to come in the next post!