Macau Days by John Young and Brian Castro

Feature by Rachel Marsden

 

Rekindling Young’s 2012 solo exhibition in Hong Kong of the same name, Macau Days brings into focus the duo’s personal fascination and diaspora associations with Macau’s past, present and potential futures. Through an ambitious trilingual visual and textual approach in Portuguese, Chinese and English, they translate Macau’s transformative cultural history as a collective “line of flight”.

 

From its history as the oldest European settlement in Asia to its standing as one of the richest cities in the world, Macau is now seen as an exotic wonderland, recently described by Young as ‘a hyperreal and phantasmagorical gambling land where traditional culture once thrived’ (2018). Here, culture is examined in the broadest sense to encompass art, literature and poetry, music and food (menus and recipes), including the routine and ritual, sound and smell, aura and arena of each. This is linked to personal experience through sensory engagement or more specifically, “synaesthesia”, where memory can span everything from a recollection of a coconut custard sweet to slavery and rebellion. These connections and contradictions are further reflected in the physical material and aesthetic qualities of the book and are key in reaffirming these self-reflections. As such, the design of the book commands immediate attention, including its typographic details. Make sure to note the ligatures (adjoining letters) of “ct” and “st” to further reinforce connections in language, which might usually be ignored.

 

Enveloped in alluring pale pink linen, the romantic pastel tone is a nod to the historic facades of Portuguese colonial architecture, such as Macau’s Government House, which are today mostly found in ruins. This softness is set in direct contrast with a striking black and white photograph, the book’s hero image of Portuguese writer ‘Wenceslau de Moraes’ (also on p. 121), also taken from Young’s 2012 exhibition. Opening to the decadence of metallic endpapers, you are unsure of what lies ahead, confronted by a clear reminder of Macau’s instant and recent wealth. To be guided through Macau’s nuanced and complex history, the eye is led by a trinity of white, black and gold page design to delineate the three different languages at play. Images interrupt the texts to provide a counter narrative, articulating what the texts cannot whilst resonating a sensitivity and vulnerability not assigned to voice or gender (given there is limited representation by (not of) women in the book). Often set to bleed to the page edge as if the reader is only privy to a slice of the memory, they work beyond documentary formats to portray ghostly and visionary representations of the unknown. Although the complexity of the visual and written narratives are separated through design, they are designed to interweave and tangle to create new understandings when read, reinforcing and simultaneously softening Macau’s harsh clash of cultures.

 

The book is to be seen a collaborative work beyond Young and Castro’s binary engagement with each other and their mutual journeys. The involvement of additional complementary narratives, skills and support are vital to understanding the development of the book and thus, the cultural translation of Macau. From artists, researchers, academics and writers; designers and typesetters; translators and proofreaders, it is clear there was a want for specificity and correctness. Beyond categorisation within contemporary art history as ‘relational aesthetics’, the richness of collaboration in Macau Days therefore, comes through a process of what I call “research curating”, the development of social, networked practices. Here, publishing functions as a form of artistic practice in its own right to create a new visual language. Between speculative fiction and honest reality, it is a representation of Young and Castro’s struggle to resolve a violence versus benevolence towards culture loss in Macau, under a veil of romanticism; a clear piece of ‘fiction theory’ to present worlds inside and beyond the textual narratives.

 

From the cover, endpapers, pages, design, texts, images and more, the book builds emulating the architecture of Macau - more uniquely as a home that has lived multiple histories through multiple decades by multiple people. As you open the book you are entering the front door, which has embodied its Chinese borderlands, retained its Portuguese architectural roots and accessed an English, global identity in the Asia-Pacific. Macau Days is a collection of connections and contradictions, of “sweetness and rebellion”. The book has the capacity to function as a performance, where I would like to sit down to dinner with Macau, to digest a curated menu of sensorial experience like no other, as food is served, texts recited and memories shared.

 

PURCHASE A PDF DOWNLOAD OF THIS ISSUE (AUD$10)

Prefer a hard copy? Visit our subscription page to purchase single printed back issues.