Tsang’s Odyssey is a story about an old man I met whom designed spaceship and traversed in worlds where we would have been at some points in our lives.
Inspired by a news picture of the HMS Ark Royal (R07) on its way to the Persian Gulf for the Iraq War in 2003, that he tore out from a UK Chinese newspaper, Tsang began a journey in spaceship design. Making sketch and drafting contract on his armoured fighting vehicles collection became a routine, or a ritual, in his life. Thousand of sketches filled up his desk drawers, a perplexed space. The sketches were covered by his thoughts and trace of living, and revealed his state of mind.
Tsang, 83 years of age, was a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong and resided in an elderly residential home in North London. He arrived at Liverpool in 1967. Like most Chinese immigrants of his generation, he started a catering business, married twice, had four children. His family visited him on a non-regular basis. Sometimes weeks, sometimes years. Who knows? At least, he did not know.
Aging population and gentrification are social issues that we all face in the twentieth-first century. Welfare states and their governments work hard to ensure there will be adequate food and home for all. Tsang had been living in this elderly home in North London in the past twelve years. He stayed in the same bedsit, with pretty much the same breath of air, and the very predictable weekly menu.
I visited him and his space weekly over two months and I hoped to know him more. He repeatedly reminded me he would be dying at the age of 85. It is the nature of life. Before that moment arrived, he hoped the world would recognise his design – with hundreds of construction and engineering drawings of spaceship. Irrational proportion; unconvincing calculation; and yet with the most faithful intention – to fly away. By selling the copyright of his design to various world powers, that is worth GBP 96,000,000 in total, he could have money to save his prodigal son, a gambling addict, that I was told. On one occasion, he offered me 31 sheets (62 pages) of his sketches and hoped that I could help him spreading out his idea. From there, my journey of Tsang’s Odyssey began. The more I visited him, the more I observed a ‘dual realities’ of Tsang – a ‘reality’ that contained him; a ‘reality’ he constructed and confronted the world (or to live and believe). I became intrigued to unfold his worlds layer by layer, from what I could see by my naked eyes, to where I used my intuition to feel and contemplate. Behind the lens, I see the hugeness and expansive quality of the mundane.
62 pages of sketches, including drawing, user manual, conceptualisation, cost management and contract, present Tsang’s state of mind in its most tangible form. The actuality and presence of sketches inarguably are ‘proofs of being once lived.’ 28 photographic images were created to visualise my perception to and interpretation of his worlds, and some of his unfulfilled dreams. In this exhibition, I present 5 diptychs of photographic images and 4 documents to construct this moving yet immobile existence. I could not help but wondering, what and where will I (or you) be when we were 83 years of age? How much travels one experience in order to get settled down? Will we colonise Mars in the future? Could I travel to the Moon with Tsang’s design?