Can't Live With or Without You (2018)

Installation with vinyl turntables, automatic sound recording system, photography, publication

In 1948, one year before the founding of People’s Republic of China, 10-year-old kid’s mother took a small jet in Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong, where was occupied and significantly expanded by the Japanese during Occupation period. The kid saw her mother off to Shanghai, thought she was on a mission assigned by her party and might return to Hong Kong after a few days.


In 1998, a lady was about to retire. She learnt photography from a local amateur photography club run by communist society. The lady documented the last days of Kai Tak Airport with a film camera.

The project sheds light to a private collection that survives important social movements in both China and Hong Kong, including Cultural Revolution, 1967 The Leftist Riots and Umbrella Movement. The installation is juxtaposed with a lecture recording, which is extracted from one of the first education paradigm on Materialism Dialectics after Cultural Revolution.

By employing a Latin phrase used in the Italian edition of Introduction to Communist Manifesto, which was originally written by Roman poet Marcus Valerius Martialis, Can’t Live with or without you (Nec Tecum possum vivere nec sine te) draws attention to the connection of objecthood and personal history with Dialectical Materialism discourse.

Lee Kai Chung, cant live with or without you

Installation at Tai Kwun, Hong Kong

As a dedicated follower of Marx and Lenin, Mao Zedong advocated Materialism Dialectics since very early stage of Communist Party, Mao published On Contradiction (1937) and On Practice  (1937) respectively to distinguish his pollical philosophy from Soviet formulation. The projected vision of utopian in the above volume justifies the necessity of class struggle and revolution, which aspired to create motivation for comrades and proletariats to fight for the party before and after the WWII.

I decipher a precarious aspect of the collection, while its constitution resuscitates the history of Chinese communist regime and social reform ever since the Second World War until now. The creator of the collection underscores the contradictions inherent in Chinese communist ideologies, inconsistent policies and the actual influences on humanity.

In theory, social relation is built upon the production of materials, that marks the trajectory of history and its narratives; hence, “Production” reveals capitalist exploitation of labor and proletariats, that generates an inertia for social changes and affiliated movements. Text and images from that collection delineate how an individual endured in that special time frame in Mainland China, while the core of ideologies was barely remained and class struggle became political manipulation instead of dialectical opposition between dominance over social resources and the lesser majority. Under the context, the collection resurrects a piece of history that “things” was an evidence for baseless accusation during an era of madness, provided that the ideological narratives had been radically changed, the existence of the collection already inverted the established boundary between belief and politics.

The collection owner still suffers from the trauma that rooted in her childhood and adolescence, which is resulted in the loss of faith in friendship and humanity. Nevertheless, she has been engaging in Chinese communist’s activities in Hong Kong and China since the 50s, swims with the current and sometimes against it.

The installation comprises a sound system, in which two vinyl records will be will be played regularly in the exhibition. The records are lecture recording, The Law of Dialectical Unity and The Law of Negation of the Negation, extracted from one of the first education paradigm on Materialism Dialectics after Cultural Revolution.

The two audio channels will be recorded simultaneously, diminish each other and create a mix tape on a double deck cassette tape recorder that consistently reproduces two tapes at the same time; after the tape length is finished, the recorder will overwrite the previous recording and make new reproduction. Due to the extensive and unceasing recording, the mixed tapes will be devoid of recognisable sound.

© 2020 by LEE KAI CHUNG

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