21 September 2019

How Occupy movement can continue as part of daily life

The Umbrella Movement Visual Archives and Research Collective is a project initiated by a group of volunteers assembled through the internet on Oct. 14 last year.

Most of the founding members came from the cultural and academic sectors, but there were also people from all walks of life, including students, office workers and employees from the financial, real estate and engineering sectors.

Sixty people took part in our first meeting, in front of the entrance of the Legislative Council’s Public Complaints Office.

After repeated discussions and revisions, we set our objectives, which were:

1. To record the physical changes of the Occupy zones together with the interaction among citizens;

2. To retrieve all the historically valuable items after the occupiers decided to retreat;

3. Not to record “art” but to record the expression of our fellow citizens in a controversial political environment.

To put our ideas into action, we summoned more than 200 volunteers, divided them into groups and worked intensely to keep records of all kinds and potentially valuable materials across the occupied areas.

In the end, we came up with a list of items that we believe needed to be transferred to a safe place in case of emergency.

During the Occupy movement, we collected 1,500 posters and 300 other items, all of which were measured, photographed and recorded.

We identified those who created these items and put all the information into a detailed record.

By uploading all these records onto the internet, we hoped to present a collection of the images of the 79-day Occupy movement and share them with people from all over the globe who did not personally experience the movement.

We also hoped that the information we collected could provide a systematic reference for any academic research on the movement in the future.

The items we collected are now being kept in a temporary warehouse so that our record-keeping efforts can continue, thanks to the help of some really wonderful people.

However, in the long run, we must figure out where these items will end up permanently, whether in the hands of some non-governmental organizations or in some kind of museum set up and supported by private funding.

So far, our organization has been run and supported by volunteers.

The important issue that is facing us is how we can continue the Occupy movement as a group of archivists, or whether we can turn our project into a “living archive”.

Instead of exhibiting the items we collected during the Occupy movement in a museum-like location, we believe they can fulfill a far more interactive role in our fight for democracy by allowing them to become part of the daily lives of our fellow citizens.

For example, we have approached some cafes, restaurants and bookstores and offered to put some of these items on display so that their customers can see them.

We are even considering opening our temporary warehouse to the public, as well.

At the same time, we are preparing for a public exhibition in September of the items we collected, its main themes being “Why do we need to occupy?” and “The liberation of the public space in a political movement”.

We don’t want to define ourselves as an organization solely committed to data collection.

Instead, we want to be more action-oriented, and we want to stay connected with the pro-democracy movement and become an organic part of it.

After the Occupy movement ended, many of our members went back to work.

Now we have only 20 active members left.

This is something we expected to happen and is a harsh reality that we have to face.

However, we regard our project as a long-term commitment, because the longer we are able to keep those items, the bigger historical value they will have.

Although we are just a temporary organization, we are pushing our frontiers and are exploring lots of new possibilities.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 18.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Posters and other artifacts can help remind Hongkongers of last year’s Occupy movement. Photo: EJ Insight

A cultural critic