Filipina Heterotopia

photograph, lambda print

sound composition, 19’35, 2008

“There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places – places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality.”
Michel Foucault, On Other Spaces, 1967.

This piece is rooted in a socio-economic context, which can be witnessed in Hong Kong. Since the 1970’s, and the poor economic situation the government of Philippines has actively promoted and supported the migration in order to find work abroad. As a result, there is now a great number of Filipinas in Hong Kong, who came to find job as domestic helpers to take care of children, elderly, and of the household in general. As stated in their contract, they should live with their employees, and have a day of rest on Sunday usually. They usually gather on that day in open public spaces, outside their employee’s house. They group on or under footbridges, public squares, pavements, etc, and spend the day there, laughing, shouting, singing, conducting religious activities like praying, dancing, etc. For that day, the space would be their own space, as they would mark their land with cardboard, plastic.
This sudden invasion of public space is widely accepted by authorities, even in open public space, which are managed by private interests. By law, the minimum requirement of public space is two square meters per person, as stated by HK’s Planning Standards and Guidelines. But often, private developers use these open public spaces.
Resulting from this socio-economic background, it is now a common fact to see Filipina domestic helpers, as well as from Indonesia or Thailand, as shown by recent immigrations waves, to take over these public spaces and form a clusters of small groups of people sitting on the ground for a day. This reappropriation is not only spatial, but it is also a sonorous phenomenon.
The recordings cover an area starting from the HSBC building to nearby the City Hall in Central. They have been conducted at several time of the week, at around the same time, in order to reflect the different usages of these spaces. At 3 am, only sounds of the traffic would resonate under the covered space of the HSBC building, or sounds of newspaper being sorted out, near City Hall, before being put on the stall in the early morning for sale. At 3 p.m., on a regular week day afternoon, sounds from the traffic are added to the sounds of passers-by. At 3 p.m. on a Sunday, the same space would be filled by noises of hundreds of Filipinas, creating a unique background noise, and a cacophony of voices and traffic. Getting closer, it is possible to enter these sound pockets created by small groups of seated people, who are engaged in different activities like laughing, praying, or dancing on music played aloud. These environmental sounds are the sounds that can be heard in this piece, and form the basis for the composition. In addition, interviews have been conducted in order to ask the protagonist to explain this urban phenomenon and about their relation to their direct environment and noise. All these layers of sounds are intertwined together to form a complex composition, depicting an urban socio-cultural event, which is usually turned into an anecdote for tourists. This work also reflects a common listening situation in Hong Kong, with a constant movement back and forth between foreground and background sounds, voices, and music coming from different sources and directions, where the listeners choose to focus on one or another sound, creating an effect commonly referred to as the cocktail-effect.