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Hong Kong today encapsulates the aesthetic vision of Blade Runner’s raw futurism, and yet it’s a place rooted in rich traditions, dependent upon a fusion of Buddhist-Tao mysticism. At any point during the year you can find small shrines encased on the sides of sleek corporate structures, or you might observe someone burning paper sacrifices for their deceased ancestors. Yet at this specific week of the year it's believed that the spirits of the dead leave their realm and come to roam our physical world seeking food and other goods the afterlife doesn’t offer. This slightly spooky and special week of paying respects is called The Hungry Ghost Festival.
Ip Wai Lung, a young controversial Hong Kong artist, made headlines this week after renting a storefront in the funeral district of Hong Kong and burning handmade paper dildos, paper Fleshlights, and an assortment of other types of paper-crafted carnal goods. Of course, The Creators Project sat down with Ip Wai Lung to have him explain his motives, and hopefully share the details on what a ghost orgy might look like.
The Creators Project: What’s the reason behind burning paper objects for dead ancestors, and why do Hong Kong people choose the items they do for burning? I've seen paper iPhones, paper yachts and even a paper massage chair.
Ip Wai Lung: Hong Kong people believe that their deceased ancestors can receive certain offerings, because once burnt they become 'real objects' in the spirit world. The reason we use paper and not other materials is fairly simple: in the old days paper was the available material as well as the easiest to burn. By burning paper these offerings people might feel like they’re doing something good for their ancestors, you know, like a filial duty. As for the replicas we choose to burn, the afterlife is believed to be constructed based on our living reality, so the shops which make these objects are simply keeping up with market demand. Really, what we burn is just a reflection of our own contemporary needs and wants.
You chose to burn sex toys, is this because you think the spirits are horny and just dying to get some action? Hong Kong is believed to be a fairly sexually repressed city, are you trying to comment on that in any way?
I made the sex toys because it was missing among all the paper offerings options. Look, if the logic of burning paper offerings is based on the desires we have now as human beings, why wouldn’t we include sex? If ghosts have the desire for money, new technology, and clothes, they should have sexual desire too.
And yes, I do think that sex is still relatively taboo in Hong Kong. However, I simply wanted to normalize the act of sex, I have no perverse political agenda. I did though stick warning signs on the breasts and sexual organs of the paper objects, just to passively take the piss out of ordinary people who love sex but at the same time sneer at it.
I have to ask because you seem fairly rational; do you have any skepticism towards any of this actually reaching the spirits?
I’m stuck between believing and not believing. On one hand, I did this project because I actually believe in this whole burning thing; on the other hand, I do have sincere doubts about whether the dead can receive our paper offerings. It is this exact paradox that triggered my interest towards this project. I commented on this in a fun fashion by only burning half of the paper dolls. It’s a dark humor of sorts, in the sense that I imagined how desperate the dead would be after hundreds of decades without sex toys and when they arrive, they only arrive in halves.
There's been a lot of backlash to this project with Hong Kong people—they claim that you’ve disrespected the dead, and that you’re now susceptible to a haunting.
I don’t think the dead have been disrespected in any sense of the word. If anything I think I did something respectful to the dead, as I took care of their sexual desires which has been overlooked for hundreds of years in our culture. I truly don't understand why things become offensive when it’s related to sex. I would be so thankful to know that someone was burning me sex toys after I die!
See more of Ip Wai Lung's work on his website.