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Around the World in 8000 Days: Travels with Michael Palin. Photographs by Basil Pao

30 Oct 2013 - 10 Nov 2013 

For more than 25 years, the multi-talented Michael Palin and photographer Basil Pao teamed together and traveled the world.  

Michael Palin established his reputation as a founding member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a television series and films altered the course of comedy and influenced generations of writers, artists and filmmakers worldwide. In 1988, with the BBC series Around the World in 80 Days, Michael began to change the face of television travel. Over the next 24 years, he produced seven highly successful series for the BBC which saw him going from the North to the South Pole along the 30th parallel in Pole to Pole; circumnavigate the Pacific Rim in Full Circle; retracing the footsteps of his hero Ernest in Hemingway Adventure; then across the Sahara and over the length of the Himalaya, explore the newly independent countries of a post-Soviet New Europe; and most recently, in a journey across Brazil.

Throughout these epic journeys, Hong Kong born photographer Basil Pao was there to document the action for the books that accompanied each series. The images in this exhibition represent some of the most memorable moments in their 25 years of travelling the world together.

The original exhibition, Travels with Michael Palin, was the brainchild of Roger Watson, Curator of the Fox Talbort Museum in Lacock - the birthplace of photography where William Henry Fox Talbotfirst invented the calotype process in 1840s. After the successful run in Wiltshire in 2012 the exhibition was transferred to the Royal Geographical Society in London, where it was shown.   

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Hong Kong's Plastic Disaster

01 Oct 2013 - 30 Sep 2014 

On 25 July 2012, a ship left Hong Kong carrying a cargo of pre-production plastic pellets. The ship left port during Typhoon Vincente, which grew in force to a Typhoon 10.  Somewhere to the East of Hong Kong, six 40 foot containers were lost overboard. The storm was so powerful it destroyed these containers, spilling their contents into Hong Kong waters. Over the following days, 25 kilogram sacks began washing ashore, many of which split open, spilling contents of tiny plastic beads on the beaches of Lantau Island.

This temporary display tells the story of how Hong Kong citizens came together, turning a catastrophe into a story of ingenuity by ordinary citizens to save the environment.  

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A Tale of Two Ventures: Wah Kwong at 60

18 Sep 2013 - 14 Oct 2013

Photographs by Basil Pao

Out of sight and out of mind, the global shipping industry provides the vital link which allows us all to enjoy the basic necessities of everyday life. Over a two year period, Hong Kong photographer Basil Pao charted the industry, from the mining of iron ore in Brazil and Australia, the transportation across the ocean to China in a large bulkcarrier, the spectacular process of steel manufacture and the use of that steel to construct a mighty supertanker in Northern China. The two ships featured in this exhibition, the bulkcarrier AQUA VENTURE and supertanker DALIAN VENTURE are part of the fleet of Wah Kwong, one of Hong Kong’s leading shipping companies who commissioned the project as part of their sixtieth anniversary celebrations.

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We Are Like Vapours: Pacifying the South China Sea

03 Mar 2013 - 18 Aug 2013 

The Pacifying the South China Sea scroll, painted by an anonymous Qing painter almost two hundred years ago is considered one of the jewels of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. And in many ways it is also one of Hong Kong’s most important tangible cultural heritage artefacts. Painted in twenty different scenes with minute detail, the scroll chronicles the story of how piracy was supressed in the early nineteenth century by the forces of the Jiaqing Emperor.

The year was 1809. The three sea trade passages of Guangdong were under the control of a ruthless band of pirates. Coastal villages were being held ransom by an overwhelming force of outlaws. The Jiaqing Emperor appointed Bailing Governor General to Pacify the South China Sea by annihilation or appeasement. Painted years after these events, this scroll depicts the events of the day and shines a light on how this awesome task was accomplished.

A Chinese scroll is a storybook. And it is the very nature of the narrative intent of the artist that makes it such a wonderful object for a museum to take complex topics like piracy, trade, appeasement, symbolism and force and place them in a time and place context for the public to appreciate.

We Are Like Vapours

One of the principal figures in the story of piracy of the early nineteenth century was Zhang Bao. The nineteenth century historian Yuan Yunglun of Shunde tells us that Bao was the son of a fisherman. He was probably adducted as a youth and indoctrinated into a pirate band. He was later handpicked to become to be the chieftain of the pirate squadrons that controlled the South China Sea passages. Prior to Bailing’s arrival, Bao was involved in a clash with the government navy. During the engagement Bao had a near death experience. Subsequently one of his men would kill Lin Kwo Lang, commander of the Humen forts in cold blood.

Yuan attributes an intriguing quote to Bao concerning this murder, “We…are like vapours dispersed by the wind; we are like the waves of the sea, roused by a whirlwind; like broken bamboo sticks on the sea, we are floating and sinking alternately, without enjoying any rest. Our success in this fierce battle will, after a short while, bring the united strength of government on our neck.”

Perhaps this was a turning point in Bao’s thinking? He foresaw the eventual destruction of the pirate bands and thus he began mentally making his escape. Bao would eventually surrender himself to Baliling and become an officer in the government navy. He would help to destroy the pirate bands that he once led. It is interesting to speculate if Bao was sorry for Lin’s murder or if he was sorry that he would be blamed.

Digital Presentation

We are like vapours is a digital presentation that is based on the original Qing scroll. It uses Bao’s concept of vapours as the main story’s catalyst. The exhibition uses a series of vapours that have been digitally superposed over the original scroll. As the vapours are dispersed they reveal each of the twenty scenes of the scroll. And within each scene select portions are brought to life with animation. The animations help to bring greater meaning to the precise details that the artist. All of the animations are based on the original artwork, no additional characters or flourishes have been added.

The vapours are a powerful symbol in the presentation. They obscure the scenes from the viewer and only gradually reveal the key scenes. The vapours are a window in which we today look back into the events of the day. Bao’s fear was his actions in life would forever doom himself to a perpetual state of unrest. Today we are still witnesses to these events and pay homage to the events that help shape the South China Sea into the vibrant trading centre it is today.

The AVIE system in which the exhibition is seen provides an immersive experience. It is a modern day system that continues the tradition of showing art in the round. Surrounded on all sides by the action, participants will follow the story as the scroll unrolls to reveal more sections. Light, sound and images are combined to make a holistic experience.

Building the Digital Exhibition

The Hong Kong Maritime Museum created this exhibition in partnership with City University of Hong Kong. City University has a worldwide reputation as a force in the museum community combining culture and 21st century technologies to create energetic exhibitions.