“Others are interested in the adrenaline rush, but we’re interested in the story. What can it tell us about the past?”
Three masked explorers appeared atop an apartment tower in Hong Kong ‘s North Point district and sent a black drone flying, over a clothesline, until it was buzzing more than 10 stories above the cars, trams and pedestrians on the street below.
If history was any guide, the explorers said, the building the drone was filming – a 1952 theater with unusual roof supports – would eventually be demolished because it is not on Hong Kong’s list of declared monuments. The authorities are “renewing the city on behalf of the developers, not the people,” said one of the explorers, who goes by the alias Ghost in videos and whose pollution mask and fingerless gloves gave him the air of a bank robber or graffiti artist.
The explorers belong to HK Urbex, a so-called urban exploration collective whose expeditions often require trespassing or walks through dark, abandoned or dangerous sites. So far HK Urbex has released more than three dozen videos documenting their perambulations through derelict prisons, tenements, cinemas, hospitals, casinos, police stations, bomb shelters, subway tunnels, a shipwreck and other sites across Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia.
Fans say the elegiac videos, cut with bleak soundscapes and often presented without narration, are poignant meditations on urban evolution and decay. “It’s about forcing us to confront the aesthetic of loss,” Lee Kah Wee, an assistant professor of architecture at the National University of Singapore, said of the group’s film oeuvre. “It forces us to come face to face with this debris of modernization and these ruins that are constantly accumulating, even as we keep building.”