Calligraphic Materiality and Multimodality: Modes of Expression and Representation in Site-specific Performance of Calligraphy at Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre--Grade II historic building of Hong Kong

Chak Kwong LAU* (Art Historian)

*Corresponding author for this work

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The work described in this calligraphy performance was supported by a grant (General Research Fund/ GRF) from the Research Grant Council of Hong Kong (Project Number: 12600521/ Project title: Calligraphic Materiality and Multimodality: Modes of Expression and Representation in Chinese Calligraphy and their Dynamics with Contexts of Use in the City of Hong Kong ). This work was conducted in conjunction with a refereed conference paper, titled "Site-specific Performances of Chinese Calligraphy at Historic Buildings of Hong Kong," the 9th International Conference on New Findings in Humanities and Social Sciences, Dublin, Republic of Ireland, 2023, with this Abstract: "This paper presents the wider significance of Chinese calligraphy with elements of public display of Chinese language and linguistic landscape (LL) in the innovative context of site-specific performances of calligraphy at historic buildings of Hong Kong. In sharp contrast with the conventional approach of producing and appreciating calligraphic works in relatively quiet interior settings such as studios and museums, the large-scale site-specific performances of calligraphy under examination were conducted at public venues in a more dynamic manner with emphases on not only the final creative outputs, but also the processes of the entire performances of calligraphy. With an integrated research methodology that encompasses interdisciplinary methods in art history, creative arts and linguistic landscape, this paper endeavors to understand the motives and uses of Chinese language in the artistic form of calligraphy performance as they were displayed in public spaces. Findings showed that public performances of Chinese calligraphy as composites of aesthetic-object-cum-public-message were effectively used as lively vehicles for creating not only public messages pertaining to the functions, missions and visions of historic buildings in Hong Kong, but also the broader socio-cultural meanings of the historical and cultural heritage as well as the revitalization of historic buildings within the context of the history and development of the modern city of Hong Kong."

This calligraphy performance was inspired by my journal article “Deciphering Chinese Calligraphy as the Architectural Essence of Tao Fong Shan Christian Center in
Hong Kong” (2019) in which I argued that Chinese calligraphy has played a pivotal role in accentuating the visions and missions of Tao Fong Shan Christian Center in Hong Kong.

“Coinciding with [the founder] Karl Reichelt’s vision to develop contextual Christian spirituality in Chinese arts and culture, thoughtful works of calligraphy are purposefully embedded in different parts of the Christian Center, acting as the architectural essence of the building complex that reveals major Christian doctrines.”

The article deciphers the close relationship between Chinese calligraphy and its architectural setting through an explication of how calligraphic works embedded in Tao Fong Shan Christian Center in Hong Kong transmit broader religious and cultural meanings to society.

As an extended study, I conducted this large-scale site-specific performance of calligraphy at Tao Fong Shan Christian Center. Through this creative work of poetry-writing-cum-calligraphy-performance, this artistic interpretation of Tao Fong Shan experience seeks to reveal the profound meaning of the colossal 12-meter cross as an integral and the most significant sign of the architectural complex on the hilltop.

On a serene hill far away,
I was enlightened by the Way.
In the light-filled grove,
The wind freely blows.
Oh, how wonderful is the cross!
Amazing love touches my heart gross!

Filled with a rich and subtle lyricism, the nature imageries of “light-filled grove” and “wind freely blows” intermingle with the spiritual metaphors of light for God, of the wind (fong or feng in pinyin風) for the power of the Holy Spirit, and of the Way (tao道) for God or “the Word” (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Gospel of John John 1:1 [New International Version]).

In Chinese language, the Chinese character tao literally means way, or alternatively, the Way—with deeper cultural and philosophical meanings associated with the Taoist concepts of naturalness and natural order of things and the universe. In this light, the character tao, or the Way, adopted as the first Chinese character of the name of Tao Fong Shan Christian Center well embodies the essence of dialogue between philosophies, religions and cultures. In a similar vein, I used tao and fong (feng) as the first characters of the first two lines in my poem to embrace this inclusive spirit of dialogue. Highlighting the Christian center’s name with the two characters tao and feng and their pertinent Christian doctrines that are interwoven with concepts in Chinese philosophy and culture, the first two lines of my poem are followed by the last two lines in a contemplative tone with expressions of my personal sentiments on the colossal cross as the emblem of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love.

The immense love of Jesus Christ is visually interpreted through the overwhelming configuration of twenty huge Chinese characters on four canvases radiated from the colossal cross as the center of interest. Rendered in clerical script (lishu 隸書) with archaic and austere aesthetics, the calligraphic work’s rough and unadorned brushwork and untrammeled style echo the rustic natural environment, the spontaneity of body movements and the improvisational gestural forces emanated from the artist’s wielding of the giant brush. The calligraphy performance culminates intriguingly in a powerful exclamation of surprise and praise to the wonder of God’s love through not just the bold and forceful brushstrokes, but also the energy and passion radiated out from the performer’s rigorous body movements in his dance of brush and ink—a special form of meditation in his spiritual journey.
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputOther
SizeCalligraphy Performance: 14 meters x 8 meters
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • calligraphic materiality and multimodality
  • modes of expression and representation
  • , site-specific performance of Chinese calligraphy , Chinese art, Chinese arts and culture, Hong Kong calligraphy, public space, Heritage, Historic sites, heritage management


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