The three phases of Au Sow Yee’s The Kris Project are presented here as a single installation. The primary point of departure for Au’s historical investigations is what has been referred to as the golden era of the Sinophonic film industry, which flourished in the 1950s and ‘60s across Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Based extensively on archival and field research, the work reimagines history by collapsing the divide between fact and fiction, and between the moving image and filmic collage; it utilises found footage from a range of existing films, from Cathay-Keris movies to documentaries of wartime Malaya. Through Au’s juxtapositions, significance and dialogue emerge anew.
The first phase, The Kris Project I, creates the persona of a fictional filmmaker named Ravi, through whose lens a ‘pseudo-film’ of found documents and images is put together. The Kris Project II: If the Party Goes On begins with questions arising from the untimely death of Loke Wan Tho, founder of the Cathay movie empire, and portrays an alternate history in which Loke survived the plane crash in 1964. The third phase draws on the Cathay studio’s first overseas film, A Night in Tokyo. These fragmented narratives, shifting uncomfortably between faithful representation and historical speculation, suggest possibilities for raising the spectres of Southeast Asia’s history within broader interpretive frameworks.