Golden Slumbers

31 Aug – 31 Aug 2008

Kah Bee Chow

One Day Sculpture

"Once regarded at the most notorious slum area in New Zealand," Wellington historian Lynette Shum notes, "Haining Street today is an industrial area that bears little indication of its sensationalist past."(1) As the centre of Wellington's Chinatown from the late 1800s-1940s, it also bore witness to the one of the most violent episodes in Chinese New Zealand history, when Englishman Lionel Terry shot dead Joe Kum Yung outside number 13 in 1905 as a protest against Chinese immigration into the country. Kah Bee Chow's ONE DAY SCULPTURE, which occured on Sunday 31 August, is sited opposite this spot at number 10 Haining Street.


Titled Golden Slumbers, the project was partly conceived as an imagined narrative of Joe Kum Yung's afterlife. Chow says "Joe was a miner, destitute, alone at the time of his death with long-abandoned dreams of the elusive ‘Sum Gum Saan', a new gold mountain, the faded promise of the Otago goldfields." The artist created both a fanciful wish-fulfilment and antidote to Joe's invisibility as his biography was eclipsed by his murderer Terry's folk-hero notoriety.

Chow draws a common aspirational connection between herself and Joe Kum Yung. "We are separated by 100 years but Joe and I, as first-generation immigrants to New Zealand, perhaps shared in common the impossible spectacular projected fantasies onto this land that drew us here." Chow emigrated to New Zealand at age 12 and says her delusions were less gilded but not less imagined, and age-appropriate: she "held onto the prepubescent persistence that New Zealand would equate to my Southern Hemisphere Sweet Valley, as appropriated from sugar-coated American teen fiction."

This pool/pull of memory of things that never existed in New Zealand link Chow to the strangeness and tragedy of the delusions of grandeur that initially tied Chow, Joe and Terry to this place.

The project curator Paula Booker notes, "Chow's ONE DAY SCULPTURE imagines and recreates the gold miner's Sum Gum Saan but she also spatially and socially engages with the memory and disappearance of the things that really did exist."

Read Anna Sanderson's commissioned response on the ONE DAY SCULPTURE website.

Curated by Paula Booker

Kah Bee Chow, Golden Slumbers, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist.

Kah Bee Chow, Golden Slumbers, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist.

(1) Shum, Lynette, Remembering Haining Street: With Both Eyes Open, accessed 9 July 2008.