Year of Construction
On the foundation underneath the lotus is this inscription: “Year 1979 / Made by the Yu (Sheh) family”
The second idol cluster sits on the north, on higher ground. Underneath a green timber roof two red altars sit on rocks painted green, each housing a set of incense burner and vase. In one altar there are a couple Gwan Gong statues and two Tai Sheung Lo Kwan statues; while the other houses numerous Guanyin statues. On the steps on the side an Earth God statue is placed. Facing the altars are two-layer cabinets covered in emerald square tiles for storing items of offering.
The urban spaces of Hong Kong are limited in supply, expensive to build in, and constrained by complex building regulations and rigid public space governance. The public have little room to showcase their creativity and concepts, or take part in shaping the city. Thus, the suburbs and country parks, where the regulatory grip relax somewhat, become a grey area for communal ideation. One such manifestation is religion, a “get out of jail free card” of sorts that builds upon a shared cultural foundation.
Idol statues are a common sight on many hiking trails. Many are of unknown origin, perhaps discarded, but could also be brought here, one by one, by the faithful. The significance of such statue clusters in tectonic terms is that the public voluntarily joins the process of space shaping, as if following a set convention, building bit by bit sites (where people believe are) suitable for placing statues – almost a “garden” of deities. This work hopes to serve as a record and analysis of these intriguing “organic”, bottom-up creations.
The Mount Parker Idol Clusters
Around the hiking trails and streams running between Mount Parker Road and the Quarry Bay Jogging are two idol clusters of similar material and colouring, which points to a common creator/creators. At the bottom of the baby-holding Guanyin is this inscription: “Year 1979 / Made by the Yu (Sheh) family”, indicating an intention to leave an icon for posterity. Traditional temples must be built according to set styles and forms, which are passed down from generations past; and the erecting of idol statues follow similar rules. This Guanyin statue follows no such rules, thus freeing this site of rites of any sense of religious solemnity, instilling in it instead a curiosity of communal art.
Guanyins by popular portrayal either sit or stand upon a lotus pedestal, while in real life lotus flowers and leaves protrude from the water. It is hard to place a pond inside a temple, but in the countryside one can use natural features to feed stream water into a small pond underneath the lotus pedestal, projecting a pristine, “out-of-the-water” aura. An ingenious overflow cutout on the side directs the water back into the stream. The structure, however, is somewhat arbitrarily conceived, with some thought given to aesthetics (as seen in the consistency of paint), while the form is more practically oriented, almost as if the designing and building happened hand-in-hand; or perhaps some parts were added later as needed. There are telltale signs: the foundation is uneven; a red pagoda sits on a side alongside a stone table and a stove-like structure for placing idols or offerings; another circular foundation sits lower on one side, seemingly for placing another idol. News archives reveal that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department would issue notices from time to time urging people to clear away any idols and miscellanea on the left side of the Guanyin, though any removed items are soon replaced.
The pedestals and foundations of the two Mount Parker idol clusters are moulded from concrete and built using locally sourced rocks, similar to clusters found at other locations. More uniquely, the foundation of Guanyin, the “stove”, and even the trimmings of nearby paths are built from San Miguel beer bottles, in a form of alternative recycling. In the cabinets of the second idol cluster we found a small amount of incense and containers, handy for altar maintenance. Many passers-by would stop and pay their respects, or wash their hands with water from the pond, using the plastic basin.