HOUSE M & HOUSE N

A tale of two houses by fiction writer Hu Fang, from the Summer 2015 issue of ArtReview Asia

By Hu Fang

House N. Courtesy Hu Fang

HOUSE M

I came to House M due to a brief stopover.

Travelling, or walking, is less about a certain destination and more about pacing back and forth on some ambiguous quest, searching, for example, for today’s wind and your smile in my memory.

I came to this massive, crowded city only to stay in a spacious room with a copy of the Surangama Sutra in it. I flipped through it and the following line leaped out at me:

That fresh, vivid consciousness
Does it come from what is seen?
Or from the external appearances?
Does it generate from the void?
Or all of a sudden, without a reason?

But throughout my time in this strange city, I could not drop into that kind of life. I had something else on my mind.

The appearance of House M seemed to be the result of my ambivalence, a subtle resonant reaction to feelings and atmospheres, an attempt to understand certain spatial aspects of the relationship between me and the world.

“There are love songs you can listen to here,” the owner of the house proclaimed rather unexpectedly.

There are always one or two love songs in my digital memory box. They inexplicably recall fading emotions, providing accompaniment to our journey. But I seem largely to have forgotten them.

After that, what I was invited to enter was not merely a room that bore scars left by others, but a world filled with indescribable emotions. The vestiges of emotions flowed throughout the place, soundlessly carving out a tranquil space within the noise of reality. It was a place without superfluous spectacles, and I was there to diminish rather than increase the emotional weight, in order quietly to face my own existence. Just quieting down is sufficient to experience the present moment. You wait as long an amount of time as is necessary – long enough to observe the growth of plants, and listen to your own heartbeat. People may not be entirely willing to accept this kind of inevitable solitude, but it was thousands upon thousands of solitudes that turned House M into this kind of unique shared existence.

When you cannot sleep at night, you can always explore more of this world’s secrets: the light across from you, the faint groaning of electronics, the moonlight sprinkled on the floorboards, and you unexpectedly think of the sounds of your family members snoring. I know that is one of the gentle things in life that House M recalls, like a maternal hand soothing away the wrinkles of a calm mind, and a quiet whisper in your ear: “Let us be forever young, and never worry.”

In the morning light, I calmly lift my water glass and prepare to accept this unknowable day, no matter what happens.

HOUSE N

I once stayed in a room of unclear purpose, and I can still remember the absolutely clear light when I woke up in the morning.

There, I had a chance to figure out the pattern of a massive rug. Its only purpose was to hide the floor’s flaws, but it featured a woven pattern from a tropical culture. I once, indeed, encountered an endlessly shaking shadow in one of the corners. It moved hazily to a certain rhythm, as if it were a homemade pendulum specially designed for the room. It helped me realise that the ghost of an old house wouldn’t fade away after the house was redecorated.

The only thing you can do is to lean your body against the wall, or, to lean against the wall watching your body. The curtain is to the side, heavy like the wings of a sick bird.

Yes, House N has a symbolic skylight that can hold a few hopes. You can also huddle up House M & House N Brief stopovers, the Surangama Sutra, soundless carvings, unclear purposes, massive rugs, unique topographies, secrets, ghosts and endless cycles… Like all the best dramas, this is a tale of two houses by Hu Fang, fiction writer, art critic and curator in this room and lift your head to see the grey sky in the window frame. Beneath the skylight there is a desk painted grey. Why is there a desk? Is it so people can sit there and write things? This really makes some people laugh: something that takes up space, just like my life senselessly occupies time.

That massive rug seemed like it could accommodate several celebrating friends, but it also seemed like a fathomless riverbed. I walked lightly across the rug to another part of the room. The curtain there attracted me, but I still didn’t have the courage to open it.

Like the hesitation before any action: I kept wringing my hands. No matter how clean they were, I rubbed dirt off of them. If I was brave enough to open the curtains, I could have at least seen more clearly a distorted face, or a group of people besieged by obsession. Then, when I returned to the desk, I would not be able to experience that previous tranquillity.

The proportions of emotions seem to flicker and fluctuate, changing the shape of the room. In the unique topography of House N, the incandescent light shines in like the sun. I don’t know if it is a sign of nightfall or the arrival of the morning, but you are already thinking, a day ends, just like that.

There must have been people cautiously tracking you on your way here. If not, then nobody would have prepared everything for you in advance. After all, people could only learn this place’s secrets once you entered the room.

If the image behind the curtain isn’t excessively genuine, then you can do as you please, not say a word, and attain a blank state of temporary unconsciousness. There are no shapes from the past, none of the people I need to remember – those shadowy portraits, those hurt and humiliated histories. You hear only your own echoes, “humph”. In that room, you talk, you laugh, “hee hee”, you feel yourself endlessly circling the original ghost of this room, dancing together in endless cycles.

House N, a place that does not provide memories, retains only the light from 1998 and the images from 2014, a suitable temperature, humidity and store of emotions. Later, you can disappear in the tropical jungle. After all, in all that time, we only became a person in a coarse way, a person hiding behind daily salutations, a person whose colours gradually fade in mediocre comedy.

I close the door, and my hand rests on the handle as if to preserve the posture of those years. The same words require endless repetition before they can produce new meaning, just like the ghost here must endlessly return in order to occupy my space with increasing clarity, just like writing must endlessly occupy the space of the ghost, or be occupied by the space of the ghost. 

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This article was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of ArtReview Asia