Cover Gilbert and George, Stella, Lili and Tim Yip in the film Love Infinity (Image: Tim Yip Studio)

The Oscar-winning Hong Kong art director's part-fictional film, part-documentary is a love letter to his creative vision and east London’s cultural icons, including queen of punk Vivienne Westwood, artist Daniel Lismore and pop artist Philip Colbert

The somewhat bizarre crowd at the premiere of Hong Kong art director Tim Yip’s Love Infinity on March 24 almost stole the limelight from his new film. In a grand hall at the London’s National Gallery grand hall full of richly coloured Monets and Northern Renaissance art, a London-based artist who goes by the name of Pandemonia walked around in her latex blond latex blonde wig, face and pink V-neck dress; fashion blogger Diane Pernet, in her black gown and with a shroud attached to her dark, voluptuous voluminous hair, lurked like a shadow; performance artist Daniel Lismore’s chain mail armour, draped over his peach pink robe, rattled beneath his golden headpiece.

“They wouldn’t look so strange if they were characters from the paintings, which are full of people in fascinating clothes in their respective eras,” says Yip with a laugh over a video call with Tatler a month later. These eccentrically dressed “characters” with their very strong, very individual personalities have one thing in common: they are all part of Yip’s two films When the Sun Goes Quiet and Memorandum for the Next Golden Age, collectively known as Love Infinity, documenting east London’s history and cultural icons.

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Two years in the making, Love Infinity was released on streaming platform Mubi in March and has been screened in a number of cities including London and Beijing. A plan to screen it at SoHo House in Hong Kong was cancelled due to the pandemic.

After a pre-credits scene of an underwear-clad woman crawling around on the grass, Memorandum for the Next Golden Age, described as a semi-documentary, opens on Lili, a life-sized sculpture that Yip brought with him on his travels, driving around east London in a van. Lili journeys with Yip and his team to pubs, streets, underground bars, fashion houses and museums where they meet historians, artists, fashion designers and young people to retrace and discover the roots of trends and subcultures, social phenomena and issues that have shaped east London into what it is today: from King James I, who promoted individualism, to the rise of the hippies in the 1960s and punks in the 1970s, to a new generation of Londoners questioning capitalism and pondering posthumanism.

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“Before Love Infinity, I had a basic understanding of east London. In Hong Kong, cultures like rock and punk feel distant; we do see their influences in Asian places like Japan, but we see them as international trends which we have heard of but may not have a close tie to,” he says.

The idea to make a film in east London stemmed from Cloud, Yip’s 2018 art exhibition on London’s Southbank, for which he interviewed more than 100 young people about social issues that concerned or defined them the most, such as environmental crises, gender and the digital age. “Young people are full of possibilities and are the most innocent. They are born into the world already shaped by the previous generations,” Yip says. Even now at 55, the director says some of their sentiments still resonate with him. “I have long been frustrated about the world when it comes to how we define what is the truth and what’s not, how we can change from being negative to positive, and how we define this era. I want to use art to answer these questions.”

In October that year, Yip’s friend Meihui Liu, an east London-based artist and designer who would become Love Infinity’s creative co-producer, told Yip about “an interesting young man you should meet”. Yip says, “I walked into the room in the SoHo House hotel. There he was, this giant beast, wearing impressive, eccentric clothes, who was in fact very polite and cultured.” This was Lismore, a designer and campaigner described by Vogue magazine as “England’s most eccentric dresser” due to the flamboyant fabrics, armour and headpieces he dons as a statement of being true to oneself. Yip, who has a background in costume and fashion design, was immediately reminded of how fashion trendsetters like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano would “apply strange concepts so naturally in their designs. If you think about it, Daniel isn’t so eccentric at all.” The two had a wonderful chat that day, and at the end, Yip proposed the idea that they make a film. “Daniel was over the moon,” Yip says.

With the help of Liu and Love Infinity’s other co-producer, Maryam Eisler, Yip would go on to meet more and more influential figures, including Vivienne Westwood, one of punk culture’s originators; pop artist Philip Colbert, who was described by fashion journalist Andre Leon Talley as “the godson of Andy Warhol”; and author and historian Tyne O’Connell, who tells Yip that eccentricity in fashion was “seen as bold and brave and intelligent” during the reign of King James I in the 17th century (1603-1625), who allowed people to wear what they wanted to make the UK inclusive for the English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh people.

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“Today, we can see certain traces of these cultural influences on places like Japan. I wanted to find the instigators of these different trends, which was why I made Love Infinity,” Yip says. “Even though my documentary seems the most interesting and relevant to people in London, it has brought these overseas influential cultures so much closer to places like Hong Kong.”

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But Yip has more in mind for his documentary than featuring experts giving history lectures or capturing east London’s scenery in a poetic way. “I’m more interested in experiencing a place than [just] learning about its history. A documentary isn’t fun enough for me,” he says. He describes Love Infinity as his release from the shackles of existing rules in the mainstream filmmaking industry. His previous myriad productions—films, stage plays, exhibitions and outfit designs for the Tokyo Olympics—always involved other parties whose choices also had to be considered; for this project, he only had his own creative vision to think about. With a skeleton crew, a 5D Canon camera and no fixed plans as to who he would interview—relying instead on chance and connections—he was free to unleash his own artistic expression. The documentary, trimmed to just over three hours long from 30 hours of footage, features unscripted, heated arguments between interviewees, an unconventional structure and Lili as an omnipresent character.

Lili—who appears in the background, sits between Yip and his interviewees, or interacts with them—further distracts viewers from the idea of a documentary and triggers thoughts about the boundary between dream and reality. “What my interviewees have said is valuable, but I’m the most interested in the unexpected, unscripted things they spill when interacting with Lili,” he says. Yip would also request some interviewees to improvise a scene. “You won’t believe that something is true if it’s pre-made or pre-planned. What is captured in the documentary is real.”

Yip also looks into the idea of dreams and their intersection with reality. “This dream-like world I filmed, to a certain extent, is my world, my conscious understanding of it,” Yip says. He compares his film to Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch’s Hell paintings, which are fantastical illustrations of religious concepts and narratives. “His paintings are full of people but you don’t know who they are. There are many things that you can’t explain. Similarly, we use some of the footage to construct a ‘religious’ world, when the world may not be like that.”

One of the greatest lessons he says he learnt from making Love Infinity is how “there are a lot of mysteries in this world. We don’t know everything about this world. What we know is just what we consciously acknowledge as the truth,” he says. “When I interacted with the artists, I learnt a lot of unexpected things. They’re different from how I define this world, which was why I chose interesting people to unearth truths with.”

Yip says Love Infinity is only the beginning of his quest for knowledge. Inspired by his discoveries of some of east London’s cultural origins, he intends to expand his search to the rest of London and on to elsewhere in Europe, Japan and China—he hopes in particular to delve into the stories behind some classical Chinese artefacts that were removed from their homeland and are displayed in western museums. “We’re not done talking about London yet,” he says, “and certainly there’s no end to exploring this world.”

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