With over 7 million inhabitants, Hong Kong is the fourth most densely populated region on our planet. It also has the most skyscrapers in the world, and its dizzying cityscape shows as much, demanding that we look up at the endless buildings grazing the sky. In Wing Ka Ho’s series Laundry Art, we are drawn back down to ground level, where freshly-laundered clothes are laid out to dry against the backdrop of towering buildings—humble reminders of the people living in this vertical concrete jungle. Since 2017, the photographer has wandered the city looking for a way to represent Hong Kong’s singular landscape, visualizing what it’s like to live in a metropolis. He eventually found his answer in one of the most banal and common of our daily endeavours: laundry.
Comparing his work to that of an urban archeologist of sorts, Ho’s simple observation is a powerful marker of the many ways the city is changing. Forming striking and sometimes surprising constructions, the improvised outdoor washing lines of Laundry Art speak of a shifting cityspace where private space is on the decline. “Now, as housing prices grow ever more expensive per square foot, when you live in the high-density places of Hong Kong, the space for drying clothes at home has become more and more narrow,” he explains. “As prices keep soaring in what is already the world’s most expensive property market, residents have been forced to squeeze into ever smaller apartments, leaving little room for washers and dryers.”
As a consequence of this urban-planning predicament, this domestic task has spilled out onto the streets of Hong Kong and created a phenomena of outdoor clothes-drying as residents take the matter into their own hands. “When we look at the laundry from a different perspective, we see citizens responding to their own needs and discovery, creating and utilizing the public spaces that belong to them,” Ho explains. “Some people hang their clothes lines by skillfully using ropes and lamp posts, or other ingenious ways of using the environment.” In the bedsheets draped over playground structures and the collection of shirts hanging off a wire fence, we see the traces of Hong Kong’s resilient inhabitants, forging their own ways of coping with the impact of a city-in-flux.