The Hong Kong Martial Arts Living Archive

Research tools, community support using new technologies and exhibitions and publications including books.

Museum: EPFL, Laboratory for Experimental Museology  website
Years: 2012-ongoing

EPFL, Laboratory for Experimental Museology

Currently I run a laboratory which conducts research into the analysis of features based on the form and style of physical movement in 3D space. Creating archival, analytic and representational frameworks for intangible heritage and embodied knowledge systems (from ritual and tradition through to performance and sport). Themes include: automated annotation, motion over time analysis, computer vision and, preservation protocols including metadata. I also curate and create exhibitions for and about ICH communities.

My research encompasses a broad range of strategies for performing the archive, again set against a backdrop of critical contemporary heritage discourse. Digital mocap and high-end strategies for capturing nuances in performance for mediated versions of the bodily repertoire and as resources for aesthetic reenactment are part of this expertise. The qualities of such forms of digital re-visioning are positioned as a practice that encourages cultural sustainability. Research into intangible or embodied practices include:

  • The Hong Kong Martial Arts Living Archive, Chinese Confucian reenactment rituals in a longitudinal project in collaboration with the Centre for Ritual Studies, Tsinghua University, China to reenact the 17 rituals from the Book of Etiquette and Rites YiLi. (see Kenderdine & Shaw, 2017);
  • working with the Singaporean poet Edwin Thumboo for recombinatory poetics;
  • a reformulation of the performances of the major contemporary Japanese choreographer, Saburo Tashisgawera and of playright Robert Lepage (Kenderdine & Shaw, 2014; 2017);
  • and a fulldome work based on the Seven Sisters’ Songlines - sacred Australian Aboriginal knowledge that has never before been bought into the public domain (Kenderdine, 2017).


The Hong Kong Martial Arts Living Archive

Description of the project / practice / program

I co-established this project together with the community and created the mocap and audio-visual archival project at CityU of Hong Kong. The HKMALA data is the basis for a longitudinal research project which has resulted in 7 international exhibitions and 2 books and several chapters (Chao, 2018; Kenderdine & Shaw, 2018; Chao et al., 2018.; Kenderdine & Shaw, 2017; Chao, Shaw & Kenderdine, 2016). The exhibitions include: 300 Years of Hakka Kung Fu: Digital Vision of Its Legacy and Future (2016), Lingnan Hung Kuen Across the Century: Kung Fu Narratives in Cinema and Community (2017), and Safeguarding the Community: an Intangible Cultural Heritage New Media Exhibition (2018), held respectively at Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre and Hong Kong City Hall (curated by Chao, Kenderdine & Shaw). Kung Fu Motion (2016) was an exhibition for Australia’s Immigration Museum in Melbourne and a more extended version Kung Fu Motion: The Living Archive (2018) was on show in Switzerland at EPFL´s new ArtLab exhibition space for four months this year curated by Kenderdine, Chao and Shaw. The combined scholarly successes and public engagement outcomes have been the subject of numerous media coverage including Time, Aljazerra, BBC, CNN, South China Morning Post, and Reuters. The archive is now poised to be transformed by the methods of data curation proposed which can be applied,  in turn, across a variety of ICH domains.  I currently collaborate with the sports scientists on the EPFL/UNIL CROSS funded study of the use of a single dataset from the HKMALA, addressing the transmission of embodied knowledge through ‘imitation’ (from digital-master to human-novice) focusing on enactivist models of learning using virtual reality. This research is currently underway at eM+ together with cognitive scientists, novices and involves evaluation in controlled conditions (CROSS). 

How were practitioners of intangible cultural heritage involved?

Hong Martial Arts Living Archive is a partnership between International Guoshu Association (IGA) in Hong Kong and EPFL. The IGA is the peak body for traditional martial arts practitioners. One of the unique strengths and advantages of this project is the existence of the HKMALA dataset. It currently represents the world’s largest motion archive for intangible cultural heritage, comprising unstructured data including mocap, 3D reconstructions, green screen video, high speed and panoramic video, and comprehensive photographic archive of all kung fu masters involved. The motion data, video and photographic datasets currently span 130 sets of empty-hand and weapon sequences known as taolu, representing 19 styles, performed by 33 elite Hong Kong practitioners (nearly 2 TB of data). The archive is accompanied by extensive contextual documentation such as rituals, and digitized copies of historical resources that are largely held in private collections. 

Credits cover photo: 'Kung Fu Motion: The Living Archive', ArtLab EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland, April 28 – August 25th 2018. Image courtesy of EPFL, International Goushu Association and City University Hong Kong.

CV of the author

Professor Sarah Kenderdine researches at the forefront of interactive and immersive experiences for galleries, libraries, archives and museums. In widely exhibited installation works, she has amalgamated cultural heritage with new media art practice, especially in the realms of interactive cinema, augmented reality and embodied narrative. In addition to her exhibition work she conceives and designs large-scale immersive visualisation systems for public audiences, industry and researchers. She has produced 80 exhibitions and installations for museums worldwide including a museum complex in India and has received a number of major international awards for this work. In 2017, Sarah was appointed Professor of Digital Museology at the l’École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland where she has built a new Laboratory for Experimental Museology (eM+), exploring the convergence of aesthetic practice, visual analytics and cultural data. She is also Director and lead curator of EPFL’s new art/science initiative, located in a seminal new exhibition building by Japanese architect Kengo Kumar, inaugurated in 2016. 


  • One aspect of my research is to look at low cost methods for documentation which include the new developments in volumetric video among others, that can be used by non-specialists. Also the much needed ontological standards and description which can help keep data accessible, which is another area in its infancy in ICH. Both are essential to enable wide spread use of new technologies to support transmission in community and in the public domain.



25 February 2019 from 10:48 to 10:48



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