Reaching out to the public - the role of commercial sector in Hong Kong culture


Chloe Cheuk - Waiting for Another Round
There was a time where art and commerce were mortal enemies. Art was the saint, whereas commerce was deemed evil. And if there was ever any crossover between the two, the resulting works were degraded as commercial, with low artistic value created solely to keep cash registers ringing.
But in a healthy cultural ecology, support from commerce is indispensable. Cash is a necessary component of setting up exhibitions and producing shows, from venue bookings to administrative expenses. Artists need to be paid too – they have to eat and they have bills to pay. And when bureaucracy gets in the way of application for government funding and causes a major headache for many artists and arts groups, sponsorship from the private sector is not necessarily evil.
Hong Kong’s new media art group Videotage seems to have found a middle path.
Just over the weekend, I managed to catch the exhibition Both Sides Now II – It Was the Best of Times, it Was the Worst of Times? before it closed. Jointly presented by Videotage and Britain’s videoclub, this exhibition of moving images was staged at K11 art space – a gallery located at K11 shopping centre, the show’s co-presenter – in Tsim Sha Tsui, right inside an MTR station tunnel that would see hundreds of thousands of city dwellers pass by.
The show is the second part of the Both Sides Now series that has travelled to UK cities Brighton, Hastings, Leicester, London, Manchester, Portsmouth, and Shanghai and Wuhan in China. Hong Kong is the final stop.
Viewers get to see a wide range of moving image works by artists from Hong Kong juxtaposing those by British artists. Recent works are shown side by side with those dating back to as early as 1990 – and some are very critical and provocative, politically, socially and aesthetically.

Compared to other traditional forms of media, works of moving image can be challenging to a general audience as they adopt a different narrative that may be too abstract to those who grew up on a diet of popular films and television shows.
But this was exactly why Videotage chairman co-curator Isaac Leung decided it was right to stage such a show at an art space inside a shopping centre.
“A lot of shows are a lot more disengaged from the public,” Leung told me.
He said that as art had become more of a commodity with the booming of the art market, it had lost its original place. 
“It seems that art isn’t taking a cutting-edge role at the forefront of the society, unlike start-ups or companies like Kickstarter, Tesla or Airbnb, which are really changing human lives and re-organising resources. The art world seems to be going back to the patronage system and art market, making art become a commodity.” Well, I've definitely had a taste of this start-up culture while I was in Berlin earlier this year. 
Leung said he hoped an exhibition at a shopping centre’s art space could distract people from their everyday lives and take a pause to look at something inspiring. And it seems he has achieved this goal, with many spectators spotted at the show appearing not to be regular art event-goers.

Audiences were enthusiastic in expressing their thoughts and opinions about certain works, particularly those produced by Hong Kong artists. While Chow Chun-fai’s Repainting “Infernal Affairs” (2007), a video made of 58 paintings of shots from the 2003 Hong Kong crime thriller classic, would bring back a lot of collective memories and generated a lot of responses, Wong Ping’s friendly animated video FRUITPUNCH - We Want More - MV (2010) questioned the world of capitalism, shown alongside a “questionnaire” asking the public when they believed they would be able to buy a flat. Most respondents chose “the next life” as their answer – it was no doubt depressing but almost ironic to have this on display at a shopping centre run by one of Hong Kong’s largest property developers.

A number of works by Hong Kong artists were direct responses to last year’s Occupy protests – which was probably the worst of times, but also the best of times, although they were only mentioned in the exhibition programme, not exhibited at the shopping mall art space. 
These works included Kacey Wong’s Hongkongese Warning Squad (2014),Waiting For Another Round (2015) by Chloe Cheuk, Birdy Chu’s The Interviews (2015), DDED’s Anti-riot Citizens vs Brutal Police (2014),Admiralty Hong Kong October 28 2014 (2014) by Valery Grancher, MAP Office’s Under The Umbrella (2014) and One Letter Horse’s Feature of Anti-Occupy Chinese University Movement (2014). 
While works by Hong Kong artists focused on the local context, those by their British counterparts addressed more universal themes, such as the impact of social media on the media landscape and contemplation of humanity.
Following the conclusion of the exhibition, Leung said, analyses of the exhibition and audiences responses would be made available to the public online. The show organisers were also working on a third edition of the series.
Now we are in the thick of the Hong Kong Art Gallery Week, a period full of art events and talks opened to the public. Art galleries aren’t just shops selling artworks as commodities. They [OK, the real galleries] play an indispensable role in a cultural ecology, which I will delve into another time.
The world isn’t polarised into black and white. There are more than 50 shades of grey in between.
A version of this post was published in SCMP.com

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