Monday, 23 May 2016

Lights Out for Multilayered Art Installation

The large number on ICC counts down the seconds to July 1, 2047
I saw it last week, albeit briefly, and was hoping to see it again.

But alas, it's gone for good.

I'm talking about a curious light installation on the ICC or International Commerce Centre at Kowloon station.

For a few days it had a countdown clock, not like the one Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima did.

Two Hong Kong artists, Sampson Wong Yu-hin and Jason Lam Chi-fai created a work originally called Our 60-Second Friendship Begins Now, where, following a series of messages, like "I will remember this minute", and "You can't change this fact", and a bunch of graphics, it finally shows a large number counting down.

The installation was launched on May 17, the start of Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People's Congress' visit to the city. Did he see those messages from his presidential suite?

It turns out, explain Wong and Lam, that the big number is the number of seconds to July 1, 2047, when "one country, two systems", or 50 years of supposedly no change ends and Hong Kong becomes... what? Another Chinese city? In no-man's land?

What was amazing was that Lam and Wong were able to pull this off, if only for a few days.

But now it's been revealed that the pair made the installation, that was supposed to run until June 22, thanks to a commission by the Hong Kong Development Council. But the government-run arts body is very angry about the true meaning behind the work, claiming it was duped into thinking the light show was politically correct.

In a statement, Ellen Pau of the HKADC and Caroline Ha Thuc, curator of the "Fifth Large-Scale Public Media Art Exhibition: Human Vibrations", said:

"The disrespect demonstrated by Mr. Sampson Wong and Mr. Jason Lam against the original agreement and understanding made with the curator and HKADC is jeopardizing our profession and put at risk any future possibility to work further in the public space."

The statement said the artists had made changes to the work and had publicized these "without consulting the curator nor HKADC." On May 18 after after the exhibition's opening ceremony, the pair changed the name to Countdown Machine.

It also added, "We do believe in the freedom of artistic expression and do support our artists."

Err, those last two statements contradict each other. If you support artists and their right to artistic expression, then what is wrong with their installation?

The HKADC isn't without controversy -- local artists have told me that it picks and chooses artists it likes -- in other words, those it deems to be politically correct. This body has the power to promote artists to a global audience, and so some artists make compromises for the chance at recognition.

Others decide to just go their own way, but most of the time end up struggling.

Wong alluded to this in his Facebook page in response to his light installation being taken down.

"The public knows clearly who is jeopardizing the [arts] sector and the profession," he said, referring to a line in the HKADC's statement that it said he and Lam were "jeopardizing our profession".

He added that Hong Kong had not yet accepted the behaviour of "calling a deer a horse" -- referring to the distortion of facts.

Lam and Wong know they have probably ruined their chances of a fruitful artistic career in Hong Kong. They've probably been labelled "subversive" and blacklisted in the mainstream art world and are probably lumped into the same category as Joshua Wong Chi-fung, who can't even open a bank account these days.

However we salute these two for not only bringing the attention of Hong Kong's relationship with the mainland, possibly getting high visibility from a senior Chinese leader, and highlighting issues with the HKADC in one piece of art.

Multilayered meanings. Isn't that what art is about?

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