By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation
MANY OF us have been to Hong Kong – some primarily for shopping and food, others for major arts events that are not coming to our region later. Performing arts aficionados mark their calendars for the Hong Kong Arts Festival, while visual arts fans make sure they’re in town for Art Basel. And I’m sure some of us may have watched a film or a stage performance, visited an exhibition or dined with a view of the Victoria Harbour at the Hong Kong Arts Centre (HKAC), a three-minute walk from the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
What many of us probably didn’t know is that this multi-arts centre, whose programmes are not limited to its building, is already four decades old and remains the SAR’s only independent non-profit multi-arts institution. It also runs Comix Home Base in Wan Chai and the Hong Kong Art School, offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art.
Gone Wood by Hugh Cho and TS Crew: photo/Pattor Chan, HKAC
Connie Lam, HKAC’s executive director, who writes in the programme booklet that the 18-month project “Cultural Masseur”, part of the centre’s 40th anniversary celebrations, was initiated primarily to “awaken the cultural sense and the pursuit of the aesthetic of the people in the city”. She then elaborates, “we’ve agreed that only a very unconventional name for an arts and cultural programme will do justice to the unique programming.”
The project is wrapping at the end of this month with DragoniX Multi-Arts Festival, comprising four categories of work – theatre and exhibition, thematic walk, site-specific performance and chill chat. And for an arts festival in Asia, such a categorisation is already unique, as most of the others would be offering more familiar works like visual arts, music, dance, theatre and film.
In my favourite dim sum heaven for one weekend, I experienced all four types of work this DragoniX was offering
Unless by Dimitri de Perrot: photo/Pattor Chan, HKAC
The name of the first, theatre and exhibition, merits special attention, not least as many would wonder how the two can co-exist. At Hyson Place’s first floor atrium, Swiss multi-disciplinary artist Dimitri de Perrot put up a music installation work “Unless” (on until tomorrow), inviting shoppers or passers-by to sit down, relax and be taken on a special journey on a raised platform in the otherwise bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay. And so in this theatre, it’s the audience themselves who are the actors and who decide their stage time, while another group of spectators walks past or takes a nearby escalator up or down, watching them and their reactions to the art work.
Speaking at the exhibition opening, de Perrot himself admitted that while he’d worked in many public spaces, he’d never tried to install his work in such a noisy and busy place. In the end, though, the risk paid off, as his music blends with, interacts and occasionally mutes the ambience. Unlike many examples we’re more familiar with, this is not just a department store showing an interest in art simply to attract shoppers to spend their money.
PIU3 by Jaffa Lam: photo/Pattor Chan, HKAC
At HKAC’s main performance venue Shouson Theatre, sculptor Jaffa Lam collaborated with musician and composer Hakgwai as well as the Hong Kong Women Workers Association (HKWWA). As the audience moved from the balcony down to the circle and onto the stage, we saw a real-life woman worker grafting away, offering a timely reminder of how important they are to our society. A feast for both the eyes and ears thanks to the large piece of moving fabric above the stage and the circle, and the accompanying soundscape and music, director Fong Ki Tuen might seek a dramaturg’s help to make the messages clearer.
Chill Chat Panel Roundtable: photo/Pattor Chan, HKAC
For the thematic walk, Hong Kong multi-disciplinary artist Enoch Cheng showed a work-in-progress of his “Bon Voyage”, scheduled to the presented to the public this coming weekend. This physical and emotional journey takes the audience from the dance studio on the top floor of HKAC to many other corners, including the fire escape staircase, and back to the starting point. It’s his personal journey as well as ours, although I wish Cheng had left more space for his audience and that the journey, as a result, was more of the latter.
For site-specific performance, contemporary dance choreographer Hugh Cho and his TS Crew, comprising members with diverse backgrounds that range from lion dance to parkour, turned a ferry pier in Central into their moving stage for “Gone Wood”. Set to Erhu’s music, it brought back memories of the lively bazaar that once lived there, which sadly wrapped almost two decades ago.
Space in Hong Kong: photo/Pattor Chan, HKAC
The most notable of all DragoniX projects is “Space in Hong Kong”, in which students from City University of Hong Kong’s School of Creative Media and Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering collaborate, in three mixed groups, with their counterparts from Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts’ School of Theatre and Entertainment Arts. Their four mentors are also from various fields – playwright and director Roy Szeto, lighting designer Leo Cheung, sustainable design architect Tony Ip and new media collective XPLOR.
In other words, this kind of interdisciplinary collaboration is not taking place as part of the curriculum. The result is a kind of art exhibition that’s highly performative and invites the audience to really spend time to experience, understand and be inspired by it, instead of walking through or taking selfies. I’m also sure that some these young students from different fields will continue their collaboration into their careers. However, by setting it in such a flexible space as a black box theatre, the work is not really site-specific and the common theme, the lack of space in the SAR, is overused, no matter how crucial it is.
Space in Hong Kong: photo/Pattor Chan, HKAC
Lastly, “Chill Chat”, as the name suggests, took place at tapas bar Ping Pong 129 Gintoneria in Sai Wan. Five Hong Kongers and five international guests from various art disciplines formed the panel, among them the internationally acclaimed theatre director Tang Shu Wing, artistic director of Munich Biennale for Music Theatre, Manos Tsangaris and his Taipei Arts Festival counterpart Tang Fu Kuen. In the first part, we commented on and discussed the DragoniX works we had experienced in the past few days with the artists and a few members of the public. Later on, 10 interdisciplinary art proposals were presented to the panel. After scoring in such categories as interdisciplinary nature, contemporary issues, sustainability as well as feasibility and further discussions, three were given start-up funding of no less than HKD 50,000 (about Bt 210,000), to turn these initiatives into reality.
And so, this Cultural Masseur will continue to massage in the months, if not years, to come. This extension is thanks to a major sponsor who prefers to be listed as “Anonymous”, but who agrees that by stepping out of their comfort zones and realising the blurred and blurring boundaries among art disciplines and their relevance to life, both artists and audiences will not only take risks but also be uniquely inspired.
The writer’s trip was supported by HKAC. Special thanks to Cecilia Wang, Ian Leung, Teresa Kwong and IATC Hong Kong for all assistance.
CATCH THE DRAGON’S TAIL
“Dragonix: Multi-Arts Festival” continues until Sunday. Don’t miss two thematic walks—“Engeki Quest—The Rainbow Masseur” in Choi Hung by Japanese artist Chikara Fujiwara and “Bon Voyage” at HKAC by local artist Enoch Cheng.
Tickets are at www.art-mate.net.
For more information visit www.CulturalMasseur.hk and the “Cultural Masseur” on Facebook.
Another good resource is www.hkac.org.hk.