Jubilee exhibition

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 August, 1998, 12:00am

For newcomers to the SAR, it is hard to appreciate how important the heady days of the early 1970s were to developing Hong Kong's cultural identity. Until then, the uncompromising attitudes of the colonial regime, and the fact that many residents were recent arrivals themselves, had left many young Hong Kongers with an incomplete idea of who they were.

Then things began to change, starting with the first Diaoyutai movements, with anti-colonial demonstrations calling for more patriotism. A group of young artists decided to form the Hong Kong Visual Arts Society, to promote all that was distinctive about Hong Kong art.

Back then in 1974, Gaylord Chan, Kwong Mang-ho, Aser But, Eddie Lui Fung-Ngar, Tong King-sam, Bing Lee and Li Ki-Kwok were young, groovy guys with a lot of enthusiasm, little official backing and nothing to lose.

Today all of them are successful, important members of the community. Some might even be described as pillars of the establishment. Chan is one of the most senior painters working in Hong Kong, But is a senior lecturer at the Swire School of Design, Lui owns his own gallery, Artrends, and Lee is a well-known expert in computer arts. Kwong has become the grand old man of the alternative art scene; his memorable Frog man performance recently at Para-Site put many younger artists to shame.

All seven of these artists will be contributing to this year's silver jubilee celebration of the Hong Kong Visual Arts Society, in an exhibition that includes not just some of the artists' early works, but the records of those early exhibitions too.

As well as showing how the society has changed and evolved, the photographs of the artists themselves, then and now, also say a lot about how Hong Kong has changed. It is only just possible to recognise the confident, smiling middle-aged men in tuxedos and stylish black in the serious, scruffy snapshots taken 25 years ago.

25 Years of the Hong Kong Visual Arts Society Silver Jubilee Anniversary Exhibition opens today at 4.15pm at the T T Tsui Building at Hong Kong University.

Pity about the intro Dutch artist Ad Arma is more or less the same generation as these artists. Born in 1954, he too is in the comfortable position of being an established artist with a modest following among collectors in Europe and in Asia.

He produces curious, swirling etchings made by pouring corrosive acid on to zinc plates that are swirling, abstract images using cool metallic colours. He claims to be inspired by Buddhist ideas about the oneness of the universe, and rather excitingly promises that he will be in Hong Kong to 'meet, talk and sing' with us while his exhibition runs at the Fringe Club.

The work is likeable enough, the prospect of hearing Arma sing is an appealing one, but the whole exhibition is also tainted with the most over-blown, incomprehensible and off-putting introduction I have seen this year, written by an art historian called Ulco Mes.

In order to make the point that the stick-like human figures in Arma's work may not actually be human figures at all (they might just be sticks after all) Mes rambles on for an exhausting 14-line paragraph dotted with words like 'essence' and 'interpretation'. It finally comes to a halt with the shattering question: 'Does the artist intend to emphasise that it is not the outward appearance but existence itself that matters?' Tati's filmic genius French actor-director Jacques Tati was a genius because he knew that words were almost unnecessary. His first major film, Jour de Fete, screening at the Arts Centre on Saturday at 6.30pm, is almost dialogue-free, and yet manages to say more than enough about the absurdities of French village life after World War II.

Later he invented the famous M. Hulot, the pipe-smoking giant who managed to stumble and spoil everything in his wake, but here he plays a village postman called Francois.

Tormented by his customers who have seen the wonders of the United States mail system at the movies, he tries desperately, and disastrously, to speed his service up a bit. Most of this movie involves only Francois, his trusty bike, empty country lanes and the occasional villager, but it is all Tati needed to make a classic.