Little big shot

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2003, 12:00am

THE GOLDEN RULE of real estate - 'location, location, location' - could never be applied to Para/Site Art Space, the small multimedia collective situated off the beaten path in Sheung Wan. Located on a sliver of a street, Para/Site's sheer obscurity had its members working doubly hard to attract viewers and patrons.

Their work has paid off. In June, Para/Site will finally feel the benefit of 'high visibility'. Not only has the art collective been chosen by the Arts Development Council (ADC) to represent Hong Kong at the 50th Venice Biennale, one of the most important art events in the world, but it has secured one of the most prominent spots to display their work.

'Our location is right across the entrance to the main exhibition in Venice,' says Kith Tsang Tak-ping, chief facilitator of the Hong Kong exhibition and director of Para/Site. 'Our aim will be to draw passers-by and try to keep them in our show as long as possible. There is so much going on that you have to make sure people pay attention to you.' He has a point. Hong Kong is a fringe player in this major international show.

The Venice Biennale exhibition is divided into two parts. The main exhibition takes place at a historical arsenal where a single curator creates an exhibition on a chosen theme. This year, the theme is entitled Dreams And Conflict and is curated by Francesco Bonami. In the nearby garden, or the giardini as it is known, more than 20 countries including the United States, Japan, Israel, Italy and Germany have pavilions where they host their own curated shows. Hong Kong belongs to neither category; it is registered and accepted as an individual participant, so one of Para/Site's biggest challenges is to make enough noise to lure the hordes of visitors and journalists who flock to the Biennale.

It's fitting that Para/Site's proposed theme for the Hong Kong exhibition is entitled Navigating The Dot. 'When you think about it, Hong Kong is so small, it's just a tiny dot on the map,' Tsang says. 'But how we navigate ourselves, how we position ourselves, will make a difference. We can be small but be recognised too.'

From the start, Tsang knew Para/Site needed a strong proposal to beat the 15 competitors vying for the ADC contract for the exhibition. Competition has been tougher this year after the last Biennale's success, which featured a mixed-media installation curated by gallery owner Johnson Chang Tsong-zung, entitled Magic At Street Level. Tsang says: 'My associates and I participated in the study group that went to the Biennale and got some very valuable ideas from observing the show. We decided to give it a shot but knew we'd have to come up with something entirely new.'

Instead of the traditional format of proposing a curator and a theme, Tsang and his partners pitched a 'collective' approach to presentation.

'We have no curator, everything is done as a group effort, what we present at the show is an unanimous idea generated by a group of people,' Tsang says. The interesting thing, he adds, is that not all are artists. The 11 members in the submission include architect Tim Li Man-wai, artists Phoebe Man Ching-ying and Sarah Wong Chi-hang, as well as art critics Chan Kai-yin and Jaspar Lau Kin-wah.

'Everyone is equal in this project, and through our creative process we all add our own insights,' Tsang says. 'The fact that some of us are not artists can actually bring fresh perspectives to the work; we each have a role.'

With a budget of only $500,000 (the total ADC budget is $2.5 million but is mostly tied up in administrative, promotional and printing costs), Tsang and his team will be stretching their dollar to the limit when they set up their installation.

Tsang will make a quick visit to Venice with Li this month to get the exact dimensions of the show space; all participants in the project will be forking out half of their travel expenses. They expect much of the budget will got towards freight and set-up costs.

Navigating The Dot will be a huge installation comprising large metal pipes placed in an apparently random fashion. The inside of the pipes will be padded, inviting visitors to sit down for some quiet contemplation. 'Our hope is to provide people who've been bombarded by all sorts of art all day a chance to escape to some peace and quiet,' Tsang says. As for the title Navigating The Dot, Tsang says it represents the group's ideal of blazing a trail for a small place such as Hong Kong.

'I hope to achieve both internal and external objectives with our work,' Tsang says. 'Externally, we want to promote Hong Kong artists to the rest of the world, but internally, the exhibition serves the purpose of encouraging and inspiring artists in Hong Kong. We will write diaries and critiques of the project, which will provide more insights for other artists and give them a sense of pride that Hong Kong artists can have a place in the international arena.'

Does the group expect comparisons with participants from China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia? Tsang hopes Hong Kong will stand on its own merit. 'I don't want to be compared with China because our cultural paths have been so different,' he says. 'We are there on our own.'

The Venice Biennale runs from June 9 to November 15 in Venice. For more information, visit