A group of artists is hoping an exhibition will stimulate the Victoria Harbour reclamation debate, writes Sherry Lee
WITH A FOLDED portable paddling pool under one arm and a sack of construction rubble under the other, installation artist Wong Shun-kit is ready to create his version of Victoria Harbour. Come Monday, members of the public will sit around his work and dip fishing lines into the rocky pool filled with tiny fish and lined with a map showing the government's plans to reclaim the harbour.
'While people are fishing, they can think about the issue of reclamation,' says the 50-year-old head of the International School of Communication Design at Beijing Normal University's Zhuhai campus, whose creation reflects the increasing encroachment into the once-fragrant harbour.
Wong is one of about 30 visual artists involved in Art Chat on Harbour, an exhibition at the Cattle Depot Artist Village in To Kwa Wan, organised by Artist Commune in collaboration with the Hong Kong Press Photographers' Association and art group A-infinity.
'Apart from protests and court cases, we can use art to express our opinions about the reclamation,' he says. 'I want to be creative to stimulate people's concern.'
Artist Commune spokesman Eric Leung Shiu-kee says the idea for the unprecedented multi-media exhibition was prompted 'over dinner last year' by the dispute over the Central reclamation projects and organisers wanted to provide a means for artists to express their feelings about the harbour. 'In our invitation to artists we stated that we had no political stance,' he says. 'They are free to say whatever they like.'
Launching the project was not easy, says fellow-artist and group studio manager, Cheng Yee-man. 'We needed to get funding approval from the Arts Development Council, and this came through early this year,' he says. 'Then we had to find a venue and approach artists.'
The participants include some well-known artists and photographers. Some of the works have been specially made for the show, others are past creations. For the exhibition's opening, behavioural artist Bryan So will immerse himself in a large fish tank and have concrete and rubbish poured over him until he is buried. 'Because of the danger, it will be necessary for him to leave the tank immediately,' Cheng says. But his point will have been made.
Leung is not only organising the show, but is participating as a painter. While he offers no opinion on the reclamation row as the organiser, his two-painting entry, Harbour: Past and Present, does have something to say. In the left half of the exhibit, the harbour is represented as a dollar sign, using a plane's vapour trail over an adapted satellite image of the S-shaped waterway. On the work's right side is a depiction of an old map of the harbour shaped like a woman's body. 'I want to show that the ancient Victoria Harbour was beautiful, and the modern one has another look,' Leung says. 'I use the dollar sign to reflect Hong Kong's obsession with money.'
Former architect Tsui Tin-yun has combined three paintings in one display, Three Suns Over Victoria Harbour, and, like Leung, he took just two days to finish them. His dark, moody ink works show an eclipse in transition over Victoria Harbour. 'I don't want to tell people [what they mean],' he says. 'I want to let people decide for themselves.'
Painter Li Yau-mang, 37, has three pieces in the exhibition, all featuring doll-like and ghostly children playing in a concrete jungle. One, Central Playground, generates a sense of unease as it shows a young girl skipping rope next to the Bank of China Tower. Another, the original of which is in the Hong Kong Museum of Art, shows a lone girl sitting on a rocking horse on a fully reclaimed harbour called 'Victoria Square'.
'I got the Victoria Square idea on a ferry ride from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central in 1998,' he says. 'The harbour was already so narrow, and I imagined what it would be like if it was totally reclaimed.'
The painting depicts the city's depression during the economic downturn, Li says. But although he opposes the reclamation, he does not see his creation as a political statement. 'I want to use the paintings to express feelings about survival space,' Li says. 'Art is art, politics is politics.They shouldn't be mixed or the art becomes polluted.'
Chairman of the Hong Kong Press Photographers' Association, Bobby Yip Ying-kit, disagrees. He says opposing the government policies does not necessarily mean putting politics in art. 'Reclamation is a society problem,' he says. 'We are concerned with it, but it doesn't mean we are political.'
A news agency photographer, Yip has covered protests and stories about the reclamation, and two of his photos will feature in the exhibition, alongside the submissions of 20 of his association's members.
One, taken from a boat, reveals the reclamation works in Central, the other shows blue ribbons tied to a harbour-front fence by protesters. 'I want to show the people's wishes, and the fact that the sea is being reclaimed,' Yip says.
Laputa Luk Kam-tong, 30, says he feels sad to see his 'beautiful' harbour disappearing. For over a decade, Luk has snapped promotional harbour shots for government tourism bodies. 'The harbour has its own life, it is moving constantly,' Luk says. 'I've been taking photographs of harbours around the world, but only Victoria Harbour has so many faces. It can be quiet, it can be active. Sometimes it is sad, sometimes it is happy. Sometimes it is misty, sometimes the sun is shining through clouds in a heavenly light, and sometimes buildings reflect sunlight, making for a different look.'
Luk is exhibiting five of his 100 pictures of special moments on the harbour. 'Our harbour is so special and beautiful, but commuters usually don't have time to see it,' he says. 'People should try their best to protect it, to respect it, and not reclaim it any more.'
Art Chat on Harbour, Apr 12-30 (not 19 and 26), 2pm-8pm, Museum 63, Artists Commune, Unit 12, Cattle Depot Artist Village, 63 Ma Tau Kok Road, To Kwa Wan, tel 2104 3322