Street talk

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 February, 2005, 12:00am

TRUE TO ITS title, Upstairs/Downstairs - a Dialogue with Hong Kong, sprawls across the Broadway Cinematheque and the adjacent bookshop-cafe Kubrick at every level - although the whereabouts of the exhibits isn't immediately obvious.

Funded by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and curated by Anthea Fan Wah-jen, the $110,000 exhibition at the busy Yau Ma Tei venue features a range of video, performance, installation and short film screenings aimed at rare visitors to art shows.

Fan, of the Art Map group, got the idea for the exhibition last year. 'I observed quite a different environment there [in Yau Ma Tei] as an outsider,' says the Taiwanese artist. 'Private things happening in public places and public activities taking place in private households.' With this in mind, she invited four local artists to comment on these myriad uses of space that's so particular to Hong Kong.

Art Map co-founder Lukas Tam Wai-ping came up with Second Reality, which includes performance, photography, installation and video. He's also continuing with his recent work that explores UV-reactive paint left on unusual surfaces - almost like a space-age version of graffiti. Tam leaves messages in places that can be read only when the right lighting is applied. The surfaces have ranged from a bomb shelter in Taiwan - where he left the delicate swirls of Chinese scroll antique wallpaper design - to his skin.

'It looks beautiful, but at the same time it's a bomb shelter and violent,' says Tam. 'This kind of decorative pattern can't cover the heaviness of the truth.'

He's also playing on the idea of secrecy mixed with the concept of home. He says he searched the streets of Yau Ma Tei for a love hotel, where 'the young ladies have become old women'. Finding one, he covered a quilt cover in UV-reactive paint, then crawled in bed and took photos.

In his performance, Tam refers to a pre-nocturnal phenomenon that occurs on the streets of Nathan Road: people sticking up posters on the streets at dusk, advertising the many services they offer - from shops to saunas. By morning, the people and posters are all but gone. Tam pays tribute to this phenomenon by having a company stick posters of him in bed along Nathan Road.

The documentation of this process is being exhibited in Kubrick, where scenes from a love hotel flip on to TV screens. Tam says the aim is to catch the audience off guard.

'In this show, we've put the art in a residential area,' Fan says. 'We want the audiences and curators to come and search for the artists and the art work. The artists are playing a game with a hidden presentation.'

Hung Keung has created an installation that stands just within the cinema entrance. It's called The Story of Human Activities of 1,440 mins in 24 hours and plays on two vertical TV monitors. They both screen video images recorded at street level and an upstairs space in Yau Ma Tei.

'It's common for even one flat to have multiple functions in this area,' Hung says. 'Maybe during the day, children are learning. In the afternoon, teenagers are doing drugs. At night, maybe there's prostitution.'

A pioneer in multi-media production and interactive CD and DVD narrative projects, Hung was invited to Germany's ZKM (Centre for Art and Media) as a visiting scholar in 2001. For this show, he's collaborated with local fashion designers to create clothes that echo the many characters who move through the same spaces. The models wear clothes that combine identities and they perform on the two levels.

'It's a big project but we're all hiding our work,' he says. 'It's the concept of Shanghai Street, where everything is hidden.'

Moving into public space is the aim of the third section of the show, put together by Sit Lik-hoi and Yip Siu-ka, who are founders of the ADO Public Art Research Foundation. They've received praise and awards for their public art projects, most notably their work at the Fanling Library. Combining fine art with architecture, they work with developers and building management to bring art into public spaces.

Yip says they needed many back-up plans for the show. 'Public art in Hong Kong can be difficult to execute,' he says.

The first plan involved a double-decker bus that was to be parked outside the cinema and would feature a chill-out area on the lower deck. The upper deck would become a huge pin-hole camera.

The second plan reduced this design to a bunk bed. People could stand on the lower bunk and stick their heads through holes to the second level, where another pin-hole camera would allow them to see the outside world.

The plan that finally got the go-ahead from management is called Room 0, 2/F. It's a large installation on the first floor of the Broadway Cinematheque that allows people to step up to a platform and poke their heads into a large balloon.

Through a pin-hole camera, they can see on the inside of the balloon people milling about on the ground floor. And the face of the person is projected on to the outside of the balloon.

'Room 0 is the same pronunciation as 'spiritual' [in Cantonese],' says Yip. 'The meaning is that you might go up to the second floor for private space. The second floor is just like your head. You have to dress the body, like the decorations of a shop on the ground floor. But in your head, space doesn't really exist. This is zero space. It's the imagination.

'This is public art,' he says. 'We're allowing the audience to enter the artwork and look at public space in a private manner, and look at private space in a public manner.'

Upstairs/ Downstairs - a Dialogue with Hong Kong, Broadway Cinematheque and Kubrick bookshop, 3 Prosperous Garden, Yau Ma Tei. Ends Mar 7. Inquiries: 2892 1988 or go to