Fo Tan art event a victim of its own success
Art lovers and enthusiasts will flock to the Fo Tan Art Village over the next two weekends for its annual open-studio programme, but the event, now in its tenth year, is not something all the artists want or need.
Over four days, thousands of people are expected to make their way to Fo Tan for a taste of art with 260 artists from more than 80 studios inviting the public into their workshops.
But for some artists, the event called Fotanian has become a victim of its own success.
'I don't like it,' said Castaly Leung Ching-man, who rents a 1,200sqft space for HK$6,500 with three other artists, one of whom is her husband, Sam Tang Siu-nam.
'The first few years, it was a few people who really love art who visited, but in the last few years, the audience has changed. They just come here for a weekend activity. Some talk on their cellphones the whole time.'
Leung said the open day helped to dispel the idea that Hong Kong was a desert in terms of artists 'but the original idea has changed'.
'This is good for the Hong Kong art scene, but just for sharing. If the visitors are not engaged, it's better to not come here because it's just a holiday event.'
Leung also warned that the quality of art produced in Fo Tan was becoming more unreliable.
Tang added that a number of established artists kept their studios closed to the crowds because 'they don't find it's helpful'.
Leung and Tang were part of the original group of eight students who first moved into Fo Tan in 2001.
They were all studying fine arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and looking for a space to make art after graduation.
There were many empty industrial spaces in Fo Tan because of an exodus of manufacturers to the mainland, and Tang remembers that the rent they paid in 2001 was about HK$3 per sq ft.
'This was cheap and also near the university, so after we had lessons, we could come here to work,' he said.
'At the very beginning, we were all friends so we had gatherings,' he said. 'However, with the community growing it's difficult to get to know everyone.'
Tang, who works as a high-school art teacher, said rents were now on the rise because the area was better known, and this forced them to move to new studios every few years.
For artist Chow Chun-fai, the problem of rising rents was solved by going into major debt.
He moved to Fo Tan in 2003 and shared a studio with two other artists, but in 2006, he decided to buy a large studio for HK$780,000 because the mortgage repayments were the same as the rent.
His studio features high ceilings, a kitchen, a raised platform, a corner sofa and shelves filled with art books. On the walls of the studio, he displays several large-scale photographic installations.
Chow said the open days helped to nurture a 'long-term education' in the arts.
'I think it's amazing to have an event like this in Hong Kong,' he said. 'It's not common to see a huge bunch of people in Hong Kong going to see art, but Hong Kong people like events. It is really a hub, but not a fake one.'
He said a decade ago, there were only about 20 fine-arts graduates every year, but now there were hundreds with the influx of new art colleges and programmes.
The number of art students from CUHK who originally rented cheap studio space in Fo Tan in 2001 was: 8
The number of artists showing their work at this year's Fotanian open house event is: 260