Review: Excuse me, where is the market?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 9:38am

Excuse me, where is the market?
Red Elation Gallery

Like a bounty on a criminal's head, the one-off grant of HK$120,000 offered to street vendors by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department to surrender their stall licences is denuding Hong Kong's few remaining street markets. And so we mutter, "Where is the market?"

Curated by young artist Reds Cheung King-wai, this group exhibition features a cross-media discussion of Hong Kong's disappearing street markets. At the Yau Ma Tei end of Canton Road market, a vibrant road of pedestrians and street stalls is being opened to vehicular traffic. A once friendly neighbourhood of street vendors is disappearing and being replaced by double-parked cars and noxious air.

Wong Tin-yan believes that a market's life derives from its kai fong, the community of vendors and customers whose work and daily shopping journeys give a market its vibrancy. Working with a Wan Chai builder, Wong made stools (below) depicting various market figures.

Roy Ng Ting-ho constructs kinetic sculptures that are often technically ambitious. For this exhibition the nurturing of plants by market flower sellers is replicated in a series of five mechanical constructions. Sitting atop wooden plinths are potted mimosa plants, which are gently touched by a feather attached to a mechanical arm. This monotonous but caring action replicates the tending the plants receive from the market vendors and contrasts against the purely commercial and impersonal transactions that take place in supermarkets.

Likewise, the reality of food preparation is seen in Vivian Ho's sumptuous paintings of the bloody meat, entrails and fish laid out for buyers to select.

There is also a series of deliberately indistinct photographs from Wong Ka-wing. Wong shoots the names of businesses operating in Graham Street market without a lens. The resulting images merely show gradations in colour, with the names having disappeared, which will soon be the fate of the businesses, too.

This is a good exhibition, but with more curatorial passion it could have been a compelling story about Hong Kong's vibrant street culture.

John Batten