Last Wednesday's fiery opening of the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture in Hong Kong captures succinctly the challenges of shifting city borders, the theme of this year's event.
Incensed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's comments on Hong Kong and Shenzhen's integration, anti-government protesters started flashing placards with angry messages, and artist Kacey Wong tossed Lufsigs, the Ikea wolves, in earnest.
Concerns that censorship and the lack of democracy could be the by-product of the vanishing border are partly why the protesters were there. But there are other controversial issues that have been raised by the urbanism and architecture exhibition, such as the mass gentrification of old factory areas in Hong Kong. A number of participants pulled out after they discovered that the event is sponsored by the Energising Kowloon East Office, which is tasked with promoting the transformation of the former Kai Tak airport, Kwun Tong, and Kowloon Bay into Hong Kong's second central business district.
The protests could spur a more honest discussion of the questions posed by the biennale than the tame environment of Shenzhen. But they could also distract from a thoughtful programme put together by Chinese University's Professor Colin Fournier and a team of practising architects. The event has already suffered from a lack of publicity.
Compared to the glorious venues in Shenzhen, the area called "Fly the Flyover01" under the Kwun Tong bypass is almost a disgrace.
It is one of the main venues of the Hong Kong event, and the flyover shelters installations about urban living in front of the solid presence of the Kowloon Flour Mills building.
Glenn-Eugen Ellingsen of HK Farm, one of the exhibitors, is philosophical about the noisy setting. "This event is about how we can transform a place like Kwun Tong, and this is it. This is Kwun Tong," Ellingsen says.
A more sedate venue is the nearby Kwun Tong Ferry Terminal and there are other events around town, such as a tour of Pok Fu Lam Village in February. The biennale www.uabb.hk/ runs for three months.