Barter-based art fair launched

A barter-based youth fair aims to foster creative exchange with a difference

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 5:05pm

It looks like any flea market at first sight - assorted books, crafts, faded treasures and oddities. But anyone visiting the YMCA's DIY Art Appreciation Stalls event in Tsim Sha Tsui today will soon notice a difference. Although there may be some haggling, trading will be entirely through barter.

You may exchange a DVD for a vintage toy, an old magazine from the 1960s or a gadget assembled from discarded material. Or you may be able to get an impromptu sketch from an artist in exchange for an anecdote from personal experience. The important thing is: no money will change hands.

This is the second barter fair that Sandy Chan Man-yee has organised. The YMCA senior programme officer says she staged the first last year to "encourage communication and build relationships between people".

Flea markets have been mushrooming across the city. But unlike community efforts she encountered on her travels in Europe, where people often brought items collected over years, Chan was distressed to find many vendors in Hong Kong sourcing goods online from sites such as Taobao.

These vendors approached the fairs as a strictly commercial exercise, she says. "I wondered whether a non-monetary market could bring a fresh perspective to Hong Kong, where mainstream culture is largely driven by money."

Chan started to recruit young people for the first DIY Art Appreciation Stalls last year - the only criterion for admission being that no money would change hands.

"Many young Hongkongers are locked into a mindset that they have to conform to a set of values in order to survive," she says. "We put together the event for young people to display things that matter in their lives, however random those objects might seem. By exhibiting the material, they assign meaning to the items - and their lives."

I wondered whether a non-monetary market could bring a fresh perspective
Sandy Chan Man-yee, YMCA Senior Programme Officer

After a few months, Chan had 22 people showcasing their "private collections". Some visitors showed up with items for exchange while many others simply dropped in on impulse; but she was encouraged by the response.

She has a kindred spirit in Scott Chan Kin-yip, one of six guests invited to turn commonplace items into creative curios at this year's fair. His stall will feature dozens of receipts that he has collected from daily transactions over the past year, on which he has drawn illustrations about that same day. While the text printed on thermal paper fades over time, the images remain as a record of the day.

Leafing through his faded receipts, he says: "Others may regard them as rubbish but I see them as my visual diary … whenever I look at them I remember why I drew the images."

The 30-year-old loves the idea of promoting non-monetary exchanges, especially at a time when art has become a commodity: "Can art really be appraised by money? Does the price tag really reflect what a piece of art is worth? I doubt it."

A graphic designer by day, Scott Chan Kin-yip is something of an art activist in his spare time. Last May, he joined a group of friends to organise an art barter event in a Sheung Wan back alley. Dubbed ART(UN)FAIR, the free event was their response to the highly commercial Hong Kong International Art Fair (ART HK).

Money rules the art fair game, he says. "We had no rules. You could bring whatever you wanted to exchange for our works, or you could simply come for a chat … So theirs is a big money market. Ours is about pure appreciation."

His guerilla initiative exhibits an independent quality that Sandy Chan Man-yee values: "Independent creations can bring a balance to our social ecology, as they enrich and stimulate the mainstream culture."

Recalling how passers-by at the Occupy Central camp were encouraged to leave items they no longer needed for others, she says the fair offers a way of better utilising resources instead of hoarding them. "If things that are redundant to you could be of use to someone else, then you should give them away."

This year's Art Appreciation Stalls will also feature a number of DIY books from amateur writers who took part in another YMCA project: producing their own books. Embracing the same, independent, do-it-yourself spirit, a group of 31 young writers designed and printed the books, and marketed them and set their prices - tasks that normally fall to a publishing house - under the guidance of novelist Hon Lai-chu and illustrator Kong Khong-chang, better known as Kongkee.

Instead of just exhibiting the handmade books (the works will be shown at Page One bookshop at Festival Walk, Kowloon Tong, from February 23 to March 17), the DIY bookmakers attending today's fair will be required to interact directly with readers. Toy designer Lyann Chan Yuen-yee is presenting a picture book about an imagined relationship with her father, who died 13 years ago. Because it is such an intimate story, she was initially reluctant to make copies of her debut publication.

"I was struggling at first," she says. "But then I thought this book might be able to help those who have gone through a similar situation."

Lyann Chan Yuen-yee is happy to give away a dozen copies today in exchange for other life stories, discussion and comments, instead of objects.

"If visitors can give feedback on my book, I think we will have made a good exchange."

The idea is to have readers stimulate her mind in return. "If I just sell the book, the whole process will stop there," she says.

Travel magazine editor Helen Kwok Wai-yee agrees. A return participant, she says: "The sharing of ideas is fulfilling to me."

Last year, she traded pots of her homemade jam for picnic food recipes, which visitors wrote and illustrated on the spot. She has also made some new friends.

"We kept in touch and they even sent me photographs to show me that they used my jam to make cakes," she says.

This time around, Kwok will be sharing her art of "flower pounding" - hammering leaves and flowers onto fabric for a creative transfer of colour.

While DIY Art Appreciation is held under the YMCA umbrella, Sandy Chan Man-yee says it's not just about youth culture but about an attitude in life: "Besides benefiting ourselves, have we thought about how creative practice could play a role in society?"


Collected Treasure & DIY Art Appreciation Stalls. Today, noon-7pm, Podium Garden, 4/F North Block, YMCA , 41 Salisbury Road, Tsim Shat Tsui. Tel: 2268 7000