A new government art space housed in a grade two historic building vows to not only break boundaries but also transform art appreciation into an attitude.
Oi!, operated by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's arts promotion office, will hold its first exhibition on the eve of the city's first Art Basel show in two weeks' time.
The office's chief curator Lesley Lau Fung-ha said that unlike the existing museums that focus on exhibition and collection, Oi! will be dedicated to contemporary art and to engaging the community and stakeholders. "Art should be part of life. We want to embrace art as a life attitude. This is our vision," he said.
It took one year and cost HK$18.9 million to renovate the 1,970 square metre North Point site originally home to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. The renovation changed little of the Edwardian Arts and Crafts style of the house, built in 1908. Main features such as its red bricks, original window and door frames and tiles were preserved.
The yacht club moved to Kellet Island in Causeway Bay when land reclamation took the waterfront. The old premises were then used as a garage and government staff quarters until 1998. The antiquities office used it as a storehouse until 2007.
The site is located right next to the former Oil Street Artist Village. The adjacent Government Supplies Department building, now demolished, was the cradle for the city's first organically developed art space, where artists rented the site short-term.
Today, Oi! comprises two exhibition galleries. A lawn and outdoor spaces are reserved for public art and relaxation. A series of activities have already been planned. "Many find contemporary art difficult to understand. We hope to facilitate the exchange of ideas and to engage the community," said Lau.
Guided tours are one of the art space's initiatives. The creative process of contemporary art were usually engaging, unlike the past where artworks were made in studios, Lau said. "We hope to facilitate art development. Our thinking process when conceiving this site has been breaking boundaries."
Exhibition "Embark! Beyond the Horizon" will be the art space's curtain raiser. Featuring Cedric Maridet , Tang Kwok-hin and Tsang Kin-wah from Hong Kong in dialogue with Yuan Gong from mainland, artists are creating works inspired by the site.
Hong Kong-based Maridet said his sound installation, The Mechanics of Shadow: Water Days, was inspired by the site's original identity as a clubhouse by the waterfront a century ago.
His installation will consist of recordings from the seaside and underwater. Shadows of the sound gear in operation will be projected on the walls to construct a visual piece. "The idea is to put the sound back [into this space]," he said. "This is a good place. Oil Street is an important part of Hong Kong's art history. In the long term, I hope this place can be the place [for both artists and the audience] to experiment with new works."
The exhibition will open to public on May 22. The Art Basel Hong Kong show will open to public on May 23.