Art Basel 2016

For Hong Kong, colluding with ‘foreign forces’ is a must on the cultural front

Vivienne Chow says Hong Kong’s artists and film directors seem to have forgotten what they used to do best – working with overseas partners to reach the world

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 June, 2016, 12:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 June, 2016, 7:39pm

Recently at Art Basel in Switzerland, people crowding into the exhibition hall full of monumental artworks were startled by the ethereal songs of birds echoing in the air.

Curious folk looked up to see an Asian man dressed as a Hong Kong police officer standing high up on a perch, whistling behind a “sound cannon”, a long-range acoustic device. It beamed the sound across to the other end of the hall, where visitors could “hear” and see the meaning of the sound.

This artwork, Canon, by Samson Young, was on show next to those by some of the world’s best-known artists. Young impressed many of the 95,000 visitors, including representatives of more than 300 institutions, private collectors and critics. And, at a party held during the fair week, Art Basel’s director Marc Spiegler raved about Young’s talent in front of over 100 international VIPs.

About an hour away from Basel, in Bern, works by Hong Kong artists such as Chow Chun-fai and Tsang Kin-wah were on show at Kunstmuseum Bern and Zentrum Paul Klee in “Chinese Whispers – Recent Art from the Sigg and M+ Sigg Collections”, an exhibition of works from Swiss Uli Sigg’s collection and those he donated to West Kowloon museum M+.

Success of Art Basel proves Hong Kong can be a viable cultural hub

Hong Kong has a lot to offer culturally. While politicians accuse each other of “colluding with external forces” to stir up trouble in the city, collusion with “foreign forces” is a must on the cultural front. This proved a successful formula in the 1980s and 1990s, during the heyday of Hong Kong cinema, when the city’s unique cultural offerings were exported through foreign distributors, festivals and critics.

Similarly, art fairs staged by foreign players and curators who have strong overseas connections have helped put Hong Kong artists on the world map.

Art fairs staged by foreign players have helped put Hong Kong artists on the world map

Some at Art Basel were dismayed that Young was represented by Western galleries. But we need foreign collaborators, such as art galleries and festivals, to introduce our cultural offerings to a wider audience. Wong Kar-wai, for example, became a global icon thanks to foreign film distributors, festivals, critics and even US director Quentin Tarantino, who championed Wong’s films abroad.

Almost 20 years since the handover, Hong Kong seems to have forgotten what it did best in the past, which was its ability to reach the world. The fading glory of Hong Kong cinema, which has been skewed towards the mainland market over the past decade, is one example.

Mainland China might have 1.3 billion people, but the world is much bigger than that. And Hong Kong must not forget this if it wants to remain “Asia’s world city”.

Vivienne Chow is a journalist and writer based in Hong Kong