Arts project encourages visitors to tour old district and take part in creative activities

Community project tells tales of old neighbourhood - and offers a role in the creative process

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 December, 2014, 5:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 December, 2014, 5:15pm

A couple of weeks ago, Mei Foo resident Li Wai-kin took his wife and two young daughters, aged six and two, on a tour of North Point. With several other families, they walked around the neighbourhood with a guide, learning about some hidden facets of its development.

"We visited an old noodle place where we saw masters making noodles the traditional way," Li says. "We also tried old-fashioned snacks such as Hong Kong-style banana cakes."

The two-hour visit, led by the family initiative Little Green Feet, ended in the community arts hub, Oi!, where the guide read stories to the children on the art centre's lawn.

"My daughters can learn more about the society they are living in through such activities - that's better than walking in malls," Li says.

"I never expected such a green open space in the centre of a built-up area. This well-preserved historical building where art is displayed reminds me of Sydney or Taipei."

Little Green Feet is among several groups taking part in the In-Situ! project being held at the arts centre.

"The biggest difference between In-Situ! and the usual art exhibitions is that the participants are not only spectators - they truly become a part of this," says Ivy Lin Mei-kiu, Oi!'s curator. "We just provide an environment and a chance for them to participate, exchange ideas freely and be engaged in the process."

In the first gallery, the walls are decorated with colourful bags and banners, and sewing machines whirl away merrily. The items on display have all been made by visitors, who sewed them together with fabric taken from used clothes. For those unfamiliar with sewing machines, volunteers offer a guiding hand.

"This workspace brings to mind the clothes manufacturing industry here during the 1960s and 1970s," Lin says. "Many people who live in this district used to work in clothing factories."

While some participants prefer to take their creations home, others delight in the fact that their works can be left on display in the gallery.

The arts hub is housed in a century-old building on Oil Street, which once served as a clubhouse of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. Run by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's art promotion office, the Grade II historical building has been turned into a welcoming community space with red brick walls and a tree-shaded green lawn.

Since it opened in May 2013, Oi! has served as a platform for a series of exhibitions and activities, all aiming to inject art into the everyday life of communities.

In-Situ!, which runs until January 25, is the latest. Organised in collaboration with local artists and organisations, it offers visitors the chance to take part in activities from making bags and banners to visual diaries and postcards; the domestically inclined might bake their own bread and green-fingered types could grow a plant.

Then there are programmes run by groups such a Little Green Feet, initiated by 17 families to tell children stories about the community, and HK Potato, which promotes sustainable development.

Kith Tsang Tak-ping, an associate professor in design at Polytechnic University, has been an active promoter of the In-Situ! programmes.

Art is a thing you pursue with your heart. It influences those around you
Kith Tsang Tak-ping

Pointing proudly at a banner hung up a wall, he beams. "A young designer who came along one day made this. Isn't it beautiful?" he says.

The banner carries three simple Cantonese words: yum tong lah (drink your soup), which mothers often tell their children after dinner. The expression is sewed onto a big piece of cloth with red, orange and brown lines, along with the image of a bowl of steaming soup.

Having been a design teacher for 23 years, Tsang thinks the practice of art in Hong Kong has changed since he was a student.

"My university teachers taught us to pursue spirituality and philosophy through art; nowadays, it seems art has become an economic or political tool. It has become a response to the outside world. There seem to be fewer artists who aim to reflect the internal spiritual world through art," he says.

"Through this project, we want to try instilling a pursuit of spirituality through art into our everyday life."

Tsang, who also co-founded a community hub called the School of Everyday Life, adds: "Art is something you pursue with your heart, and when you have such a realisation, what you do will influence those around you. I think this is what the Hong Kong art circle has overlooked.

"When you do art for economic means, or to express political views and demands, you will create conflict, instead of bringing people together and forming relationships," he says.

To address this gap, Tsang discussed exhibition ideas with more than 20 young artists and designers involved in the project. He discovered a huge gap between himself and the current generation.

"[My generation of artists] placed a lot of emphasis on self-expression. But these young artists address topics like healthy eating and the interaction that happens between people," he says. "I see that they care deeply for people."

In-situ! runs until January 25 in Oi! at 12 Oil Street, North Point