These are interesting times for Billy Tang to take the reins as executive director and curator of Para Site, a contemporary arts centre with strong international standing for its independent attitude and championing of local artists and curators. After 11 years of directorship under Cosmin Costinas, who is moving to Berlin, Germany, it’s time for a new chapter for Para Site. The board interviewed many curators in the region, and Tang, then senior curator at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai, was invited to the process. He ultimately won the role to steer Para Site into the future. “It’s exciting,” said Tang, a UK native, on his first day at work. “We have a lot of infrastructure that can support artists in a lot of different ways. At this moment, it’s important for local artists to retain a certain degree of visibility, within the city and outside Hong Kong as well.” Para Site was founded in 1996, a year before Hong Kong’s return to China, as an artists’ collective and exhibition space run by local practitioners such as Phoebe Man Ching-ying, Leung Chi-wo, Sara Wong Chi-hang and Leung Mee-ping. Over the years, the non-profit has evolved into an institution with an international programme often reflecting contemporary social and political issues, led by a team of professional curators with diverse backgrounds. Until recently, every exhibition pamphlet would include its statement of support for Hong Kong people’s pursuit of democracy. That was removed, however, after the 2019 anti-government protests. In response to how the implementation of the 2020 National Security Law is being seen as reducing creative freedom in Hong Kong, Tang said: “Para Site emerged from uncertainty since it opened in 1996, right before the handover of Hong Kong, and people looked to us for direction. I don’t have a clear answer on what direction we’re going to take, but I want to continue the tradition of having the confidence, and hope to persevere and push forward. Highlights from Hong Kong’s Art Basel week you won’t want to miss “Para Site is important to the community as an independent space, and it can find different ways to support artists and curatorial voices as well.” Its current show, “Mind the G(r)a(s)p”, curated by Celia Ho, certainly captures that sense of uncertainty. Some works project a sense of calm, but others give a sense of dread. At the entrance of the exhibition is Jaffa Lam’s A piece of RED Let’s fly (2022), which uses recycled umbrella fabric from Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Protests” in 2014. The work is installed on a slant to create a more fluid sense of motion, Lam said, as the artist wants to express the tension of people’s desire to leave Hong Kong. Around the corner is Chow Chun-fai’s Sai Yeung Choi Street/ Nelson Street (since 2004) (2022). This is a mosaic of photographs of the eponymous streets taken by the artist since 2004 and printed on sheets of A4 paper. They show the extent of changes in Mong Kok, one of the key protest areas in 2019, reflecting a broader sense of how the city has never really stayed still. Eastman Cheng’s NMNT Vault (2022) is an installation featuring a counterfeit banknote workshop with a silk screen printed on a canvas of historic HK$1,000 banknotes, and the words “No money, no talk” emblazoned in neon lights on the wall. Creating the stacks of canvas banknotes – literally making money – is an ongoing project by the artist to challenge the value of art and money. In a reply to the city’s anxiety, Lau Hok-shing’s Pond of Desire – Sugar and Light (2022), an installation made completely with granulated sugar and white sugar cubes, seems to be an attempt to calm the observer with an abundance of sweetness. The sugar is fashioned into white peaks, mimicking the view seen from a plane passing mountains. A light that slowly rotates above the installation invokes a serene atmosphere almost akin to watching the sun set and rise over mountains. The piece de resistance of the whole show is C&G Artpartment. Clara Cheung Ka-lai, a former pro-democracy district councillor for Wan Chai, and her husband Gum Cheng Yee-man, are now living in the UK. Their interactive work, C&G Critique Contest (2022) invites the audience to look at scenes outside the gallery windows and sketch what they see with charcoal made from wood that the artists collected in the UK. The two best sketches will win an artwork depicting “Lo Ting” – a recurring motif in Hong Kong art based on a myth about an early inhabitant who was half-human, half-fish. The references to Hong Kong’s colonial history and local identity, and the decision to participate in a competition organised by a pro-democracy activist, are all designed to challenge the audience to think about the politics of making art. The show was devised as a response to the unpredictability and anxiety that is particularly acute in Hong Kong, as well as the importance of care, resilience and creativity around the world, Tang said. He will work on projecting the views of Hong Kong artists far and wide with Para Site’s extensive international network. “Right now, we are working on a year-long residency programme in the UK with Studio Voltaire. This is just the beginning. We are having conversations with many different institutions around the world.” “Minding the G(r)a(s)p”, Para Site, 22/F Wing Wah Industrial Building, 677 King’s Road, Quarry Bay. Open from Wed to Sun, 12-7pm. Until August 14.