Piano man: Artist behind street campaign hopes Hong Kong public will connect through music

As 'Play Me I'm Yours' project hits Hong Kong's streets, artist behind multi-city campaign urges people to take chance to connect through music

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 August, 2015, 11:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 August, 2015, 11:58pm

A street project offering free access to pianos will be an "interesting test" of the city's creativity, says the man behind the innovative international art campaign.

"Our Hong Kong, Our Talents - Play Me, I'm Yours" will provide a platform for performers and listeners in public locations from Central to Tin Shui Wai over the next four months.

British artist Luke Jerram initiated the project in the English city of Birmingham in 2008, and it has spread to 46 more cities around the world. He is curious how the campaign will fare in Hong Kong, the 48th and the second city in Asia to host the community art project.

When the project was launched in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in 2012, Jerram said the city's peple were "quite nervous" at first.

"They couldn't quite believe the pianos were for them to play and enjoy. So I'm interested to see whether it will work in Hong Kong, whether people will understand and whether they will engage and embrace the opportunity," he said.

The project kicked off at the PMQ creative hub in Central last week, featuring 16 pianos.

"I hope the community will take the opportunity to take their headphones out their ears, turn off their phones, meet strangers and play the piano on the street to their fellow citizens and connect," Jerram said.

Over the past seven years, the 40-year old Englishman said the project had taken pianos to some unthinkable places.

"We once lifted a piano to the top of a skyscraper under construction and at the site there were workers from 57 nationalities. So it was a nice resource for those workers who have a sandwich during lunchtime and play the piano," he recalled.

"At Liverpool Street train station in London, a girl was playing the piano installed there, and a man came up and they ended up giving each other piano lessons. Then they fell in love and had that very piano at their wedding. So you have to be careful who you might run into," he laughed.

But his tone turned solemn in relating the story of a Ukrainian who saw a street piano in Paris, decorated one with a European flag and used it for a protest in his home country.

"There was an amazing photograph on the BBC showing a wall of riot police with shields and hats facing the man and the piano, which is a very strong image of the authorities against something that is creative and democratic," he said.

"With every public art work there is always a little bit of tension between the arts organiser and the authorities, but gradually cities around the world begin to realise that culture is a really good tool for branding, as every city wants to be seen as creative, dynamic and cultural."

Visiting Hong Kong for the first time, he saw new possibilities, such as a piano featuring a seafaring song on the Star Ferry. He was also attracted to the decoration of the 16 pianos, which he described as "crazily exciting". But there was one design in particular he had in mind.

"I think if all these pianos were yellow (the colour symbolising the Occupy protests), we probably wouldn't get permission to put them on the street," he laughed.