Lights out for controversial 2047 ‘Countdown Machine’ art installation on Hong Kong’s ICC building

Arts Development Council says artist showed ‘disrespect’ by changing work’s title and statement without consulting curator

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 May, 2016, 1:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 May, 2016, 1:56pm

The Arts Development Council has abruptly suspended a politically sensitive art installation on the facade of the International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon, a move which its creator believes to involve “people in power and at high levels”.

The council declared that the piece by local artists Sampson Wong Yu-hin and Jason Lam Chi-fai, which featured a countdown to July 1, 2047 – the date when Beijing’s promise to maintain the city’s way of life under “one country, two systems” expires – was no longer part of the Fifth Large-Scale Public Media Art Exhibition: Human Vibrations.

The display coincided with last week’s visit by Chinese state leader Zhang Dejiang, who was residing at the Grand Hyatt hotel just across the water from the ICC.

The statement released by the council on Sunday stated that Wong changed the title and statement of the work without consulting the curator or the council.

Wong and Lam’s piece was originally named “Our 60-second friendship begins now” when it was selected to be included in the exhibition. The title was later changed to “Countdown Machine” after the exhibition’s opening ceremony on May 18.

The council said in the statement that an exhibition is based on “confidence between the artists, curator, institutions and partners supporting the project”. It also expressed its belief in freedom of artistic expression and in supporting artists.

Zhang Dejiang: ‘One country, two systems’ is here to stay

But it regarded Wong and Lam’s actions as “disrespect ... against the original agreement and understanding” and said they were “putting at risk any future possibility to work further in the public space”.

Wong responded on his Facebook page, citing a statement released by the council on May 19 that said Wong’s work was part of the exhibition, and that the message behind the exhibit was the artists’ personal opinion but not the council’s stance. The sponsoring venue was also aware of the content of the work before the exhibition, Wong said.

The artist added that some systems served only “people with power and at high levels”.

“The public knows clearly who is jeopardising the [arts] sector and the profession,” Wong said in his comment, referring to a line in the arts council’s statement that said he and Lam were “jeopardising our profession”.

He added that Hong Kong had not yet accepted the behaviour of “calling a deer a horse” – referring to the distortion of facts.