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Hong Kong artist steps into action in protest at move to cancel Tai Kwun talks by dissident Chinese writer Ma Jian

  • Artist Jaffe.T attaches ‘Mind the Mind’ sign plates to existing installation at arts venue
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2018, 7:16pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2018, 10:55pm

When a Hong Kong arts centre decided to cancel talks by a Chinese dissident author, a local artist warned it to mind its actions in protest at the decision.

Six sign plates, bearing the message “Mind the Mind”, were found attached to the steps of a spiral staircase in an exhibition hall of Tai Kwun, a revitalised historic police compound turned culture hub.

In a play on words, they partially mimicked and covered an existing installation with similar signs on which were written “Mind the step”.

Hong Kong artist Jaffe.T disclosed the act on his Facebook page around 3pm on Saturday almost one day after the Hong Kong Jockey Club-operated arts centre reversed its decision amid heavy criticism and offered the venue again to Chinese author Ma Jian.

The F Hall, where Ma gave two talks on Saturday afternoon, is next to JC Contemporary, an exhibition gallery where Jaffe.T planted his protest signs.

“The message I would like to deliver is literally what my signs say,” Jaffe.T said. “Tai Kwun used to be a prison, where thoughts were under surveillance.”

The 35-year-old artist said he came up with the idea before Ma’s talks were initially called off.

“I have been thinking for a long time about what sort of space Tai Kwun is actually providing,” he said.

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“When Ma Jian’s case came to light, I thought it was time to speak out and raise concerns.”

Jaffe.T declined to disclose when he put up the signs. “I believe by the time I published the post on Facebook, Tai Kwun had started to clear away my signs,” he said.

Jaffe.T’s artwork partially covered an existing installation on the staircase – a distinctive architectural feature – by British artist Ceal Floyer. Each step from the ground to the third floor had identical “Mind the step” warning plates.

Jaffe.T used similar materials and fonts to Floyer’s signs.

On Thursday, Tai Kwun director Timothy Calnin said Ma’s talks were cancelled to prevent the promotion of political interests of any individual. Ma was supposed to launch his new novel, China Dream , in Tai Kwun as part of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival.

Three employees at the JC Contemporary building refused to let a Post reporter enter the gallery to check the stairs, but one confirmed the protest signs had been removed.

“We are conducting crowd control. You will have to stand in the queue if you want to go inside. And questions related to the stairs should be sent to our public relations department,” the employee said.

When Ma Jian’s case came to light, I thought it was time to speak out and raise concerns
Jaffe.T, Hong Kong artist

The Post has reached out to Tai Kwun for comment.

Jaffe.T took part in an exhibition in the same building between June and August, in collaboration with another local artist, Pak Sheung-chuen.

He was believed to be part of other public protest works such as placing stickers of a military tank on a walkway handrail at Hong Kong MTR station last year. The walkway passed by a massive wall advertisement for the Hong Kong Palace Museum, the city’s planned version of the Beijing museum.

Protesters last year linked the advert to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, which took place near to where the Palace Museum is located.

When asked if he would avoid using space in Tai Kwun, Jaffe.T said: “Art space in Hong Kong is so limited that it’s hard for us to boycott Tai Kwun, and other venues managed by the Jockey Club.”