Journey of healing at vA!

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Secret garden: an experiential artistic journey

An artistic exploration through time and space at the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre evokes the history of the site in an immersive orchestration of creative collaborations.

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 12:06am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 12:06am

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Secret Garden, organised by the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre (vA!), takes inspiration from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famed novel and Johanna Basford’s hugely successful colouring book of the same name. It is an artistic exploration that takes the audience on a wandering tour at night through the HKVAC itself, where the history of the site and contemporary artists collide to create a unique journey for each participant.

The Cassels Block of the vA! was converted from Victoria Barracks, bearing witness to the tumultuous history of Hong Kong and the development of contemporary art over the past century. Built around 1900 as the married quarters for British officers, this Edwardian revival style building endured heavy bombing during WWII. In 1979, the British army returned the facility to the Hong Kong government, and it was decided in 1992 that this Grade 1 historic building was to become a place where artists could interact and share their works. Against this unique historical backdrop, artist director Kingsley Ng was tasked with creating an experience that traverses time and space.

Ng, Assistant Professor at the Academy of Visual Arts of the Hong Kong Baptist University, is an artist specialising in conceptual, site-specific, participatory and process-based projects. This time, he works with a team of cross-disciplinary creatives, including Monti Lai Wai-yi, Nick Poon Fai-wong, CK Yung, Meipo Yuen, Lam Che, William Wong, Lee Chi-wai, So Ho-chi, Stephanie Cheung, Joey Chung, among others, to offer an immersive orchestration of scenographic installations, light and sound at the vA!.

“We want to connect HKVAC’s past as Victoria Barracks and its present as a visual arts centre. There is so much history and story to Cassels Block as the living quarters of army families with a lot of children’s elements, while the vA! is more crafts-oriented than an art museum with a higher level of public participation,” said Ng.

He believed a multi-sensory, experiential journey would be perfect for this site-specific project. In contrast to the more conventional, static appreciation of art, the journey is largely shaped by the audience themselves who bring in their own experiences and expectations as stimuli to the imagination.

“There is a lot of negative space, in the blank pages of books we show and even in the music. We want to make it an incomplete experiential journey that the audience can fill in themselves,” he noted.

The three floors of Cassels Block have been converted into different settings, giving participants access to areas otherwise not open to the public. It starts with the premise that three children, former residents of Cassel Blocks, made a pact to reunite at their old home but each ended up returning on a different date. The audience follow their footsteps through time and space and soon forget their own reality.

As participants move through doors, rooms and staircases, they are encouraged to explore the stories behind and beyond the walls of the unique secret gardens they have created in their minds in response to their own lives, adventures and dreams.

A key element of Secret Garden is the notion of healing, which the artists express in markedly different ways. For a while, participants are given a ceramic music ball that emit mesmerising light to carry during the journey, and pass through an outdoor track with moving moons. It is time to simply let your imagination fly.

For this project, the team has uncovered important archival materials for Cassels Block, generously shared by former residents who are now scattered all over the world. Family photographs depicting the lives of an army family living in Hong Kong just before the Japanese occupation offered a rare, private glimpse of a pivotal juncture in history.

Ivy Lin, The Curator (Community Art) of the Art Promotion Office, said: " vA! was first opened in 1992, so after 20 plus years we want the public to see the centre in a new light. Kingsley’s team has helped us rediscover every corner of the building.”

“This used to be the living quarters of Victoria Barracks, and then it became the vA!. Now we want to look at it again through the eyes of the artists, and also through the eyes of each participant, who is an adventurer in their own right. These points of view are all very different and together they make up the whole of this new work.”

Presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Secret Garden, a night-time experiential journey, is being held from now until April 2, 2018 at the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre.