Hong Kong: Embracing friendliness.

Hong Kong

“ARTIST ROOM” drawing on the bedroom door that greeted my arrival.

The 24-hour train from Beijing to Hong Kong passed more quickly than expected.  As I sat down at a cramped table, psyching myself up to edit a thirty page proposal, there was a light tap on my shoulder.  The other English speakers in my compartment were going to play cards — did I want to join?

Hours passed as we shared light-hearted stories over round and after round of Hearts.  Turns out the transition from self-reflective Catherine to social Catherine wasn’t going to be as difficult as I feared.

Now after days of traveling, I am curled up on in a spare bedroom in Kam Tin, Hong Kong.  With a very sweet host family (including a two-year-old and a six-year-old), my days look quite different than they did in Beijing.  I must admit that I am much more fond of eating at a table with a family and talking about the six year old’s school day than sitting in a grungy Chinese restaurant where no one acknowledged me and the waiters only looked at me with glazed indifference.  Sam, the six-year-old, and I are becoming fast friends.  Yesterday, we spent his after-school time creating magical paper dolls and writing stories and songs about them.

So, why am I here?  Hong Kong is a massive gallery and auction house hub because of its easy access to millions of high worth Asian collectors and low and simple tax systems.  The city’s art market is now the third largest in the world, with auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s selling more contemporary artworks in their Hong Kong branches than in the rest of their salesrooms combined. 

Before I arrived, I assumed it would be easy to connect with artists here, but as I began researching, I realized that Hong Kong is unlike the other cities I’ve visited:

[A]lthough Hong Kong is logistically an art hub, this does not automatically mean it is an intellectual hub for the arts… Market pressures reduce the opportunity for Hong Kong’s local artists to experiment and take risks.  Unfortunately, local art isn’t what sells here, and the boom in the city’s international art trade is disproportionate to the slow ripening of the local art scene.

(from “Is Hong Kong in the Mood for Art?”, HongKong Echo Spring 2013)

So tracking down artists may not be as easy as I had hoped.  However!  After some digging, I found Artdea Night, an artist sharing session where they will discuss how to utilize art media as a creative platform on social issues.  Furthermore, they will share how their cultural identification that has been transitioning from isolated artist into an activity facilitator.  I will be eagerly attending and connecting with this group on Thursday.

I will also be trolling the galleries for local artists.  First stop will be 10 Chancery Lane Gallery’s HKFOREWORD13, a showcase of works by 8 young Hong Kong artists, including Dicky Ma (below).

Two grandma (950mm x 670mm). Art direction: Chan Vae Vae. Photography: Dicky Mañana. Stylist: Chloe Mak.  Make up: Angel Mok. Hair: Sam Han.

Two grandma (950mm x 670mm). Art direction: Chan Vae Vae. Photography: Dicky Mañana. Stylist: Chloe Mak. Make up: Angel Mok. Hair: Sam Han.

Socially-conscious Hong Kong artists, I shall find thee!  And in the interim, I will read and walk and write and create fantastical plays with Sam.

How do you measure the maturity of a culture?  If we are basing this on the western artistic framework, then of course we are far from being mature.  But I think this is exactly what gives us the edge in becoming the next arts hub: we are a highly capitalistic and business oriented society, and the pros and cons, assimilation and/or resistance to this circumstance have proven to be a rich source of creative inspiration for artists.  We see a lot of content-heavy, conceptually-driven and politically-charged works in Hong Kong, as opposed to the “art for art’s sake” mode of creation you see in the western art scene. I think this opens art up to a much broader dialogue.

(Interview with Agnes Lin, director of Osage Gallery, from Hong Kong: art world hub or art world hype?)

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