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Recent art reviews & articles on exhibitions by AICAHK members will be posted here. Reviews will be published in the original English or Chinese.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of AICAHK.

香港獨立藝術空間的緣起
by John BATTEN
at 4:33pm on 23rd April 2018


 

圖片說明:土瓜灣牛棚內一隅,遠方可以看到煤氣鼓。
Caption: Inside the Cattle Depot at Tokwawan, with gasometers in the distance. 


(Please scroll down for English version.)


非牟利藝術空間Parasite成立於1996年,在2015年時由上環原址遷往空間更大的北角現址 。這是一個聰明的決定,確保了組織可以持續經營。他們最明智的決定是在2000年代初期,聘用了一位專業受訓的藝術策展人和員工,引領展覽節目規劃,並由一群義務工作者組成支持委員會,協助籌募經費和宣傳。

Parasite最初由一群志同道合、有決心和有組織的藝術家組成。在1990年代中期,藝術發展局剛成立的時候,他們一同申請了由藝發局提供的首批藝術撥款。最初的資金只是微不足道。然而,在經費緊絀的環境下,Parasite可以自豪地以「藝術家自家經營空間」的名義,以藝發局的公共資金支持租金、設立展覽裝置和行政員工開支。

在同期的1998年左右,北角油街的前政府物料供應處倉庫剛剛空置,當時刊登了招租廣告,以容易負擔的價錢提供短期租約。這些油街空間十分適合工作室和畫廊租用,所以消息很快在香港的藝術社群中傳開。幾個昏亂的星期後,進念.二十面體、錄映太奇等既有藝術團體,還有新成立的團體藝術公社和1a空間成為租戶,並開始籌辦自己的藝術展覽。郭孟浩和黄國才等其他藝術家也租用了油街不少建築物的空間,大廈裡也有不同的商業活動,好像運輸公司、建築、設計和影樓等。油街是香港首個藝術社區。當時的社區是有機形成的,因此百花爭鳴,而且十分成功。這些團體和部份藝術家均獲得藝發局資助,但是成功的主因是租金相宜,而且使用政策富有彈性。例如藝術家可以繪畫和建造,把空間弄髒。自1990年代起,很多藝術家都搬進了火炭和新蒲崗工業區,建立了類似油街的藝術共同體。

油街非正式地以一場周末夜深的藝術活動「開幕」。如果該活動實際上經過籌辦,那麼,以現在的角度而言,它應會被宣傳為「藝術節」,以海報、網上廣告和贊助商的攻勢造勢。但是油街是有機形成的,當時沒有中央籌辦人。因此,在油街開幕的前幾天,口耳相傳非常凌厲:傳真訊息、電話和邀請出席電影會和燒烤活動,確保了出席者眾。出席人士來自不同領域,包括我們現在稱為「創意工業」的業者和他們的朋友,他們在前政府物料供應處被棄置的高樓底房間之間游走,參觀放在租用空間中的展覽和裝置。那是香港藝術界一段短暫、熾熱而不覊時代的開始。

在18個月期間,油街的多個不同空間見證了無數視覺藝術、劇場、音樂、表演和電影活動。Parasite當時才新進駐自己位於上環的空間,但也一樣非常活躍。Parasite當時的政策,是只主辦藝術裝置及表演節目––他們刻意不舉行傳統的繪畫或以掛牆作品為主的展覽。Parasite成立之初,主要聚焦於旗下藝術家成員和好友的裝置,以香港本身為主要課題。在香港回歸中國時, Parasite曾經展出年輕藝術家探討各種圍繞「香港」議題的作品,包括香港的殖民時期及中國傳承,以及通常令香港人感到迷惘的個人身份。

這些來自1990年代的獨立藝術空間令人雀躍,因為既有的博物館和大部份畫廊均在展覽節目安排上異常保守,對當代藝術、政治、社會及美學課題的態度也是如此,所以鮮有展出香港藝術家的作品。當年也開始有人提出香港亟需當代藝術博物館,而西九龍文化區內的M+正是源於那時。

1999年,政府宣佈前政府物料供應處將出售作發展用途,用地最終售予長江,而該公司的龐大發展項目已接近竣工。油街一片興盛的景況也隨之結束;儘管當時所有租約本來都屬於短期,但也一併告終。當時很多對油街義不容辭的藝術家與藝術團體均大聲疾呼、努力爭取。最後, 土瓜灣屠場舊址和其歷史悠久的百年老建築用來作為替代藝術場地。一些個人藝術家,還有錄映太奇、1a空間和藝術公社等都把展覽空間轉往牛棚。進念.二十面體只取用辦公室/排練空間。藝術公社後來結業,原來使用的空間是牛棚裡最大的建築物,現在已被進一步翻新,用來舉辦臨時展覽。其中最引人注目的,是由M+ 用作臨時場地,展出前衛美國藝術家 John Cage的大型音效裝置,以及展出2013年威尼斯雙年展香港代表李傑的作品。

香港非牟利藝術空間景貌 1990年代以來便幾乎沒有改變,非牟利藝術空間出現有時、結業有時,而1990年代百花齊放的草根藝術景貌已慢慢式微。在過去12個月,多個獨立藝術空間相繼結束,好像咩事藝術空間、Spring工作室、Holy Motors、百呎公園和Neptune。草根藝術組織的動力一直不假外求,很多時都借助義工幫忙,相繼結業是無可避免的結果。在未來,這個循環將會改變,新的藝術團體也會出現,我們將可看到新的草根藝術時期蓬勃發展!

與此同時,我必須查證牛棚將會轉交予康樂及文化事務署管理的傳聞!牛棚需要革新,但是香港需要多元化而可負擔的空間,讓獨立藝術和社區團體使用。我們早已有足夠的政府營運場地了!


原文刊於《明報周刊》,2018年4月16日。


The Origins of Hong Kong’s Independent Art Spaces
by John Batten


Parasite, the non-profit art space, founded in 1996, moved from its original Sheung Wan spaces into its present, much larger North Point premises in 2015. This was one of the smart decisions that has ensured its longevity. Its wisest decision was in the early 2000s when a professionally-trained art curator and staff were employed to lead its exhibition programming, backed by a volunteer board of supporters that assisted in fund-raising and promotion.

Parasite was originally founded by a group of like-minded, determined and organised artists that applied for some of the first arts funding available from the then newly established Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) in the mid-1990s. The original funding was meager; however, on a tight budget and proudly proclaiming its independence as an “artist-run space”, Parasite was able to have its rent, exhibition installation and administrative staffing costs publicly-funded through the HKADC.

At around the same time in 1998, the recently-vacated former Government Supplies Depot warehouses in Oil Street, North Point were advertised for rent on very affordable short-term leases. Word quickly spread around Hong Kong’s arts community that these Oil Street spaces were ideal for studio and gallery accommodation. Over a frantic few weeks, established arts groups Zuni Icosahedron and Videotage and new groups Artist Commune and 1aspace took space and started organising their own art exhibitions. Throughout the many Oil Street buildings, other artists - including Kwok Mang-ho and Kacey Wong – also rented spaces, as did a mixture of commercial businesses, including: transport companies and architecture, design and photography studios. Oil Street was Hong Kong’s first arts community. It was vibrant, organic and successful. All of these groups and some artists received HKADC grants – but the crux of its success was cheap rent and a flexible-use policy e.g. artists could paint and construct and make their spaces dirty. Since the 1990s, many artists have since moved into the industrial areas of Fotan and San Po Kong, building a similar artistic camaraderie as seen at Oil Street.

Oil Street unofficially ‘opened’ with a late-night weekend arts event. If it had actually been organized, it would have been - certainly nowadays - promoted as a ‘festival’ with posters, internet advertising and sponsors. But, Oil Street was just organic, there was no central organiser – so, in the days prior to Oil Street’s opening, word-of-mouth was intense: fax messages, telephone calls and invitations to films screenings and BBQs ensured a strong turnout. A range of people came, many from what is now identified as the “creative industries” and their friends, wandering around the abandoned high-ceilinged rooms of the former Government Supply Depot, visiting exhibitions and installations in the rented spaces. It was the beginning of a short, intense and heady time for Hong Kong’s art scene.

Over a period of eighteen months, Oil Street saw countless visual arts, theatre, music, performance and film events held in and around its many spaces. Parasite, new to its own Sheung Wan space, was also very active. Parasite had a policy of only hosting art installation and performance events – they intentionally had no conventional painting or wall-based exhibitions. In the early days, Parasite’s primary focus were installations done by its own artist members and friends, with Hong Kong itself as the main topic. At the time of Hong Kong’s return to the mainland, the young artists who exhibited in Parasite explored a range of issues around ‘Hong Kong’, its colonial and Chinese heritage and the personal, often confusing, identity of Hong Kong people.

These independent art spaces of the 1990s were exciting because the established museums and most commercial galleries were incredibly conservative in their exhibition programming and attitude towards contemporary art, political, social and aesthetic issues and rarely exhibited the work of Hong Kong artists. Urgent calls for a contemporary art museum began in these years, and West Kowloon Cultural District’s M+ has its origins from this time.

The vibrancy of Oil Street ended in 1999 when the government announced that the former Government Supply Depot would be sold for development (eventually to Cheung Kong, whose enormous development is now nearing completion) and all leases, albeit short-term, would end. There was an outcry from many of the incumbent Oil Street artists and arts group. Eventually, the former To Kwa Wan abattoir with its historic century-old buildings was offered as a replacement arts venue. Some individual artists and Videotage, 1aspace and Artist Commune transferred their exhibition spaces to the Cattle Depot. Zuni Icosahedron took only office/rehearsal space. Artist Commune has since closed and their venue, the largest building at the Cattle Depot, has been further renovated and now holds temporary exhibitions, of which the most significant have been by M+ using it as a temporary venue for a large sound installation by the avant-garde American artist John Cage and to exhibit the work of Lee Kit, Hong Kong’s 2013 Venice Biennale representative.

The Hong Kong non-profit arts space landscape has largely remained unchanged since the 1990s. Non-profit art spaces have come and gone and the grass-roots art vibrancy seen in the 1990s has waned. In the last twelve months, independent art spaces Things that can happen, Spring Workshop, Holy Motors, 100ft PARK and Neptune have all recently closed. This is inevitable for grass-roots arts organisations reliant on their own, mostly volunteer, labour. In the future, the cycle will turn and new art groups will emerge, as will a new period of grass-roots art vibrancy!

In the meantime, I must check the rumour that the Cattle Depot will be handed to the Leisure & Cultural Services Department to manage! The Cattle Depot needs revamping, but Hong Kong needs a diverse range of affordable spaces for independent arts and community groups – we already have enough government-run venues!


This article was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly, 16 April 2018.

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