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.
「大館」開幕：呈現言論自由之地 | Tai Kwun Opens: A Place for Freedom of Expression
by John BATTEN
at 12:12pm on 22nd May 2018
1. 大館D大樓前監獄操場上的公共藝術裝置：陳餘生的旗幟和日本藝術家加藤泉的雕塑作品。/ Tai Kwun's Block D with the some of the site's public art installations on the prison yard: Gaylord Chan's flags and stone sculpture by Japanese artist Kato Izumi.
2. - 3.大館正進行建造和翻新（攝於2016年）：亞畢諾翼的新建樓梯。亞畢諾翼將設有劇院和機電設施；打開新發現的空間：D大樓連接前監獄操場下的拱門與拱頂。/ Construction & renovation at Tai Kwun, 2016: the newly-built stairwell of the Arbuthnot Wing, that will house a theatre and the site's mechanical and electrical services; opening-up a discovered space of arches and vaulting under the West Wing of D Block adjoining the former Prison's recreation yard. (photographs: John Batten)
攝影：約翰百德 All photographs: John Batten
(Please scroll down for English version)
中區警署歷史建築群本星期向公眾開放。然而，場地並未完全準備就緒：部份商戶（包括一個報案室）尚在完成室內裝潢；某些部份正進行最後階段的翻新。而取代部份倒塌已婚督察宿舍的結構，則有待進一步加固和設計。在新設藝廊中舉辦的兩項當代藝術展覽將於6月8日開幕。我已率先到訪這裡多幢細意翻新的歷史建築物，還有由Herzog & de Meuron設計的新建大館當代美術館。這些建築物中，大部份的此前狀裝況都令人慘不忍睹，特別是設置囚室的大樓，需要精密的工程加固。如果要說什麼美中不足，已完成的翻新也許太完美了––經歲月洗禮的牆身已清洗得光潔如新，也已完成重新粉刷，每座建築物的外觀與色調均一式一樣。但隨著時間過去，這些建築物將演化出新的外貌和功能。在向公眾開放的首數個星期，市民可以一同欣賞和檢視實體建築物。但，當我周圍逛著時，我將需嘗試衡量和「感受」它面目模糊的新身份。
Tai Kwun Opens: A Place for Freedom of Expression
by John Batten
The Central Police Station heritage complex opens to the public this week. The site, however, is not entirely ready: some of the commercial tenants are still completing their interior decoration, including a police report station; and, some sections are in their final stages of renovation. The partially collapsed Married Inspector’s Quarters needs further strengthening and design for its replacement. The two contemporary art exhibitions in the new art galleries will open on 8 June 2018. I have visited many of these meticulously renovated heritage buildings and the newly-constructed Herzog & de Meuron-designed Tai Kwun Contemporary art galleries. Most of these buildings, especially the prison cell blocks were previously in woeful physical condition and required delicate engineering to strengthen. If anything, the completed renovation may be too perfect, the patina of the years overly cleaned away and re-painted, each building now appearing homogenous in look and colour. But, over time, the buildings will evolve into a new appearance and function. During these first weeks of the site being open to the public, the physical buildings will be admired and checked. But, as I also walk around, it will be the site’s harder-to-detect new identity that I will attempt to gauge, to ‘feel’.
The entire site is named and branded as Tai Kwun, the traditional name for the former police headquarters fronting Hollywood Road. However, this name does not fully embrace the three pillars of the justice system that the site historically accommodated. As well as being the location of Hong Kong’s colonial police headquarters and Central district’s police station, the site also housed Victoria Prison, including an immigration reception centre; and, until 1979, law courts within the beautiful Magistracy building on Arbuthnot Road.
The integrity of the site will be judged on the success to preserve that sense of judicial, custodial and law enforcement history, alongside the site’s ability to neatly include new cultural activities, restaurants and commercial outlets amongst the heritage buildings. Getting that balance right will be the true measure of the site’s success as a renovated and “revitalized” (to use the government’s favourite phrase) heritage complex. That, however, is no easy matter. How is the integrity of the site maintained, and not compromised, trivialized, or dumbed-down, by the volume of visitors and needs of commercial activities? How is a correct ambience and atmosphere achieved? Who is to judge what is correct, and will the site’s ambience intentionally be changed over time?
The police and correctional service stories and the processes of criminal law, policing and custodial detention will undoubtedly feature in the historical displays. Those displays will evoke and embrace the legal system that the buildings stand testimony to, but the site should also remember those, now not present, that were subject to it – the remand prisoners, convicted inmates, execution victims, detainees during the Japanese occupation, and, later, the detainees and deportees who were processed at the site’s immigration centre. The stories of these ‘common’ inmates, men and women, are as significant as well-known historical figures, such as the Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi-minh, who no doubt will feature in the site’s historical displays.
From the outset, The Hong Kong Jockey Club, tasked to undertake the renovation and manage the site, publicly stated that it would not be another ‘1881 Heritage’ in Tsim Sha Tsui, nor would it be a shopping centre; often using the example of the shopping centre-in-disguise that PMQ has unfortunately become.
The site is predominantly a former prison and housed people who did wrong under the law – and, once convicted, a place where ‘time is done’. It is a place of much anger, violence, anguish and sadness, and also of bravery, stoicism, kindness and redemption. It is a place previously closed to society, its inmates unseen, almost forgotten. It is a place where death-row inmates were hung. And in recent memory, there was arbitrary detention and torture during the Japanese occupation. Now, the Tai Kwun site is a place of heritage and for art.
It would be easy to exploit the site’s ghoulish history: organizing ‘ghost tours’ or opening the premises for Halloween – but that would be a lazy idea, tacky, and inappropriate. There could be selfie-spots, but surely the buildings themselves, and future events and festivals will provide lots of joy, enjoyable times and photo opportunities. Tai Kwun is no Ocean Park or Disneyland! Tai Kwun must and will be appreciated as a poignant heritage site containing an integrated collection of some of the most important and remarkable colonial architecture in Asia. Fundamentally, there should be enough space (spatially, and in the mind) for visitors to enjoy the presented historical and art displays and then sit - without needing to buy a coffee! - under shade to enjoy and reflect on the site’s magnificent presence of history and creative displays.
Hong Kong has long needed such a publicly accessible place that holds the city’s past and is a venue for creative and artistic activities. Tai Kwun represents – and this could be a fact not fully appreciated, as yet, by the government and The Hong Kong Jockey Club - the city’s wonderful and indomitable spirit and expressing Hong Kong’s rule of law, justice and freedom of expression.
Link for further info: www.taikwun.hk
Disclosure: John Batten is a member of The Hong Kong Jockey Club appointed Art Working Group, a volunteer advisory group for Tai Kwun.
This article was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 26 May 2018, translation by Aulina Chan. A shorter version was also published in Perspective magazine, May 2018.
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