Reviews & Articles
徘徊在邊陲間的覺醒 - 香港藝術與社會行動的詭異
at 2:12pm on 14th June 2013
1. 2004年張嘉莉及鄭怡敏（C&G）穿上傳統禮服參與七一遊行以訂婚約，引來大量媒體追訪報導，可說是藝術家自覺地以行動展演參與社會活動的一例。 （圖片由C&G提供）
In 2004 artist-couple Clara Cheung and Gum Cheng (C&G) got engaged in public in traditional wedding outfits during the rally on Handover Day, receiving widespread media coverage. (photo courtesy of C&G)
On July 1, 2012, active member of 'Art Citizens' Kacey Wong assumed the role of 'Real Secretary for Culture', handing out paper money in order to 'maintain stability.'
Wearing aprons that when read together spelled 'This 'Is 'Public 'Space,' Tsang Tak-Ping and his friends wandered very slowly in the plaza, reading from books in their hands in response to the controversy over the abuse of public space in Times Square.
4. 去年10月，十多個匿名藝術家戴著自製面具，突擊到匯豐銀行總行地面畫畫寫生，挑戰匯豐對公共空間的管理問題，在場戒備的保安及警察如臨大敵並嚴密監控，然而面對藝術家的軟性抗爭卻也措手不及。（圖片由香港獨立媒體提供； 攝影：馮景恆）
In October 2012, as HSBC tightened security control after the evacuation of Occupy Central from their grounds, and filed an injunction to forbid 20 “accused” persons from entering its public space, more than ten masked artists appeared one evening at the plaza in HSBC Headquarter to draw plein-air, leaving the building security guards bewildered. (photo courtesy of Hong Kong In-Media Hong Kong, photo by Fung King Hang)
5. 2006-2007年保衛天星鐘樓及皇后碼頭間，一群年輕藝術家以「我們就是社會」名義，連續逢週日在鐘樓下以行為藝術表達對事件的關注。 （圖片由李俊峰提供）
In 2006-07, a group of young artists 'We Are Society' organized performances on several consecutive Sundays to show their support of the Queen’s Pier and Central Star Ferry Pier and the Clock Tower conservation. (photo courtesy of Lee Chun Fung)
除註明外，攝影：魂游 Unless specified, all photos by wen yau
(英文版請往下看 Please scroll down to read the English version.)
—— Carol Becker〈藝術家作為公共知識分子〉(1)
從前總有説，香港是文化沙漠，也説香港人都是政治冷感的。回歸十數年了，上街遊行等常事，去年反對國民教育一役更見參與社會運動的層面已愈來愈廣泛，熱血不只屬於社會上的一小撮人。如果按艾德華．薩依德（Edward W Said）的説法，知識分子唯有流亡在邊緣，才能敏銳地看權力中心所察覺不到的問題；藝術家就是總處於（城市）緣陲的人，把個人的感知透過藝術表達投放到公共領域(2)，以藝術參與社會和公共事務。
要說香港社會政治景觀，2003年可說是一個重要的分水嶺，或如藝評人劉建華所言是「遲來了的真正回歸」(the late arrival of “the real 1997”)(3)。SARS爆發，經濟蕭條，而政府要推行基本法廿三條立法(4)的手法備受爭議，觸發了自回歸以來首次最大規模的五十萬人七一遊行。藝術家就如社會大眾一樣相約上街，叫喊口號之餘沿路擊鼓，彷彿就成了一種自然也隨意的風格；而2004年張嘉莉及鄭怡敏（C&G）穿上傳統禮服參與七一遊行以訂婚約，引來大量媒體追訪報導，也可說是藝術家自覺地以行動展演參與社會活動的一例；2005年白雙全以大匹黃布收集遊行者的腳印，然後剪成黃絲帶繫於天安門廣場的外圍欄，喻意把香港市民的聲音帶給北京中央（《給中央的禮物》）。而另一浪潮的藝術家上街，則是2011年大陸藝術家艾未未被失蹤後而引發香港社會（尤其是藝術界）對言論、創作自由受壓的關注，繼而促成了「藝術公民大聲行」，二千多位藝術工作者帶著樂器及畫作等上街；其後「藝術公民」亦曾召集藝術工作者參與七一遊行等，藉此表達有關言論、創作自由或有關文化藝術的社會議題之訴求，而活躍成員之一黃國才每每製作大型木偶、裝甲車等並配合造型參與遊行，引起媒體大肆採訪。
而近年來有關城市空間的抗爭，亦屢見藝術家介入。2008年時代廣場因禁止市民在商場地面的空間休憩閒坐，並被傳媒揭發出租屬其公司管理的公共空間作商業用途，在轟然的輿論聲中，不少藝術家隨即到時代廣場進行形形式式的活動，曾德平與友人穿起各人一字的圍裙，一行列開「此」、「乃」、「公」、「共」、「空」、「間」在廣場上邊慢行邊讀書；三木、莫昭如等也出奇不意的不定期到廣場展演行為藝術，甚至以廣場作為活動地點，結集其他本地及國際行為藝術家演出；戲團好戲量也發起「凍結時代廣場」(FREEze Time Square)(8)，廣邀藝術界及大眾一起約定到時代廣場各自維持數分鐘的靜態定格動作；李傑也帶到他常畫的格仔布，與一輩藝術家朋友到廣場上野餐；劉建華及張芷茵統籌的《斷估唔拉》展覽也乘勢舉辦「騎勢時代廣場」比賽，公開徵集時代廣場靜態休憩活動及方案；程展緯亦趁著商場舉辦的展覽進行非官方導賞。這些行動或會惹來時代廣場的保安及警察到來查問或勸阻，但在社會輿論大力聲討之下，藝術家的行動也在那一年間此起彼落，直至政府向時代廣場提出訴訟。
隨著「關係美學」（relational aesthetics）、「共創藝術」（collaborative arts）的理論興起，共享性和開放性也彷彿成了藝術用作連結社群的重要概念。2009年由十個藝術家個體創立的活化廳(10)，原來是香港藝術發展局每兩年公開徵集營運方案的「上海街視藝空間」，置身於油麻地舊區的街角舖位，把蒼白的畫廊空間（white cube gallery space）拆牆開門，變成猶如社區中心的街坊聚腳點，打破了狹隘的藝術定義和大眾對小眾藝術的想像。 藝術家各自發揮社區藝術的想像力， 無論是讓街坊提名獎賞店舖，並由藝術家一起以公共雕塑概念製作獎項（《多多獎．少少賞》）、表揚街坊威水事績（《師父贊》），或是請區內的風水師根據活化廳風水格局而策劃的展覽（《堪輿為體風水為用雕塑裝置展》）、每月邀請藝術家與社區互動（《隔窗有嘢》），抑或是與民同樂的巡遊（《流動酒吧大作戰》）等，不多不少都緊扣著香港的政治環境與社會時事，亦見藝術家嘗試以社區及本土文化關懷為先，突破既有的藝術表達形式，以開放更多可能性，讓更多人參與以豐富作品或活動意義。透過與地區居民建立關係（那管是日常人際交往或是在特定的藝術形式中），探索及展現民間、草根及本土文化的面貌及想像。而位於歷史建築藍屋的香港故事館（前身為「灣仔民間生活館」）(11)，累積了多年與社區互動的經驗，比活化廳更是穩紥於社區，透過音樂會、電影放映、社區考察、工作坊等， 鼓勵社區參與，從微小的日常生活演繹，在主流歷史的大敘事外，建構香港故事。在此，藝術的觀者或參與者已不再是被動的沉默羔羊，而一同走進公共領域，一同開發、經歷、建構和分享箇中體驗與得著的共同體，與傳統或既有的個人化創作模式及思維已截然不同。
活化廳與香港故事館的例子，帶出了藝術為本或是社區為本的問題。要説關係美學，要説共享性和開放性，孰主孰附，往往影響著藝術與政治的切入點。藝術家作為公共知識分子，在個人的道德良知軀使下，藉著自身的經驗及能力，透過獨特的藝術語言，在與社區／社會會互動中，創造美感經驗，以臻至連結、帶動社區參與的效果，或是引發輿論， 或是集體抗爭， 或甚達至政治性的目的。如是者，藝術家既是因為個人的社會（及道德）責任而走向社會政治，但站在甚麼立場，憑藉甚麼價值，為誰的利益而站出來，都影響其「公共性」行動的理據，而怎樣的「公共性」才能觸動、帶動群眾，群眾又如何走進和理解這種共享的美感經驗甚至是政治目的？藝術家在個人與社會之間往往如履薄冰，進退維谷。
去年香港立法會選舉可説是歷年最熱鬧的，整體上參選者眾競爭激烈，而其中更有三位皆具藝術背景的參選人（范國威、龐一鳴、周俊輝）， 在藝術與政治之間各自擺錘， 呈現了不一樣的取向。新民主同盟的范國威原是唸視覺藝術的設計師，跟不少從政的人一樣因為八九年的北京學運與六四事件而覺醒，繼而投身政治以圖改革社會，其中以最擅長的文宣設計教人印象深刻，1999年起獲選為西貢區區議員，去年於立法會地區直選中勝出； 龐一鳴是自由身劇場及教育工作者，這兩年因其個人計劃「一年唔幫襯大地產商」和從個人出發連結不同社群的反地產霸權活動而引人注目，去年在地區直選以「身體力行」推廣另類生活，在同區19組候選名單中眾寡勢殊，未能進入議會也是意料中事，但以選舉作為一種推動從個人出發改變社會的平台，如發動群眾到區內閒置巴士站打羽毛球及設置小攤檔，卻不失為一種突圍而出的策略；那邊廂，畫家周俊輝亦參選了「體育、演藝、文化及出版」功能組別選舉，打著「文化權利」的旗號，説要以專業的文化觀點帶入議會，亦要衝擊這個因制度不全而未能全面代表四個業界的小組選舉，縱是知難而行，也不讓建制派的對手輕易地當選。
「體育、演藝、文化及出版」功能組別選民只有2,586位選民，相對於三百多萬的地區選民(12)擺明是以小眾利益為本的小圈子活動，但「文化權利」卻是廣泛得涵蓋了全港市民的福祉，也是專門得一般大眾難以理解的名詞。當周俊輝在競選期間走到鬧市街頭獨個兒寫生示範「文化權利」，朋儕間或會哄說是瀟灑，路人或好奇或疑惑，卻也無法親身感受「文化權利」對他們的意義，而實在手中亦無一票給這位候選人(13)。這種所謂「專業」與廣泛社會利益的矛盾，在去年有關威尼斯雙年展香港館的安排的爭議亦見一斑。多年來一直公開徵集香港館策展方案的香港藝術發展局(14)，突然宣佈與西九龍文化區M+博物館合作，而擔任香港館策展人的M+行政總監李立偉（Lars Nittve）亦旋即宣告已決定了由李傑代表香港參與2013年的威尼斯雙年展 (15)。事件在香港藝術界引起軒然大波，因藝發局在全無事前諮詢下取消了民間參與的模式，欠缺了公營機構應有的透明度，九位視藝工作者則發起了「我們需要真相！──藝術工作者要求公營當代藝術機構合乎道德的作業方式」聯署，有200個藝術界人士參與(16)。李立偉其後在有關的圓桌論壇上説了一席耐人玩味的話：「我們不應該將對政治民主的渴求與藝術民主混為一談......威尼斯雙年展一事上不應有所妥協。」(We shall not confuse our longing for political democracy with artistic democracy... The Venice Biennale should not be compromised.) 以藝術（或策展）專業運作為黑箱作業解説固然有點牽強，而把文化藝術視為一種「專業」並藉此推進至涉及更廣泛層面的問題（如公營機構的程序公義、文化權利）上，也未免容易以偏概全，而所謂「專業」往往也是維繫某種權力階級或制度的安全網。當大眾未能從開放的制度中共享經驗，所謂權利或代表性也徒是空談，而一個社會行動或關乎公眾的使命能否得以延續、衍生及累積，也視乎它是否建基於一種共通價值之上。「公共性」的弔詭之處就是在於如何把個人或是一小撮人所感知或認同的價值，伸延至更廣泛的社群？而這種延伸又可是以藝術之名的（個人）榮耀或操制慾？
還記起當矇面藝術家們到匯豐銀行總行地面突擊寫生的圖片在網絡上流傳，有人回應説：「向不畏強權藝術工作者致敬」。藝術家作為邊陲上的公共知識分子，可會怕被光環所矇蔽？如果説藝術與社會政治的連接點是藝術家把個人敏感的感知投放到公共領域，也藉著創意及開放的行動，共享美感經驗，以及享受、維護或爭取權所帶來的愉悅，在個人與集體、私人與公共之間，做「正當」的事都是純粹的良心使然？「正當」能超脫主觀而成為客觀？這或許已超出了討論藝術的道德問題。政治從來都是因應權位而生的相對關係，那管是放下藝術去從政，或是以藝術之名在政治遊戲裏蹈隙而行，又或是在藝術與政治間進退兩難？當中，在藝術與政治中如何取向及定位？如何從個人走向群眾？如何在紛紜的公共領域中「靠邊站」，卻又把持著出世的清醒與入世的關懷？ 而當下在香港，藝術家如何藉著藝術實踐回應社會、政治和文化上的變遷？ 或許這也超越了所謂「政治藝術」的美學問題，而是藝術家徘徊在邊陲間，如何時刻在自省中貫徹藝術在當代社會的精神和價值？——這真是談可容易，尤其是當文化藝術也可以是一種虛張聲勢之時。
(1) Carol Becker: The Artist As Public Intellectual, Education and Cultural Studies: Toward a Performative Practice, Henry A Giroux & Patrick Shannon (eds), Routledge, 1997, pp13-24.
(2) 公共領域（public sphere）是現代公民社會的重要概念。意指在社會裏人民透過自由平等的交談、討論甚至是批評，形成公眾意見，並衍生、構建不同程度地參與社會群體的實踐（praxis）。可參考德國哲學家哈伯瑪斯（Jürgen Habermas）著作《公共領域的結構轉型》，曹衛東、王曉玨、劉北城、宋偉杰譯，台北：聯經出版，1990。
(3) Lau Kin Wah: “Politics of a Bio. Hong Kong Art: From Dissemination to Usage”, Hong Kong Eye, Serenella Ciclitira & Chang Tsong-Zung (eds), Skira, 2012, pp45.
(6) 有關香港的藝術行動如何透過展演性的美感經驗達至集體身份認同，請參見拙作：〈 藝術家上街去！——藝術公民「423藝術公民大聲行」的啟示〉，《香港視覺藝術年鑑2011》（香港：香港中文大學藝術系，2012，16-49頁）。
(8)「凍結時代廣場」乃參照美國紐約 Improv Everywhere 同年1月在紐約中央車站（Frozen Grand Central Station）的集體行動（http://improveverywhere.com/2008/01/31/frozen-grand-central/），其後亦引來世界各地也有不少人士仿效，在公共空間裏進行集體即興行動或介入。
(9) 有關禁令，參見：楊咩〈匯豐銀行的宇宙禁令〉，《主場新聞》，2012年10月23日， http://thehousenews.com/politics/匯豐銀行的宇宙禁令/
(10) 活化廳由劉建華（總司令）、程展緯、關尚智、黎健強、羅文樂、魂游、李俊峰、黃慧妍、俞若玫、鄭怡敏(阿金)與張嘉莉（C&G）於2009年成立，2011年重組，部份成員離開，後由李俊峰任廳長，並與其他新加入成員繼續營運及策劃活動。 網址： http://www.wooferten.org
(11) 位於灣仔石水渠街的藍屋是1920年代的廣東唐樓建築，也是政府首次以「留屋留人」的方式進行保育，讓原有居民繼續留住。聖雅各福群會於 2007年在藍屋的地鋪開設「灣仔民間生活館」，展示灣仔間生活物品及文化，也舉辦社區導賞團等活動；至2012年3月易名為「香港故事館」，關注的社區文化議題亦由灣仔社區擴闊至全香港。網址： http://houseofstories.sjs.org.hk
(17) Henry David Thoreau: On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, 1849，http://thoreau.eserver.org/civil.html
(18) T H Marshall: Citizenship and Social Class, Inequality and Society, Jeff Manza and Michael Sander (eds) , W W Norton and Co, 2009, pp148-154.
A version of this review was published in LEAP magazine, April 2013, pp123-131《藝術界》，2013年4月，123-131頁；《號外》，2013年5月，90-92頁。
An Awakening Lingers at the Periphery: The Paradox of Hong Kong's Art and Activism
‘Artists stand at the edge of society. Few ever dare to hope they might create an image or representation that actually affects or change society. This is because the task of artists, which is to pull what is personal into the public sphere and to give shape to what is public as it occurs in the private sphere, is rarely valued.’
– Carol Becker, The Artist As Public Intellectual (1997)(1)
In the past, Hong Kong was often said to be a cultural desert and Hong Kong people politically indifferent. Ten years has passed since the Handover. The protests against National Education last year demonstrated that a widening profile of citizens is participating in social movements today. Social change is no longer just a matter of concern for the few.
Recalling Edward W Said’s notion of exilic displacement, the intellectual can only keep a sharp eye for power when being marginal. By the same token, artists stand at the edge of society. Through art-making, artists invest personal sensibilities into public sphere(2) and get engaged in social and public affairs. From this perspective, when reviewing art in relation to soical activism, as well as socially/politically engaged practices (or the so-called ‘political art’?) in Hong Kong, one can see artists as ‘public intellectuals’ proactively initiating/participating in various social movements in different ways with a strong sense of civil citizenship in the cultural milieu of the post-Handover era. They linger between art and society, the public and the private, showing a kind of subjectivity borne from the Hong Kong context.
Public Space as Site of Exhibition
The SARS epidemic, economic depression, and the controversy over Government’s proposal for security law Article 23 made 2003 a pivotal year in Hong Kong’s socio-political landscape. Half a million protesters marked the largest rally seen in Hong Kong since the 1997 Handover. Art critic Lau Kin Wah described it as ‘the late arrival of The Real 1997.’(3) Just like most other people in Hong Kong, artists took to street with drums and slogans, showing a distinct aesthetic of spontaneous action. In 2004 artist-couple Clara Cheung and Gum Cheng (C&G) join the rally by getting engaged in traditional wedding outfits on the Handover Day and captured wide media coverage. In the 2005 Rally, Pak Sheung Chuen collected protesters' footsteps on a piece of large yellow cloth, later on cut the cloth into yellow ribbons, then tied them to the fence of Tiananmen square in Beijing; his action titled 'A Present to the Central Government' symbolically brought the voice of the Hong Kong people to Beijing. Another wave of artists taking to street occurred in 2011, when over 2000 art practitioners held up musical instruments and artworks as they joined in the ‘Art Citizens March’. The March was organized after Mainland Chinese artist Ai Weiwei being detained and the urging concerns over the shrinking freedom of expression in Hong Kong. Art Citizens also gather local art practitoners in various rallies, expression their social concerns. One of the active members in the collective, Kacey Wong, from time to time creates spectacular props such as large puppets and real-size model tanks for display at each occasion, attracting considerable media attention.
A protest march is a kind of collective expression that can effectively attract wide news reportage(4). Whether it is a wedding performance during the march, or displays of other artistic forms (such as musical instruments, paintings and model tanks and costumes), artists and other participants aim for creative demonstration—simple, direct means of expression to visually interpret the issues at hand. These eye-catching displays are frequently supplemented by sounds, gestures, or even role-playing acts. Some protestors carry small flags or slogans distributed by political parties. Others use economical means to create props, such as self-made painting or modifying readymades. Protest marches are like mobile exhibitions. While artist participants identify with the shared cause (such as social righteousness), they also use highly distinctive (and/or creative) expression to affirm their own presence in this collective showcase(5).
Aside from taking the streets, many young artists have in recent years proactively taken part in social movements. In 2006-2007, a group of artists We Are Society organized performances on several consecutive Sundays to show their support of the Queen's Pier and Central Star Ferry Pier conservation(6). In 2009, a number of post-80 born young artists joined rallies against forced relocation of the Choi Yuen Village which was later on demolished for high-speed railroad construction. The young artists drew inspiration from highly ritualized demonstrations of Korean farmers during WTO's 2005 conference in Hong Kong. They initiated a Satyagraha Walk across five districts, which involved carrying rice in their hands and kneeling every 26 steps in the winter wind. This action not only attracted mainstream media attention and raised public awareness of urban development issues, it also directly affected pedestrian viewers and substantially increased public support of the movement at that time.
Artists’ intervention are frequently seen in public space movement. In 2008, Times Square, a major shopping centre and office tower complex, attempted to stop people lingering in the public area on ground level. When news reports exposed the complex management's illegal dealing in renting the piazza for commercial use, a number of artists responded by staging performances in these originally designated public zones. Wearing aprons that together spelled ‘This’ Is’ Public’ Space,’ Tsang Tak-Ping and his friends wandered very slowly in the piazza, reading from books in their hands. Sanmu, Mok Chu Yu and their fellow artists organized spontaneous performance art events at the piazza participated by other local and international artists. Meanwhile, the theatre group FM Theatre Power invited artist-friends and the public to join the ‘FreeZE Time Square’(7), a collective act of individually maintaining a minute-long poses instantaneously. Lee Kit and his friends sat on Lee's signature hand-painted checker cloth and picnicked at the piazza. Lau Kin Wah and Jessie Chang organized ‘Chie! – Culture Sieges Politics’, an exhibition project, part of which ‘Hijacking Times Square,' called for leisure activity proposals at the site. Lastly, Ching Chin Wai conducted unofficial guided tours of an art exhibition organized by Times Square. These actions attracted frequent police and security guard questioning, but with close public attention on the matters at hand, these art events happened one after another, until the government finally filed suit against Times Square for its illegal rentals.
Artists’ attention to urban space is often inspired by its public potential. Last year The Pawn Restaurant, operating in a listed heritage building, attempted to stop people from having their own food on the rooftop, which is their privately managed public space. The Police Emergency Units were even called to enforce such regulation at site. In response, artists sent out an online open call for a collective act of water drinking instead of eating on the rooftop. On the other hand, HSBC forcefully ousted the annual Hong Kong Social Movement Film Festival that was scheduling a screening in the plaza area managed by them. They have tightened security control after the evacuation of Occupy Central from their grounds and filed an injunction to forbid 20 'accused' persons from entering its public space(8). In response to these measures, more than 10 masked artists appeared one evening at the plaza to perform plein-air drawing, leaving the building security guards bewildered.
Through the above mentioned conscious action conducted by artists (call it performance art or performative art practices) and actions for deliberate protest (such as collective water drinking), we see artists seeking to reclaim public space by transforming privatized zones into exhibition sites, reasserting the meaning of public space as shared and open area, and by using art as an imaginative tool for inspiring guerrilla or other unconventional means of facing social challenges and struggles.
Hong Kong has always been known for its scarcity of land. Before the Handover, the people had no strong sense of country. After the Handover, the people perceived the city as the roots of its local identity; public spaces carried a shared imagination for ‘sovereign land.’ Through participation, artists as public intellectuals reinterpret and/or recapture public spaces, thereby demonstrating their role as citizens embodying the spirit of local subjectivity and moral courage.
Public Sphere as a Site of Political Negotiation
The rise of relational aesthetics and collaborative art theories makes sharing and openness significant factors in connecting art with community. In 2009, ten artists established a community space called Woofer Ten(9), located on a street corner in the old neighborhood of Yau Ma Tei. The space was originally named as Shanghai Street Artspace, a government managed space that invites operational proposals bi-annually. Woofer Ten renovated the original white cube into a community gathering space, thereby demystifying the popular imagination of art as an activity for the few. Their community-engaging activities, once conceptualized by its founding artists collectively or individually, aimed to surpass conventional artistic expression forms and engage a broader audience for art. To name a few, ‘Prize! Prize! Prize!’ invited local residents to nominate local shops as the showcase of a site-specific, collectively created, public sculpture as reward. The exhibition 'Mastermind' embraced folk arts and craftsmanship in local community. 'Kanyu Weiti Fengshui Weiyong Sculpture Installation' invited a local Feng Shui master to design the exhibition display according to his expertise. The quasi-monthly programme 'See Through' took place in the Woofer Ten's window where participating artists interacted with the neighbourhood through experimental performances, whereas 'Mobile Bar Battle!' engaged local residents in an occasion of mobile beer drinking.
Woofer Ten’s programmes reflect critical attention to Hong Kong's current social issues and changing political climate, and reveal the artists’ intention of prioritizing community and local concerns. The artists aims at opening up possibilities by breaking through conventional means of artistic expression and engaging a wider range of audience so as to enrich meaning of their work. Through the social relationship built with local community (whether it’s daily social interaction or situated in peculiar artistic forms), their projects explore and represent the profile and imagination of local culture together with local and grass root people.
On the other hand, the Hong Kong House of Stories (formerly the Wan Chai Livelihood Place) which inhabits the ‘Blue House’, a listed historical building(10), has developed an even stronger bond with the local neighborhood. It periodically hosts concerts, films screenings, community surveys, workshops, etc. From projects that focus on details of daily life to those that respond to the grand narrative of mainstream local history, the House of Stories works on Hong Kong stories in a micro-perspective. From the above, viewers of the arts are no longer passive audiences but active participants who enter public sphere in a collaborative way by exploring, going through, constructing, and sharing diverse experiences and inspirations obtain during the process. This differs from conventional modes of art production that emphasize on individual authorship.
Cases of Woofer Ten and Hong Kong House of Stories highlight issues about art-oriented vis-à-vis community-oriented practices. The theories of relational aesthetics, the ideals of openness and sharing – how to locate the dominated and the subordinate often determines the way artists address art and politics. Motivated by moral conscience, artists as public intellectuals utilize artistic language, individual experience, and personal skill to create aesthetic experiences that encourage community participation and foster dialogues so as to connect and engage the community: to this ends, no matter it is to initiate discussion, to stir up controversy, to mobilize demonstrations, or to serve some political purposes. Artists move towards politics because of their individual social (and moral) responsibilities. However, in what position do they stand, and with what values, and for whose benefits do they stand up for? These questions point towards various justifications for action serving 'the public good'. What kind of ‘public-ness’ can mobilize the masses with affection? How do the masses understand an artistic social action as a shared aesthetic experience or political goal? The relationship between artist as individual and society is a delicate matter full of age-old dilemmas.
Two events last year illustrated this paradox between art and the ‘public-ness’.
Last year's Legislative Council (Legco) elections were one of the most competitive in Hong Kong history. Candidates included three men of artistic background, Gary Fan, Pong Yat Ming and Chow Chun Fai, who showed their varied ways of orienting between art and politics. Gary Fan of Neo Democrats Party was a designer who studied Visual Arts. Like many politicians who began their political career after the Tianman Square Incident and students’ democratic movement in 1989, Fan entered politics with ambitions for social change. With a designer background, his strong visual campaigns attracted public attention. He was elected as Sai Kung District Council Member in 1999 and subsequent elected as Legislative Councillor last year(11).
Pong Yat Ming, on the other hand, is an independent theatre and educational worker. His recent activist project titled 'A Year without Patronising the Business of the Conglomerates' evolved from a personal statement to a project involved community members fighting against developer hegemony. During last year's Legco election, Pong continued to use everyday life practices to promote alternative lifestyles. Despite fierce competition amongst the twenty candidates of his geographical constituency, Pong’s campaign grabbed the chance to promote individual social concerns to public platforms with the potential of social changes. His many campaign activities include reclaiming an unused bus stop for community leisure activities such as badminton and street vending(12).
The third artist-candidate Chow Chun Fai ran the Legco 'Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication’ functional constituency. His platform focuses on 'Cultural Rights,' calling for representation of professional cultural perspectives in the Legco. Chow addressed the inability of the current system to fully represent the four industries and intended to prevent an uncontested election(13).
The functional constituency ‘Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication’ consisted of 2586 voters. Compared to the three million voters in Hong Kong(14), this small-scaled election appeared to be a closed activity for the benefit of a minority sector. Cultural rights is a rather unfamiliar term to the public, however it is a critical matter of all citizens. As part of his campaign, Chow himself did a plein-air painting in downtown Mong Kok so as to promote the notion of 'cultural rights'. Artist-friends may make frivolous remarks and find this a cool act, but passers-by were puzzled about his action, not to mention the meaning of ‘cultural rights’ he upheld. Indeed, very few people can cast a vote in the functional constituency and not many can elect Chow after all(15).
This dilemma between ‘professionalism’ and public interests was again illustrated in last year's controversy over the arrangement of Venice Bienniale Hong Kong Pavilion. After many years of open calls for pavilion proposals(16), last year Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) announced its collaboration with West Kowloon Cultural District's M+ Museum of Visual Culture. Acting as curator for the Hong Kong Pavilion, M+ Executive Director Lars Nittve announced Lee Kit to represent Hong Kong at the Venice Biennial 2013(17). This stirred up heated debate within the local art circle, particularly in regards to the Council's abrupt decision to abolish its previous open-call system without public consultation. Such practice is criticized for lacking transparency that is needed in public institutions. Nine visual art workers drafted a petition 'We Want the Truth! – A Call for better ethical practices of public institutions for contemporary art' that collected 200 signatures(18).
At a subsequent roundtable discussion, Lars Nittve made a statement worthy of contemplation, ‘We shall not confuse our longing for political democracy with artistic democracy... The Venice Biennale should not be compromised.‘ The justification of black-box operations as professional art (or curatorial) practice seemed to be a far stretch, yet his perspective of art as a profession pointed towards issues of wider scope (fairness of public institutional operations and cultural rights of citizens). The notion of 'professionalism' is often used as a political tool to maintain hierarchies of power or as an institutional safety net. To discuss individual rights and representation of community is futile as we speak from a platform that does not value openness and shared experiences. The sustainability of a social action or a mission concerning the public good depends on the strength of shared values in its foundations. The paradox of ‘public-ness’ lies in how values of an individual or a small group of people can extend to a wider community. However, Is such desire for extension for the sake of art, personal glory, or desire of power?
Art and Politics: Right or not?
‘The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.’ – Henry David Thoreau: On the Duty of Civil Disobedience(19)
‘Citizenship requires a direct sense of community membership based on loyalty to a civilisation which is a common possession. It is a loyalty of free men endowed with rights and protected by a common law. Its growth is stimulated both by the struggle to win those rights and by their enjoyment when won.’
– Thomas Humphrey Marshall: Citizenship and Social Class(20)
As the masked artists did the guerilla drawing in the HSBC plaza, images of their action went viral on the Internet and someone left a comment, ‘Tribute to art workers unyielding to authoritative power.’ When artists as public intellectuals stand on the edge of society, would they be blinded by such glory? Artists connect art and politics by mediating their personal sensibilities into the public sphere – through creative and open-access actions, aesthetic experiences as well as the pleasure of enjoying, defending and fighting for civil rights are shared. When they move around between the individual and the collective as well as the personal and the public, is doing what they think ‘right’ purely out of conscience? Can ‘the right thing’ transcend subjective judgment and become objective reasoning? Perhaps these are ethical questions that have gone far beyond the art discipline. After all, politics is about power relationships. No matter an artist is putting aside art to do politics, looking for opportunities to move on in the political arena, or walking on the horns of a dilemma over art and politics, there are questions about one’s orientation and positioning: how to move from the personal to the public? How can an artist remain marginal in a diverse public sphere and at the same time keep an aloof yet sympathetic mind? How does an artist respond to the social, political and cultural changes in nowadays Hong Kong through one’s artistic practice? Perhaps these questions have too gone beyond the aesthetics of so-called ‘political art’. Rather, it is a matter of artists maintaining self-criticality to fulfill the spirituality and value of art in contemporary society. This all seems too easier said than done, especially when culture and art today is often superficial, vacant presentations, especially in the realm of politics.
(1) Carol Becker, The Artist As Public Intellectual, Education and Cultural Studies: Toward a Performative Practice, Henry A Giroux & Patrick Shannon (eds), Routledge, 1997, pp13-24.
(2) ‘Public sphere’ is a significant concept in the building of civil society in modern world. It refers to a realm of social life in which people can discuss and criticize things in a free and equal way; public opinions will be formed and praxis involving different levels of engagement will be generated and constructed throughout the process. Reference: Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of Public Sphere, Thomas Burger (trans), MIT Press, 1991.
(3) Lau Kin Wah, Politics of a Bio. Hong Kong Art: From Dissemination to Usage, Hong Kong Eye, Serenella Ciclitira & Chang Tsong-Zung (eds), Skira, 2012, pp45.
(4) The Community Museum Project organized the exhibition ‘Objects of Demonstration’ (2002-2004) which displayed a collection of objects from past Hong Kong social movements. According to the exhibition pamphlet, “one of the most important elements guiding the design of the object was to draw media attention.” Unfortunately the project has not been put forward afterwards despite the upsurge of social movements in Hong Kong since 2003. Website: http://www.hkcmp.org/cmp/002_object.html
(5) Further reading about Hong Kong artist actions that transform aesthetics events into experiences of collective identity: Wen yau: Artists Taking to the Streets! ——423 Art Citizens March and its Revelations, Hong Kong Visual Arts Yearbook 2011, The Department of Fine Arts, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2012, pp16-49.
(6) We Are Society: http://wearesociety.blogspot.hk/
(7) ‘FreeZE Times Square’ was inspired by Improv Everywhere’s 'Frozen Grand Central Station' event the same year in January (http://improveverywhere.com/2008/01/31/frozen-grand-central/). Frozen Grand Central Station inspired many spontaneous actions and collective interventions in public spaces worldwide.
(8) Details on the ban: ‘HSBC Universal Ban’ by Yang Me. The House News, Oct 23rd, 2012. http://tiny.cc/HSBC_public_space (Chinese Only)
(9) Established in 2009, Woofer Ten was co-founded by Lau Kin Wah (Commander in Chief), Luke Ching, Law Man Lok, Cally Yu, Gum Cheng, Clara Cheung, Lee Chun Fung, Kwan Sheung Chi, Wong Wai Yin, Edwin Lai and Wen Yau. Restructured in 2011, Lee Chun Fung holds office and manages daily operations and curatorial activities with some other new members. Website: http://www.wooferten.org
(10) Located on Stone Nullah Lane in Wan Chai, the Blue House is an 1920's Canton’s style tenement housing. It is the first architecture to be protected by retaining both building and local community. Saint James' Settlement established Wan Chai Livelihood Place in 2007, for the purpose of exhibiting local culture and daily life objects in the area. The organization was transformed into Hong Kong House of Stories in March 2012, and now focuses on local community cultural issues concerning Wan Chai and greater Hong Kong. Website: http://houseofstories.sjs.org.hk
(11) Gary Fan: http://www.garyfan.org/
(12) Pong Yat Ming: http://yatming.wordpress.com/
(13) Chow Chun Fai’s Legco election campaign: http://chowchunfai.wordpress.com/
(15) Voters of Legco's functional constituencies must be professional members of the respective sector. In the case of 'Sports, Performing Arts, Culture, and Publication,' members of the entertainment industry (within the performing arts sector) each hold one vote, while other sectors are only entitled to group ballets, regardless of the size of the professional group.
(16) Hong Kong first participated in the Venice Bienniale in 2001 and called for proposal by invitation. From 2003 to 2011 the HKADC has been doing open call for proposals.
(17) For detailed information please refer to HKADC’s Press Release: http://www.hkadc.org.hk/en/content/web.do?page=pressrelease20120622
(18) ‘We Want the Truth!──A call for better ethical practices of public contemporary art institutions’ Petition: http://tiny.cc/HK-VB2013_petition
(19) Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, 1849, http://thoreau.eserver.org/civil.html
(20) T H Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class, Inequality and Society, Jeff Manza and Michael Sander (eds) , W W Norton and Co, 2009, pp148-154.
A version of this review was published in LEAP magazine, April 2013, pp123-131《藝術界》，2013年4月，123-131頁；《號外》，2013年5月，90-92頁。