“Art containers are coming home!” Don’t be thrilled too early. Stella Tang Ying-chi, convener of Art Container Project, clarified, “They are actually not coming back to Hong Kong, not yet.”
This month six years ago, 37 freight containers departed from Hong Kong to fulfil their mission. But these containers were like no other; they were to bring Hong Kong art to contact with the world. Having completed a couple of trainings on mural making, weather-proof paints and fire safety, 38 Hong Kong artists invited to Art Container Project painted their works on the 20-feet-long containers.
Before the departure, the participating artists had a two-week’s residency at the open air exhibition venue, the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) site, as their studios. Art Container Project touched down the site of tomorrow’s art and cultural hub earlier than other outdoor large-scale events happened in recent years. Public was welcomed to visit the art making process at weekends while there was an art ambassador scheme encouraging students and public to create their own mini art containers. Partnering Lumenvisum, the project was documented through images.
This is a recap of what happened in 2008. Where could art (containers) go in six years?
It is not difficult to recall how our world has changed. Some team members chose to leave Hong Kong (for some already came back) whereas some moved on to a different role; many today’s established artists were then emerging. Having delivered several exchange programmes and exhibitions in neighbouring cities like Macau, Shanghai and Singapore as well as in Hong Kong, the project organiser, Mere Independent Artists (MIA), decided to draw the curtain. Bidding farewell in the absence of the protagonist may sound somewhat nostalgic, but the finale show can bring back the good old memories to participating artists and audience on one hand, and relate the project closer to the art development and our everyday lives on the other.
The finale consists of a project documentation including photographic documentations from making art to departure, a tracking record of each art container and a parallel chronology of happenings at WKCD and Art Container Project. Carl Cheng Chi-ming, the curator of the documentation and a participating artist in 2008, made an analogy, “An art event in Hong Kong is like a sitcom, mostly one-off and occasionally there is a sequel. This project, however, is a TV drama running non-stop for years, because the containers are in fact always on display around the world. They are 37 actors setting sail with a role to play.”
The other part is an exhibition curated by Eddie Cheung Wai-sum, young critic and curator. Seeing the 2008 departure as the moment separating the container and the artist, he aims to explore through this exhibition how art be a container – specifically the role of artists and art in a community and their responses to everyday lives. Ten participating artists, all core members of MIA, also involved in the debut exhibition in one form or another.
Monti Lai Wai-yi the then project manager examines the relation with surrounding environment through materials from nature, but what embedded vividly in her mind is the team’s can-do spirit, “The WKCD site was our ideal venue given its cultural implications inseparable from the future art development in Hong Kong. Yet the permission of using the site was only granted two months before the exhibition.”
Project coordinator Grace Tang Ying-mui who painted a fable of prehistoric guardians of the Earth on her 20-feet container fabricates an installation of found objects called A Song About Spring in this exhibition. Tse Ming-chong, founder of Lumenvisum in charge of photographic documentation and container tracking, echoes his Pilgrimage on the container with Pilgrimage – Drifting over the ocean to end this journey.
In freight industry, the lifespan of a container is seven to ten years. Owing to resource and space constraint, MIA is not able to summon the retiring art containers back. Stella Tang explains, “Our co-organiser owns the freight containers. They stay open to call the art containers back to Hong Kong as long as there is a space to keep them.” The team is exploring ways, literally in search of a funder, to give some if not all art containers a home. MIA also pledges support to any organisation who is interested to convert the containers into office, mobile education centre, you name it.
24/5/2014 – 3/6/2014 (Close on 2/6)
Koo Ming Kwon Exhibition Gallery, Communication and Visual Arts Building, Hong
Kong Baptist University, 5 Hereford Road, Kowloon Tong
[The edited version of this article was published in ArtMap Express May edition.]