Embedding the Bed in Public Space – interview Hong Kong artist and ParaSite director Tim Li

HONG KONG ART

Is there anything more private than your bed at home? So why has artist Tim Li been taking his folding bed out in public onto the streets of Hong Kong? Art Radar learns more:

Tim Li, once an architect and now the Chairman of Para/Site Art Space, held a “Dialogue with the Bed” – a solo exhibition and book launch – at the Fringe Club in Hong Kong (Aug 5 – 14 2009).

In a series of panoramic photography of his nylon bed installation in various corners of Hong Kong, Tim demonstrates his endeavor to bring personal space into public space.

Wendy Ma chitchats with Tim Li about his adventure with the “folding bed” and his views on the relationship between the urban environment and public art.

Pigment Ink on canvas

The West Kowloon Promenade by Tim Li. Pigment Ink on canvas. 2000X700mm. HK$28,000

Q: How long and where have you been traveling with your bed?

3 years, since 2006. I chose the cities by chance. I first used the folding bed idea in Venice, at the Venice Architecture Biennale, and after that several public art projects in Sham Shui Po. In Paris, too. The whole concept was to get people involved in civic change, try to empower people to talk about their living environment and area – a community building exercise in the form of art creation.

At the time, I was working for the Housing Department. Public housing in Hong Kong had spanned 50 years. Now half of people in Hong Kong live in public housing. We regard it as one of the major urbanization tools for Hong Kong.

Nathan by Tim Li. Mixed Media. 2000X700mm. HK$33,000.

Nathan by Tim Li. Mixed Media. 2000X700mm. HK$33,000.

Q: What memorable or striking experiences have you encountered while lounging in the streets of cosmopolitans?

First of all, I was so amazed when I did my work in Mong Kok, on the Pedestrian Street. It used to be a street for traffic until few years ago it became a Pedestrian Street, where people can walk around and enjoy drama and outdoor performance. It’s a good example to illustrate that a public space can be transformed with a bit of management.  You change people’s mentality. I was kicked out at other places, but here at this spot people encouraged you to do things. People even gave me suggestions to play with the structure.

Another interesting and educational encounter was in Times Square (Radar note: an enormous retail and office development by Wharf which incorporates a piazza about which there has been controversy over what belongs to the public and what belongs to the developer). In the past, people deemed it as belonging to the developer owner. After the court case, people realized that these spaces should be used by public. While I was displaying work there, the security came to me and warned, “You’re blocking the circulation.” Unless there were other complaints, I didn’t think it was a problem.

Our Square by Tim Li. Mixed Media. 2000X700mm. HK$33,000.

Our Square by Tim Li. Mixed Media. 2000X700mm. HK$33,000.

Q: What management do you think is best for that?

For public space, negotiation is necessary. You don’t want to be used by several people who dominate the whole space. There’s no right or wrong answer. Flexible management allows possibility.

So even though a government sanctioned the space, it’s not run by the government.

HSBC 2 by Tim Li. Pigment Ink on canvas. 2000X700mm. HK$18,000.

HSBC 2 by Tim Li. Pigment Ink on canvas. 2000X700mm. HK$18,000.

Q: How did people from different parts of the world react to the folding bed idea?

People in Venice have never seen the folding bed. So interestingly, people asked me, “Where did you buy that?” Even in Paris, people posed similar questions, “Where was it made? Did you make it yourself?” They looked at the utilization side of it.

I didn’t encounter friction at all in Europe. People simply thought that I was a student. They were not surprised. But people in Hong Kong were more curious; they wondered if I was shooting a film.

Q: Do you have a favorite city or place?

Hong Kong. I displayed the folding bed in West Kowloon, Mong Kok, Times Square, Sham Shui Po, and the Anderson Quarry in Sai Kung.

My favorite piece was the tunnel. It was so unique in that it was a space only for circulation. Like the tunnel in other parts of the world, there are neither restaurants nor shops. In a way it’s universal and presents infinite possibilities.

Q: What does the bed symbolize?

I was looking at the history of urbanization in Hong Kong since half of the people live in public housing. When it started 50 years ago, it was built according to a module of a bed. The bed is related to the urbanization process of Hong Kong. Moreover, “bed” is the most private space in our city. Bringing a private space into a public space is the ultimate intervention.

Our City 2 by Tim Li. Pigment ink on acid free paper. 280X700mm. HK$3,000.

Our City 2 by Tim Li. Pigment ink on acid free paper. 280X700mm. HK$3,000.

Q: Does the consistent usage of the color red for your folding bed have any significance?

Red is more prominent. The red, blue and white stripes on the canvas can enhance the power.

Q: And what about the horizontal, strip-lined frame?

I’m an architect, so I could go to different construction sites. I did a set of photographs with my phone, which had the panoramic format. It’s quite intriguing. To capture more of the panorama, I manipulated the images and did a series of ten for another project called My Family.

The 70’s were a redevelopment phase in the urban area in Hong Kong. 20 years later, the buildings were turned into another site. People only remembered about the developers and architects, but not the workers who built it. However, these workers could be some friends of yours, so they were actually part of you. It’s about people’s connection to time and space.

Q: How does your folding bed idea relate to public space?

The folding bed is just a concept to highlight the disappearing aspects of our culture. The main ideas are how to divide public space, how we found our public space, how we use it – these are the foundations of public art. There are many ways to use our public space and to debate about our city. Public art can serve as the medium to communicate with the people: to lead them to think about their living environment as well as to engage them in the discussion of what they want for their living environment.

It’s an attempt to get people to realize that they have ownership – not just responsibilities, but also possibilities that should come in the smallest scale, for communication purpose in revolutions. You can engage people to give their views about something. In Taiwan or other developed cities, public art is an apparatus for civilization, for the development of democratic societies. By pushing cultures, I hope it can be a tool for community building.

More about the Artist behind the Folding Bed

IMG_2637

Tim Li before his artwork. Photography by Erin Wooters.

Q: Is it difficult to combine your role as the chairman of Para/Site with being an artist?

Of course. I started to participate in Para/Site in 1997. Then I joined the Board of Directors in 2000. Since I was supposed to promote art and give opportunities to artists, it was hard to put my own work against others. Due to conflicts of interests, I’ve been low-key about my creations. After we shifted the responsibilities from the director of art space to the creator art space, I have more time for my personal pursuits. On top of studying and research, I started to pick up installation and painting again.

Q: Are you from Hong Kong?

Yes. Educated at the University of New South Wales in Australia with a major in architecture.

Q: How does that affect your art?

The Australian sunshine made me a very positive person [laughs].

Q: What do you think of the art scene in HK?

I think it’s very vibrant, but we need curators to initiate more ideas as well as for marketing and promoting. We have artists, aka the actors, in different areas to create artwork, but curators are the directors who brainstorm a theme for the artwork to appear relevant to a cause.

For instance, for a theme on Hong Kong traffic, artists may interpret it as bus or taxi, while the curators make sure that the direction will be an interesting one and germane to the context of public space.

Q: Why are you exhibiting in the Fringe and not in Para/site?

Because of the conflict of interest. I want to keep it separate from running a show in Para/Site.

Q: Has Para/Site changed in any way since Alvaro joined?

Yea. We do much more planning. He’ll think of a strategy to make things happen.

Q: Where have you had exhibitions before? Any reviews available?

A few interesting ones are Venice Biennale 2003, Venice Architecture Biennale 2006, Hong Kong-Shenzhen Architecture Biennale 2008. You can also find a list of exhibitions and reviews in my book.

Q: Which artists have inspired you in general and in this exhibition? Have you heard of Tracy Emin?

Architects influenced me more, notably Peter Wilson and I.m. Pei.

Q: When did you know you were an artist?

I don’t even think about it.

Q: How do you see the art scene in Asia evolving?

It seems that the focus is shifting from mainland to other places like Korea and Philippines. It’s a good development and will open up more opportunities and perspectives.

Q: Which art publications do you read/recommend?

Articles and news by the Asia Art Archive, AM Post, Art Map, and Art Asia Pacific.

Q: Tell us about your book?

It incorporates articles about the folding bed idea.

Q: Which is your favourite art museum in Asia?

Miho Museum by I.m. Pei in Kyoto, Japan. I love how the museum is designed as a mountain. The museum and exhibits link with the surroundings.

Q: Do you collect art? Any particular genre or type?

Yes. I like works by designers such as Allan Chan, Freeman Lau, Stanley Wong, Keith Tseng, and artists such as Leung Chi Wo.

Q: Any information would you like about the art world? Is there something that you would like but is missing at the moment?

On the side of public art, there’s missing research on public art. How to value it not just as artwork, but how to appreciate it – not just art for art’s sake, but value it to help the society. How to bring out debates about certain things. Usually these cannot be valued. But people value artwork in money terms. This is the area where we need to incite more debates about art.

Contributed by Wendy Ma

Related Links:

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar Asia for exclusive Hong Kong artist interviews


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.