On Friday 18 May 2012, Asia Art Archive once again held their Open Platform programme, selecting four speakers to each deliver 28-minute talks to an ART HK 12 audience. Two of the groups discussed art and its role in negotiating public spaces, but with very different approaches.

DOXA – China and Hong Kong

The second speaker of the afternoon talk was from international research collective DOXA. First founded in London in 2010, the organisation brings together artists, architects, theorists and thinkers to broaden the dialogue on future cultural production and its role in society. In particular, DOXA is interested in exploring “models of collective working and open source” that provide alternatives to the current, capitalist-oriented contemporary culture market.

DOXA brought two cultural theorists from the greater China region, Wuhan-based musician and arts professional Mai Dian and Occupy Central initiator Nin Chan. While DOXA co-founder Ashley Wong acted as moderator and spoke briefly at the beginning of their 28 minutes, she ceded most of the time to the invited speakers.

Mai Dian of the Womenjia Youth Autonomy Lab.

Womenjia Youth Autonomy Lab – China

Mai Dian is the founder of Womenjia Youth Autonomy Lab, an anarchist space that promotes open dialogue free of self-censorship. He discussed the municipal government’s recent plan to transform the city into an entertainment and cultural powerhouse, which has resulted in a significant investment in arts infrastructure. With Wuhan’s weakening manufacturing industry, officials hope to use the cultural economy as a financial buffer for the downturn.

However, this development has come at a significant price. Part of the project has called for the reclaiming of a lot previously public lands. In response, artists and activists around Wuhan including Mai Dian participated in the East Lake Project, which stages artistic interventions in spaces around the lake to protest the construction of residential complexes and an amusement park. In response to their reactions against forced demolitions, many of the artist protestors were attacked and threatened.

Photo from the Occupy Central movement.

Occupy Central – Hong Kong

Another perspective on long-term protesting came from DOXA’s second guest, Occupy Central initiator Nin Chan. Chan discussed at length his involvement with the movement, which has reclaimed the basement of the HSBC building in downtown Hong Kong as their headquarters. The Occupy Central movement first started in October of 2011.

What surprised Chan the most, however, was the sheer amount of contempt the campaign inspired in some onlookers, including many of the workers at the HSBC building. He would commonly hear shouts of “Scum!” and “Get a job!”, and Chan speculated that it was not the movement’s message in itself that incites this ire, but rather the way in which the Occupy movement in general subverts people’s notions of acceptable political and cultural discourse.

He said that it is the campaign’s unique blend of art and activism, as well as its orientation as an enduring social phenomenon as opposed to episodic protests that really sets off some members of the public. By pushing the boundaries of social activities as well as the accepted uses of public space, Occupy Central has redefined behavioural norms in a way unlike any other movement.

Parallel Lab – Hong Kong

Both DOXA speakers were actively engaged with redefining the public space along the terms of a more collective, grassroots creative and artistic development. By contrast, Open Platform’s third speakers, the Hong Kong-based architectural research firm Parallel Lab, sought to explore existing grassroots interventions into public spaces.

Geraldine Borio and Caroline Wuthrich, founders of Parallel Lab.

Founded by Swiss architects Geraldine Borio and Caroline Wuthrich, Parallel Lab is a “Laboratory for Experimental Researches on Asian Cities”. For one of their most recent projects, Parallel Lab was inspired by the ways in which local residents would often extend their private space into the public areas. A notoriously land-poor city, the pair surmises that Hong Kong encourages this sort of retooling of the public-private dynamic, with its winding, narrow alleys often concealing nooks and hideaways for residents to exploit. The duo named these locations “edge public spaces”.

With this in mind, Parallel Lab decided to recreate the experience of the “edge public space” through an art-design crossover project that they named STAG project. Borrowing on the habit of sitting outside in alleyways on portable stools, the two developed a seat that you can carry around like a backpack. The chairs are made from recycled billboard cloth, a homage to the local custom of repurposing found materials where convenient, and are all handmade by Hong Kong craftsmen. Once made, the group took their stools to four events that they organised in public spaces around Hong Kong. Over one hundred people attended one “intervention”, and police closed down the gathering after four hours.

The portable stools produced by Parallel Lab as part of their STAG project.

Parallel Lab hopes that by staging projects that “invade the public space”, they can spread awareness of a different kind of engagement with the city, that their vision for a public space dedicated to the people can inspire others around Asia and the world at large to question their relationship with the urban landscape.

About Open Platform

Open Platform, now in its second year, selects four projects to receive funding and give a talk concurrent with the annual Hong Kong art fair, ART HK. This year’s selection committee included Alan Cruickshank, Editor of Broadsheet, Kao Tzu-chin from ARTCO magazine, Elaine Ng, Founder of ArtAsiaPacific and Mark Rappolt, Editor for Art Review. Apart from the two programmes discussed above, Open Platform also featured a video work from the Seoul-based Web art group Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries and Bangalore art historian Suresh Jayaram who discussed his involvement in the Colombo Art Biennale.


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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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