Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Freedom Ball

At long last the large-scale Freedom Ball event has arrived. 1000 large red balls will be appearing in Shatin Park on Sunday 22nd November.

We're looking for people to help collect feedback from the public about park design, management and regulation so if you can help, let me know!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tokyo Art 2

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We spent a day checking out a little of the Tokyo art scene. First we headed out to one of the old warehouse districts where several floors of a warehouse building (The Maruhachi Warehouse) have been converted into gallery spaces. If the Hong Kong government really wants to help develop the arts in Hong Kong it would be much better off allowing more of the creative re-zoning that would facilitate this kind of thing (and yes, we do have some similar projects in To Kwa Wan and Fotan already) rather than building a multi-billion dollar arts development in West Kowloon.

What young, upcoming Hong Kong artists lack is cheap, accessible performance and exhibition space, not huge white elephants. Cost: a few tins of white paint and some plaster. Of course, there’s no money in this for their mates in the property sector so it’s unlikely to happen. The West Kowloon development is, as we all know, mainly a property development with an arts theme, in much the same way that Cyberport is primarily a residential property development to line the pockets of the Li’s rather than any kind of genuine IT hub.

Next we wandered over to the Museum of Contemporary Art. This is the 'official' contemporary art museum and contained examples of all the main schools of contemporary (as opposed to modern) art. The five main categories of contemporary art being, of course:

1 - Conceptual Shite
For the conceptual artist the concept itself is the important thing, the mere representation of that concept in a visually engaging way is left to lesser mortals. Of course, we already have a medium for presenting concepts without the need for visual representation; it's called writing. However writing has three main drawbacks for the conceptual artist. Firstly, it's hard work. Secondly, it's not as cool as being an artist. Thirdly, you actually have to have a proper concept and something interesting to say about it. Conceptual art therefore, with one or two notable exceptions, tends to attract artists who have a particular combination of abilities, namely they aren't very good at art and they don't really have much of a concept.

This school of contemporary art was represented in the museum by a series of very badly taken photographs, each of which had a white object in it (a mattress, a white car, etc). The concept presumably being "Look! There are many white things in the world!" a concept that I feel was more comprehensively explored in that masterpiece of contemporary art "Spot's Big Book of Colours, Shapes and Numbers" where Spot discovers that not only are there many white things in the world but also many green, blue, yellow, round and square things. The visuals are better too.

2 - Self-indulgent Tosh
This was by far the most widely represented genre in the museum and included such gems as a photo of someone shaving off one eyebrow at the start of a train journey. The stunning insight gained being, in the words of the artist, "Some people looked at me strangely but I did make some new friends". Thanks for sharing.

Another example was a badly shot video of a man buying a squid at the market and taking it to the sea to release it.

All in all, the kind of stuff that if some kids do it and post it on You Tube it's just some kids messing about but if it's projected onto the wall of the Contemporary Art Museum it's a thought-provoking exploration of the nature of alienation. Or not.

3 - Experimental Leftovers
You know, just taking some stuff, messing around with it and seeing if something interesting comes out the process. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it's the kind of thing that artists should do in their studios and exhibit if something interesting does come out of it. Many artists didn't seem to bother with the "did anything interesting come out of the process?" question and just display it all anyway.

4 - Kitsch Cack
The kind of stuff that Jeff Koons does. Moving on...

5 - The Good Stuff
This was represented by an excellent retrospective of Kosho Ito. Ito worked in ceramics and spent his whole life working with clay and other similar substances and his work is really about the material itself and about our relationship with the natural world. Nothing more nor less than that really, he works with very simply worked or even unworked clay and yet the presentation of those works is so visually striking that it makes you look anew at something that you would normally take for granted.

The building itself is perfect for displaying work like Ito's with lots of natural light and opportunities different viewpoints and perspective of the work.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tokyo Art 1

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Just some shots of Street Art and some of the artist's cafes and hangouts in the backstreets near Shinjuku. Not much to say about it, it's not the kind of art that tries to say much but it does provide some visual diversity in the city and there's nothing wrong with that.

That place in Tokyo

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Tokyo is a pretty splendid place really, lots going on, interesting nightlife, music, art (more on that later), all the bright lights you could ask for but also plenty of quieter suburbs with a real sense of community. But if you’re ever in Tokyo and find that you’re just enjoying yourself too much and want to put a downer on the whole thing I suggest a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in the centre of Tokyo.

This is the place that Japanese Prime Ministers occasionally visit to howls of outrage from practically every other country in the region and we wanted to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about. The shrine pays tribute to the Japanese war dead since the Meiji period and has two main parts, the shrine itself and the museum. You can go through into the shrine proper if you want to pray, but not having a burning need to pray for the souls of dead fascists we gave that bit a miss.

The museum tells the military history of the last 100 years or so from the point of view of Japan. Of course the history of wars tends to be told by the victors and it is perfectly reasonable for the Japanese to point out that the history of the Second World War (which is the most controversial part of the museum) is more complex than perhaps the Hollywood version might allow but the museum doesn’t take the perspective of saying “OK, we did some terrible things but things are more complex than just that” and instead seeks to deny that Japan did anything wrong and indeed portrays Japan entirely as the victim of aggression by others.

There are some valid points that are made in the exhibition, for example they note the fact (which has also been documented elsewhere) that during the Boxer Rebellion in China that it was widely reported how well-behaved and disciplined the Japanese troops were compared to the raping and pillaging British and American troops. The important question of course is what changed in the intervening years that led to Japanese troops committing such appalling atrocities during the Second World War, but of course the exhibition does not address this question because it completely fails to mention any Japanese wrongdoing at any time. Every single incident where Japanese are mistreated is talked about as an insufferable and unbearable wrong but those who died at the hands of the Japanese are never even mentioned.

The continual attempts to portray Japan as the victim are pretty ludicrous. Apparently, the war with China was forced on Japan by the Chinese obstinately and unreasonably refusing to welcome the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour was caused by the Americans unreasonable refusal to give the Japanese everything they wanted in pre-war negotiations and Japan’s invasion of countries in South-East Asia was forced on Japan by those other countries having resources that Japan really, really wanted (yes, they really couldn’t come up with anything better than that for that section).

The most ridiculous section is the final panel in the museum where it is stated that Japanese action in the Second World War was an inspiration to “other oppressed Asian countries” and even argues that because their experience of Japanese occupation was such a positive and inspiring one it was this that inspired them to set up their own independence movements later on. The panel then has picture of the Asian independence leaders who were supposedly inspired by Japanese militarism, including Ghandi, that well known supporter of violent fascism.

What is particularly disturbing is that this shrine is not some small entity visited by only a few far-right nutters (although a van belonging to one of the far-right parties in Japan was parked inside claiming Yasukuni to be the heart of Japan) but is a huge presence right in the heart of the most prestigious area of the city.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Tokyo Music 4

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The gig we'd planned for the third night was sold out by the time we got round to buying tickets so here's something else instead.

We went over to Harajuku to see the Cosplay kids strutting their stuff on Sunday but as it was raining (and also apparently because there was a Cosplay convention in another part of Tokyo that day) there weren't many Cosplay kids around. However there were large numbers of people heading off across the bridge to something so we followed them to see what it was.

They were on their way to a stadium nearby to buy tickets for a concert by Exile and they were filling the car park, queuing for tickets, making banners etc. Apparently Exile are a popular boy band in Japan. Normally boy bands are artificially constructed things, with five young lads carefully selected to appeal to different female demographics rather than for their musical ability. Judging by the pictures on the side of the tour van Exile have taken this marketing concept to it's logical conclusion and there are fourteen singers in Exile (it's practically a choir ferchrissakes). Presumably this means that they can include somebody to cater for every conceivable female demographic - rather than just the stock five boy band character types (the cute one, the sensitive one, the bit of rough etc.) they can fill in the gaps and include some of the less popular ones to make sure they don't miss any market segment (the slightly creepy one, the middle-aged one, the one who really wanted to be an accountant, perhaps).

A quick google suggests that their strategy has been successful - Exile had three of the top ten selling albums in Japan last year and also we saw many Exile T-shirt wearing ladies around Tokyo, from schoolgirls to grandmothers.

Also included in the photos above are some of the few cosplay kids about that day and some general snaps of Tokyo street fashion in Harajuku.

Tokyo Music 3

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When we looked at the listings it happened that a Japanese artist I knew of was playing at the Pit Inn whilst we were in Tokyo. His name is Otomo Yoshihide and back in the days when I was living in the UK he was well-known on the avant-garde/free improv scene. At that time he was doing a lot of CD cut-up sound collage stuff and although his stuff was experimental and so not always successful it was, at least, always interesting. So when I saw he had organised some gigs in Tokyo whilst we were there I thought that if the 'shot in the dark' gigs didn't prove to be that great at least this was pretty much guaranteed to be interesting. Of course, as is the nature of these things, it didn't really work out that way.

Otomo talked on the website about how he had become interested in experimenting with the use of space in recent performance (having the performers positioned around the audience, amongst the audience, in a separate space etc) but when we arrived at the Pit Inn in Shinjuku the audience was seated in rows behind desks, mainly I guess to maximise the space utilisation in the small venue, but I'm not sure if it felt more like a primary school classroom or perhaps a church with pews. Probably the church metaphor works better as the 'congregation' seemed a pretty dedicated bunch.

The first set was a Zen-like sound poem kind of a thing with a combination of traditional instruments (although unconventionally played) as well as piano, marimba, electronics and some particularly listless percussion. I don't know about you but personally there's only so much Zen tranquility I can take in one sitting before I feel the need to balance my yin/yang by giving someone a clip round the ear but I was happy to see that as a psychological failing on my part and wait for the next exciting installment.

The next set, unfortunately, was even worse. Totally predictable straight-ahead hotel lobby jazz with some superficial 'avant-garde' elements such as pre-recorded sounds and abrupt finishes to tunes that seemed completely tacked-on rather than part of the musical dialogue. The band was led by the pianist from the previous set, playing her compositions of advertising-jingle melodies accompanied by her own vocal witterings. She was joined by a bass player, guitarist and drummer. At one point the guitarist briefly cut loose for about a minute or so and it was clear that he could really play and for a moment I thought that the whole thing had been an elaborate joke and now we were going to hear the real shit but after his brief foray into the world of the living it was back to the plodding jingle-jangle of before, under the watchful eye of the schoolmarm band leader.

After some discussion we decided to stay for the third set, surely things could only get better? Oh no. They could get even worse. The same quartet came out but this time accompanied by Otomo, the listless marimba and electronics players from the first set and, joy of joys, that old chestnut, a vocalist who can't sing for shit. My, how we laughed.

Otomo, Otomo, what the feck happened to you Otomo?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tokyo Music 2

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The last band up were the guys pictured above. To be honest I don't know who they are as everything was a bit chaotic and in Japanese so if there are any Tokyo music scene aficionados out there, feel free to let me know. Musically, if you can imagine a kind of punked up Yeah Yeah Yeahs with a jazz trumpeter, a hippy chick on guitar and a lead singer overly fond of crotch-grabbing and suggestive finger mimes you'll be somewhere in the area. All in all a pretty lively set though which got everybody up and moving.

Overall an interesting first evening in Tokyo.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tokyo Music 1

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Just got back from a long weekend in Tokyo. It was our first time in Tokyo but we wanted to check out the music scene there so we picked three gigs from the listings during the four days we were there and headed out.

First up was a gig at Heaven's Door in Sangenjaya. There were several bands on the bill but the headliners were Ed Woods, billed as a shock rock band. We arrived a bit late having navigated the Tokyo metro and having stopped for some culinary experiences on the way and came in to the small club halfway through the Ed Woods set. The music was pretty intense power trio stuff, with just guitar, amped up acoustic double bass and drums. The music was pretty wild but we wondered what the 'shock' rock element was.

Towards the end of the set the bass player decided to take his troosers off before getting down on the floor behind his double bass for a while (presumably he was doing a Hendrix and playing it with his teeth but it's hard to say). Upon emerging, smeared with blood, he then proceeded to douse himself in liquid from a water bottle. At this point, the thought flashes through your mind "Just how shocking is this shock rock thing? Has he worked himself up into such a frenzy that he's doused himself in lighter fluid and is about to set himself on fire? And, by the way, where are the fire exits?"

Fortunately the next thing to emerge from his bag was not a lighter but some soap and he started to lather himself up. He then performed a unique - in my experience anyway - variation on stage diving where instead of leaping into the welcoming arms of the crowd he instead asked the crowd to part and dived, face first, onto the concrete floor, careening across it like ...... well, like a soaped-up Japanese double bass player in his underpants careening across a concrete floor.

I'm not sure what it all meant but you've gotta appreciate a guy who's prepared to put in a bit of effort to get the crowd going.

More Tokyo music and other random stuff to follow......

Thursday, June 18, 2009

7 million Hong Kongers to be jailed

From the SCMP today:
The 53-year-old man, surnamed Ching, was arrested for "contempt of Legco".
We're all going to jail.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

June 4 (part 3)

Final bit of June 4 stuff:

Cally sent me this video and asked me to share it:

"hi friends, here is a canton pop song about 8964 with English subtitle, just want to let the world know more about it. And, we, Hong Kong people never forget this bloody incident and still asking for chinese government to put it into offical record and face the history. pls forward it to your oversea friends."

Friday, June 5, 2009

June 4 (part 2)

We went to Victoria park for the June 4th vigil last night and it was absolutely packed. I'm sure there will be the normal debates about the numbers (150,000 was the figure being talked about at the park) but regardless of what estimate is made of the number the fact is that Victoria Park was full. There were, quite simply, as many people at the park as you can fit in Victoria Park.

For those of you who know Victoria Park, that means that all the football pitches from the Tin Hau end to the Causeway Bay end were completely packed with people and also the grass areas beyond the pitches. And not just people spread out over those areas but really full, with people climbing up on walls around the entrance just to get a chance to see something and people arriving and giving up because they couldn't get past the entrance.

Encouragingly, there were also many young people there. Of course Donald Tsang's remarks about June 4th in Legco last month helped to motivate people to go and Hong Kong demonstrated as clearly as it is possible to do that they rejected completely the idea that Tsang's view of June 4th "represents the opinion of Hong Kong people in general."

Of course, this being Hong Kong, at the end of the demonstration they turned on the floodlights and people scraped up the candle wax from the football pitches, tidied up and went quietly and peacefully home. Makes me proud to be part of this wonderful city.

[I'll post a few rough and ready photos later; the SCMP photographer got the aerial shot that gives you a good idea of what it was like here and SCMP video footage is here.]

Friday, May 29, 2009

June 4

As June 4 gets closer the usual apologists for the CCP are out and about. Thanks to Hemlock for highlighting this quote from Basic Law Committee member Lau Nai-keung.

“All objective evidence suggests that students dispersed peacefully from the square that night,” he said, citing remarks by hunger strikers Zhou Duo, Hu Dejian and Liu Xiaobo after the incident.

“Nowadays, many Hong Kong people still believe tanks crushed students in the square to death … if the army really did this, it would be a true massacre and would not be forgivable. But it is not what happened that night,” he said, adding that he would not call June 4 a “massacre”, and called on people to view the incident objectively.

Note the careful choice of wording here because what he says is in some respects true but is nevertheless a complete distortion of reality. Western press coverage of the massacre helps the CCP to trot out this line because the press simplified the story, choosing to focus on the ‘brave students massacred in Tiananmen Square’.

When Lau Nai-keung says that objective evidence suggests that students dispersed peacefully from the square when the tanks finally fought their way to the square he is probably correct. The evidence suggests that students, understandably, chose to go home when faced with the reality of being killed. Where he completely distorts reality is by using the CCP strategy of defining the massacre as ‘killing students in the square’ and therefore arguing that the massacre did not happen because students weren’t killed in the square. His mealy-mouthed explanation conveniently neglects to mention that objective evidence also clearly shows that many, many people were killed in the streets around the square, mostly workers trying to protect the students by stopping the tanks from reaching the square.

You’ve got to wonder how the quisling little shit sleeps at night.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


We went to Singapore for a couple of days at Easter. As it happened the hotel we wanted wasn't available and we ended up at the Carlton, which is right next to the new Singapore Management University. This was of interest only because a few years ago me and a classmate, Connie Chu, won a competition to design an art installation for the SMU Library which was funded by Li Ka Shing.

We were originally set the competition brief as an assignment for a typography course and after we had completed it we thought we might as well submit it to the competition as we had already done the work anyway, and we won.

The original design was a large-scale interactive installation (the competition theme was 'Knowledge Reshapes Destiny') where people walking onto the space generated ripples of knowledge in the form of quotations which floated down to reshape the cityscape. The design was technically ambitious and would have been expensive to implement so it was no surprise that when we met the representative of the competition organisers (a well-known HK artist) he said that they liked our design but wanted to explore some alternative ways to implement it. Weirdly, he suggested a mosaic, which is perhaps the dumbest way to implement an interactive installation you could imagine.

Anyway, we went away and spent a lot of time researching other ways to implement the installation that overcame the technical challenges and were low maintenance but retained the interactive element. Most of them were cheaper than installing a mosaic. At our next meeting Mr W asked straight away to see 'the mosaic'. It became clear that the decision had already been taken that the installation would be a mosaic and he wasn't at all interested in the other designs so we rattled off a mosaic design and hoped that we would be able to meet the real decision makers at the site visit we had been promised and change their minds. Of course the site visit never materialised, we never met the organ-grinder, and after some time the installation size and location was also changed at which point I lost interest in the whole thing and pretty much forgot about it.

So when I ended up in a hotel next to the SMU I thought I'd wander over and have a look. Four things struck me about the completed installation:

1) Yes, it's a freakin' mosaic.

2) I guess you could get some limited sense of the original intention of the piece if you step onto the 'ripples' but of course they have put pot plants at either end of the mosaic to discourage even that limited 'interaction'.

3) They have, of course, changed many of the quotes we had originally suggested (in fact, we had originally suggested that there be an input terminal so that students using the library could input their own quotes but we knew that was never going to fly in Singapore). The quotes were from famous thinkers and philosophers but only three thinkers were deemed to be sufficiently important as to warrant more than one quotation, the great thinkers Aristotle, Einstein and ...err, Li Ka Shing, sponsor of the library.

4) The mosaic is pleasant enough but could have been done by any interior designer; why did they bother inviting people to create artwork if that's all they wanted? They could have saved everybody a lot of wasted time by just asking an interior designer to make a mosaic for them in the first place.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


C went to China for an exchange trip so me and the missus took the opportunity to make one of our periodic attempts to recapture our youth and went to HK Live at the Fringe Club. There are usually three bands at a HK Live gig and of course you can usually count yourself lucky if one of them is any good but I have to say that this time it was a pretty solid event with three contrasting but excellent bands; Poubelle International, local band The Lovesong and The Bigger Bang from Beijing.

Poubelle were a good contrast with the more serious Lovesong, playing a tight, relatively lighthearted set of short, crisp songs. Lovesong were excellent and more intense and serious. Although I couldn't make out what he was singing (you know what these young people are like) the lead singer was clearly concerned about something and it was good that he got it off his chest. Gratuitous sarcasm aside, they were great. Last up was the Beijing band The Bigger Bang. Somewhat charmingly, the young lady on vocals was so nervous about her first appearance in Hong Kong that she had gotten completely pissed before coming on stage (don't Beijingers know that nowadays we're the ones who are scared of them?). Anyway, they took a little time to get going but by the end had got into their stride and even managed to get the crowd sufficiently excited to get a bit of what I believe the young people call a 'moshpit' going, led by the young lads from local band Inisfallen if I'm not mistaken.