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Taking part: participatory art and the emerging civil society in Hong Kong

Author: Stephanie Cheung, University of the Arts London
Published Date: 1 June 2015

As civil society grows in post-colonial Hong Kong, participatory art has registered a heightened local consciousness, the desire to be autonomous and attempts to resist various kinds of hegemony in the 2000s and the 2010s. This essay aims to provide an empirical base for further studies by examining exemplary works, namely Complaints Choir of Hong Kong, Stephanie Sin’s Super Warm, Kacey Wong’s Instant Skyline, artwalker’s West 9 Dragon and the practice of Woofer Ten. I analyse how committed artists have treated form with an openness that is critical for art to take a more active part in society.

An anonymous comment was made on a message board at an exhibition of municipal public art at the Hong Kong City Hall in 2002. Directed against a note declaring that ‘art is priceless’, scribbles in red complained that at a time when ‘so many people were jobless’ (Hong Kong was at an economic low point after the stock market crash in 1997), the point was ‘nonsense’ and ‘idiotic’. 1 Though this may have been an isolated comment, it was symptomatic of how art and value were perceived. That art meant something to this society, especially in challenging times, was not commonly recognized. The situation has changed notably over the past decade. Socially minded artists have ventured into the public arena, and their practice has run in parallel with intense developments in civil society.

This social turn was linked with the urge to reclaim agency, and prior to that, resistance to a status quo that has become increasingly problematic to an awakened post-colonial consciousness. Many have argued that...

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