Hong Kong: Asia’s Art Capital

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When Hong Kong emerged as Asia’s art capital in 2012, some eyebrows were raised. What does a city of bankers and office workers really know about art?

But the ball had started rolling. The lively Chinese metropolis had already been branded Asia’s World City. since 2001. Under its hard and lustrous capitalist shell, it is also known for its vibrant culture of rich Cantonese traditions, a prolific film industry, as well as venerated, ancient Feng Shui practices. Once home to the now demolished Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong’s “dark” and seductive side has captured the imagination of artists around the globe.

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However, Hong Kong’s rise to the top of the art world meant that it had to cast off the pessimism that has haunted it in the last decades. For a start, this historical port city appeared to be more preoccupied with its past glory than with its future potential. Cynics easily dismissed it as merely a money-making machine and a point of transit with no distinct cultural identity. To add insult to injury, professor Ackbar Abbas had famously warned about the death of Hong Kong after the 1997 handover to China. 

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But despite the voices of doubt, Hong Kong in the recent years has proved that it is has what it takes, as it successfully transformed into an exciting art hub and the place to be for creative souls.

And, surprisingly, its money-making capacity served as the catalyst. 

Being a vibrant entrepôt for trade between China and the world, a former colony with long-standing relationships with the West, as well as one of the most iconic vertical cities in the world were all determinants of its artistic proliferation.  

In the years that followed since the Sino-British Joint Declaration there has been an ongoing discourse about Hong Kong Culture and Identity that inevitably derived from the unique political status as “One Country-Two Systems”.  It triggered a process of awakening and self-reflection as well as  a wave of handover angst. In this climate of alertness, the interest in self expression increased, and a new creative vibe took over the city.

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But perhaps the major driving force behind this success has been China’s growing appetite for art, which lead to important investments by new and already established art collectors. As a result, the funding for arts in Hong Kong has nearly doubled since 2008, making Hong Kong the most important arts capital after London and New York.

Events, Galleries and Institutions: In the recent years, Art Basel Hong Kong and its edgier peer, Art Central  placed the city  right in the centre of the international arts scene. With annual shows running yearly and featuring more than 3000 artists, they showcase art from the most established art galleries in Asia and the globe.The brand new M Plus, Hong Kong’s new museum for visual culture that is destined to open in 2019, already presents diverse programmes and “nomadic” exhibitions such as the M Plus Rover, a travelling creative studio that tours at secondary schools and community places.

In addition to these major events, a plethora of local galleries enrich the city’s diverse art scene. Experimental contemporary art space Para Site was founded 1996, preceding Hong Kong’s handover to China, and has since served as one of the most important independent art institutions in Asia. Gallery 10 Chancery Lane showcases work from South East Asia’s emerging artists including Cambodia and Vietnam, and supports established and emerging artists from around the world. 

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What’s more, the city became a hotspot for important foreign galleries that wish to expand globally,such as the White Cube galleries that since 2012 founded its first non UK branch in Hong Kong Central, and has hosted major exhibitions including Damien Hirst and Gilbert&George.

The cultural institution Tai Kwun which is housed in the former Central Police Station, one of Hong Kong’s most iconic colonial buildings, aims to serve as “a cultural brand for Hong Kong”, and is planning to host contemporary art exhibitions, heritage and leisure programmes.

Street Art and Public Art: In a climate of unprecedented proliferation of creative ideas, local and international street artists scramble to put their mark on Hong Kong. Recent projects include transforming a worn-down dirty building in Sham Shui Po into a rainbow-coloured three dimensional work of art by Madrid based Spanish artist Okuda, as well as eye-catching graffiti brightening up the streets at the annual graffiti festival Hong Kong Walls. Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto transformed a moving tram into a work of art in his work Debris .

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Public Art Hong Kong (PAHK) is a leading public art promoting organisation which strives to make public art accessible to all, while its vision is  to enhance the quality of life of the people in Hong Kong by bringing excellent contemporary art that offers impactful experiences to the people and the cityscape.”  It promotes several temporary and ongoing projects in collaboration with the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

Being such an important part of the city life, the Hong Kong public art scene has proved that it has the maturity and confidence to embrace challenges. From a giant inflatable rubber duck floating in the Harbour by Dutch artist Florentijin Hofman, to  Anthony Gormley’s rooftop sculptures, Hong Kong welcomes bold projects.

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In 2016’s Event Horizon, Gromley installed 31 “naked” men sculptures on rooftops in Central, often letting passerby people to think that they were humans attempting suicide. Even though the exhibition was no doubt controversial, it was the most extensive public art installation ever seen in the city.

Hong Kong is not only a famous tourist destination and a dynamic architectural hotspot, but a culturally rich and diverse Asian city, whose art scene is enriched and organic. 

To those who love the city, Hong Kong is a time capsule that is transforming into a large, vibrant and colourful art piece.  All eyes are on Hong Kong hoping to see more exciting cutting edge art originating in this unique Chinese city.

A newfound appreciation for Sex and the City 2

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When Sex and the City 2 was released a few years ago it was a huge letdown to the SATC fans around the world. Those who, like me, grew up watching the popular 90’s show had high expectations that the second movie (and the first one too as a matter of fact) would measure up to the original epic series with similar wit and spirit.

But the outcome was disappointing, to say the least. In the second movie the characters come across as extremely shallow and selfish, even though none of them any longer has to deal with the single New York gal drama. The scenario is lazy and does not do any favours to the weak storyline maimed by constant bitching and navel gazing. For all I know, It could have been an episode of “the Real Housewives of New York”. I remember watching the film in a London theater thinking it cannot get any worse than that.

I won’t get into more details about how bad an impression it made. I have read some pretty aggressive reviews, including some really angry bloggers taking it out on the web. SJP gets a lot of the slamming (as she did anyway during the series) and if you ask me she does not deserve it. If anything it is her solid acting that makes Carrie look exactly as she is supposed to: self centred, childish and selfish.

And then last night when I put my-tired- feet on the sofa and watched it for a second time it finally dawned on me. You see, the real SATC finished in Paris on that very well made last season finale. There is nothing else to say after that, because the whole point for the existence of the show was the single girls’ game and the (dis)enchantment. Once that problem is settled, you get Real Housewives. So what was the film about? The film (no doubt made for profit by the producers) was what we could call Carrie’s Dream: A dream or a fantasy single girl Carrie has one particularly hot Summer afternoon in her tiny New York apartment: a dream of lavish apartments , glamorous parties and designer clothes, as well as luxurious jets awaiting to fly her and her chums to exotic faraway places, and the only worry in sight the struggle to keep the sparkle alive between her and the man of her dreams. And mostly the very challenged idea throughout the original series that you can afford a collection of Manolos (among other designer names) on a columnist stipend.(A day’s work typically including lunch out with the girls, popping to Gucci to treat yourself with a pair of shoes or a bag, and lots of strolling around town with a cappuccino in hand). Those who have read the original book by Candace Bushnell may snort ironically right now. You see, there was little doubt how Carrie could afford her Manolos and it surely wasn’t because she was paid generously for her writing.

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So therefore Carrie’s dream starts way before the film Sex and the City 2 was made: Her life as a writer in NYC already belongs to an imaginary realm. Which makes SATC 2, as a romantic poet would say “A Dream within a Dream”.

The cues pointing to my dream theory are numerous. The most obvious of course the fact that the film does not take itself seriously. It does not even try to become more real or inclusive but proudly displays its over the top aesthetic. Garish gay wedding with bonus Lisa Minelli performance? Check. Handsome butlers in $22,000 a night suites? Check. Last minute Christian Dior shopping to ride a camel?Check. At the end of the day it becomes 146 minute trip to Wonderland where you are requested to leave your brain at the door (you won’t need it anyway) and indulge in this purely eye candy experience.

In the beginning of the film Big and Carrie snuggle up in the hotel bed and watch black and white movies on the tv. Here we are also reminded not to get too stressed or too eager to identify with either of them. (Not that it is possible for any human being to identify with Big, I mean the guy does not even have a name during the series). Carrie and Big are just another version of old movies’ characters: Cary Grant and the Hitchcock blonde. You are allowed to escape to that New York city with them, avoiding comparisons, expectations and disappointments. You are allowed to leave your lousy day at the door: that colleague that treated you badly,your money problems, your tired thoughts about life. You are allowed to indulge, two feet on the sofa and a glass of wine on the side. You are allowed to sneer and snort ironically and with delight. And go to bed at night to dream of faraway places too.

And that’s what happened to me after a physically and mentally strenuous day, I put my feet up and I let go. I ended up enjoying watching Sex and the City 2, and in my mind, I finally got it.

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A trip to Oslo and how Norway compares with Sweden

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Last weekend I made my virgin trip in the Norwegian capital Oslo. In my mind I expected to see a mini version of Stockholm: beautiful high arched older buildings in the heart of the city and in the outskirts gigantic highrises, mainly 70s housing projects of the Million House Programme.
Instead I encountered completely different scenery. My first impression was that nature and urban space seemed to co-exist in balance with each other. During our train journey from the airport to the city I could see small communities here and there existing in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature.
Exploring the city later, I realized that Oslo is filled with neo modern architecture which often uses elements of Feng Shui.
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Residential area art

Residential area art


The presence of water is meant to incorporate natural elements into this brand new community

The presence of water is meant to incorporate natural elements into this brand new community. In this pic Skywalker and little Alia strolling by the water


Feng Shui?

Feng Shui anyone?

So my impressions when comparing Oslo to Stockholm are:

As I just said the city is an oasis of architectural projects that you normally would not expect to see in a place that small (the population of Norway is half of Sweden). In this sense you get to see buildings that stand out, instead of buildings that(like in a place like conformity loving Sweden) all look the same. Generally there was the impression of a more European sense of individuality and uniqueness so unlike Sweden where you strongly feel you should either adopt the ways of the north or die.
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Oslo is more expensive that Stockholm ( at least 20%). Yes, I know we are talking about one of the richest countries in the world. I was amazed when on two occasions the waiter in the place we had dinner appeared to be expecting us to leave a tip. I am sure he earned a huge salary, was fully insured and received something like 2 months of paid holiday leave from his job. (ok I am exaggerating a bit but he surely must suspect that many of the tourists he serves food to are poorer than him. This weird thought struck me after waiting in the queue at a Trip Advisor endorsed restaurant and chatting with two American ladies behind me, who after learning that I am Greek they bluntly observed how expensive this restaurant must be for me. I was too polite to make the same observation about them. )

Norwegian people are friendly and smile to strangers. This is a first in Scandinavia. In Stockholm smiling or talking to strangers makes you a loony. (as it does back home but for slightly different reasons, you are supposed to assault them instead or at least give them angry looks). The people we met seemed so genuinely kind and helpful, even people who looked like they had immigrant backgrounds (and thus kinda expect them to look glum and reserved) seemed chatty and relaxed and spoke to us. (On one occasion in a Middle Eastern supermarket four different people came and spoke to or stroked our baby.) In general people looked happy, there I said it. Also Norwegians had something that I cannot explain well in words, a kind of positive vibe. (Except from that mean security woman at the airport on my way back who declared I was chosen for a random security check and gave me the most intrusive, hostile hands search, she even put her nasty hands in my jeans).

The food was more expensive but it was better. We tried everything, from the expensive to the middle eastern pizza. The bad was much better than the bad in Stockholm and the good was top marks. Whoever says that Norway has no variety of food in the supermarkets because it is not a member of the EU speaks nonsense. We went two times in two different markets and the variety of things like fruits and veg was the same as Sweden. (In the middle Eastern supermarket it was much better in fact.)
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Alcohol is not sold in the supermarkets. Exactly like Sweden’s Systembolaget, there was a special governmentally owned chain that sold anything over 4% of alcohol. Shame, it make you suspect that this sunny fun loving culture transforms into snow covered red eyed monsters in the Winter strolling through the streets in the darkness of the day in search for comfort booze.

We were blessed with excellent weather so maybe that was also a crucial factor shaping the positive experience.

The city center was filled with happy crowds and even a day after the bank holiday it still felt completely like a holiday. (No business looking people walking around and offices were empty, I am best guessing EVERYONE had informally taken the day off, ha!). The parks in the city center were filled with artists and several choirs who performed for people.

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An interesting fact about working in Norway that I found out recently: There is a compulsory unpaid 4 week summer shutdown in July as everyone is supposed to be away on holidays. The staff is however encouraged to save money by having a part of their salary withheld during the year especially to cater for this month.
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Which one prevails?Urban space or nature?

Which prevails more: Urban space or nature?

To be fair with Sweden there seems to be many lifestyle similarities between the two countries from the info I get from expat blogs about Norway. The majority of expats complain about the same things that almost all expat here complain about: They never make local friends as locals sticks to their high school friends, in the workplace people avoid confrontation and instead take problems directly to the boss, and generally people shun initiative and individuality.

So is it a favorite holiday destination? Definitely. I would visit Oslo again if I had the chance in the future and I would make sure to pick a warm month of the year so that I could enjoy this beautiful city one more time.
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