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[Cover Story]In art we pace urban development

Local artist swims against the current of development and turns Sik On Street into his gallery.

You can be an artist by simply walking along the dimmed pedestrian of Sik On Street, an inner lane tucked in Hong Kong's elite Wan Chai and secluded from the busy Queen's Road East it intersects with. Your steps will be sculpting "rivers and mountains" on the clay and plaster spread on the floor by local artist Mr Carl Cheng Chi-ming as part of a site-specific exhibition, The Legends.

The artist said the steps of passersby coming and going would be shaping and re-shaping the originally flat ground covered with clay and plaster, symbolising the ongoing development and re-development of the city.

The interactive exhibition was installed to respond to the city's "over-development", said Mr Cheng.

Interactive art installation with iron sandal and pot with clay
Interactive art installation with iron sandal and pot with clay

"Once I asked a pupil whether he had comprehended the art piece. He nodded and said, ‘I was building the city and destroying it," he recalled.

Public art expert Dr Stella Tang Ying-chi said community participation had brought the artwork alive and made its idea behind easier for ordinary people to relate to.

"Artistic creations that are inspired by fragments of life or relate to everyday living can enhance the public's understanding of the artwork," she said.

Local artists felt the tentacles of urban development had reached Sik On Street when the Lands Department said last September a site on the street had been sold for $139 million for a private residential development.

Mr Cheng speculated that the development, which was restricted to no more than 12-storey tall, would be a luxury apartment building.

Armed with art, the artist protests in silence.

Mr Cheng attached a white wing handicraft piece to the chicken wires marking the edges of the development's construction site, inspired by the Greek mythology of Icarus. The fabled man soared up high in the sky with a pair of wings constructed from wax and feather and ended up in the sea when the wax melted under the scorching sun.

Mr Cheng said he placed the wing to question the extent to which people were pushing the boundaries of their existence.

A curtain emblazoned in black and white with the pictures of seven metropolises was seen dropping from a window of a shop on the street, once crammed with printing workshops and curtain stores. It was both a throwback to the street's past and a test on whether people could still tell one city from another given the worldwide urban development that had eroded histories that made each city unique, according to the artist.

Under a four-storey-tall banyan tree, Mr Cheng has installed a piece of artwork showing an axe hacking into a round brass plate. The idea was drawn upon a Chinese folk tale in which Wu Gang, the Chinese equivalent of Sisyphus, was condemned by the Jade Emperor for chopping a self-healing cherry tree on the moon for trying to be an immortal, said Mr Cheng.

The art piece had laid bare how excessive desires could end up being self-destructive, he said.

The artist doubts the property developer would keep its words to leave the tree alone, so does Mr Ryan Lee Kwok-wang, who has been working on the street for three and a half years.

Mr Lee lamented it was just a matter of time before the street was forced into change and development.

"If the tree is cut down and the street is re-developed, Hong Kong will have few quiet yet low-rent places left," he said.

Mr Cheng agrees. "Sometimes people have lunch on the steps and play with stray cats down the tree," he said. "But apparently this place cannot defend itself from development."


Reported by Annie Lee

Edited by Giselle Chan

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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