Founded in 2000, Hong Kong Art School has helped fulfilled the dreams of many art lovers. Carl Cheng Chi Ming is one of the typical examples. An excellent student in business administration, Carl followed his love for art and ventured into the field of design, accomplishing impressive achievements and eventually sold his design business. He has been creating many works and entered various competitions. His works have been shortlisted by Philippe Charriol Foundation Art Competition as well as many others. While the local art scene was heating up with great excitement in 2006, he began studying in the Master of Fine Art program.
Needless to say, Carl is deeply in love with creative work. He was under my tutelage while studying in the Master of Fine Art program. Incidentally, his wife Alice Choi was also working on the Bachelor program. Armed with the basic training she got from her undergraduate studies, Alice was more at ease with the art lingo. However, It did not take long for Carl to catch up, and graduated with distinction. After graduation, he continued to do creative work. Besides organizing his own exhibitions, he tirelessly seeked out the support of various organizations, earning him a number of awards. Other than his teaching responsibilities, it is safe to say that Carl devotes most of his time to artistic creation.
In Hong Kong, there is no shortage of lovers of the art, that which the public considers to be beautiful. Those. like Carl, who frequent exhibitions, in contrast, are the ones who are immersed in the creative business or into making things they enjoy. Having taught in many schools, I have met many young friends who study art for the same reason of hoping to do what they like, while many adult students of the art carry with them the unfulfilled art dreams of their youth. Many veteran artists or those among my peers are excellent designers and yet they have not forgotten the words “Fine Art.” I am thinking about Kan Tai Keung, Lau Siu Hong and Anothermountainman (Stanley Wong) and the like, who continue their pursuit of fine art while engaging in design work. Another characteristic of an adult artist is their professional knowledge and life experience, something that sets their works apart from their younger counterparts.
First there is Hong Kong Art School, then the Master level courses of Hong Kong Baptist University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, all of which allow a group of adult artists to seek the freedom to express. Is the contemporary art scene reflecting the works of these careerchanging artists?
I was discussing some issues of art with Carl back in April 2014, during which he expressed disappointment with the lack of vision in contemporary art which he considers as too market driven, done for the sake of art critics and artists while neglecting to speak to our times and to inspire humanity. The setup of contemporary art has been globalized. Besides concerning itself with the culture and the arts, it is now closely associated with economics, society, politics, international relationship, etc. The boundaries are blurred beyond recognition. The Hong Kong approach of promoting international art emphasizes the industrial and market effects. Being the tiny territory that Hong Kong is, it is easy to gather resources to focus on a single pattern/mindset and demand, while art as the pursuit of humanity’s quest for knowledge and human quality may just be the notion of the mellow members of the general public. Perhaps this is what has been lost in this great society of Hong Kong. Adult artists wishing to present their works to mainstream system of art or the masses will need to garner more courage and perseverance. Carl’s attitude in his pursuit of art is a good example.
Edward Glaeser stated in his book Triumph of the City1 that resource sharing makes densified cities the ideal places to live as well as being the most environmentally friendly and convenient. His book provides a different angle for urban development. Nevertheless, an increasing number of contemporary Hong Kongers long for self-sufficient country living. Carl concurs that unbridled construction and expansion in the city has not brought about a better life for the people but is restraining the natural development of humanity. His work began with exploring building material used in the city. A Maze, his opus created in 2008, employed an enormous amount of wood to create an installation piece tall enough to tower over the audience when they walk in. In 2013, the focus of his work shifted from an overall narrative about the city to the tiny community of Sik On Street. This exhibition extended from indoor to outdoor, connecting a locale where Carl lived and worked for eight years, and expressing the sadness caused by urban revitalization and the disappearance of old neighbourhoods.
Sik On Street is a tiny street in Wan Chai. When viewed from the outside, it is merely a small entrance between buildings. Once you emerge from the other side, there are old, low-rise buildings on one side, and the other side newer ones on one section, while leaving behind an undeveloped site described by the media as “microscopic.” In the middle there is a flight of stairs for the local residents. What kind of community is this? A friend of mine once came to this area to work, sharing part of Carl’s art studio and began to develop rapport with what looked like a strayed cat. As time went by, things changed and a sense of loss emerged from this human-feline friendship. Because of this cat, the locals had more opportunities to interact and reach out to one another. In fact, there are many street cats loitering along Sik On Street. They are part of this community. Although they seem to roam around on their own, many in the community take care of them, feeding them and taking them to the vet. One of the meal stops was set up right outside Carl’s studio. After moving in, my friend got acquainted with a sick cat. A bond was forged with the cat as well as the local community.
In his Reading Rosewell–Community ,Identity and Inner-city Derby4 published in 1993, George Revill used the small community of Rosewell to discuss the uniqueness of community. Through participation and interaction, a special character of the community is formed. All the stories become the collective memory of those who have ever lived there. This collective memory and a local/territorial identity is what Hong Kongers have been searching for and trying to preserve in recent years. In 2013, Carl used his experience living in a small community as a commentary on urban development. Sik On Street provided him with memory he would savour for a long time. Eight years is a short period of time for constructing a social/cultural identity. My friend worked in this pinhead of a place for a much shorter period. Yet on the human level, this past community life is no less an unerasable emotion and memory.
Edward Glaeser’s statements should not be seen as buttress for urban development. Rather, it is worth considering what is the ideal way for cities to develop, especially concerning the development of small local communities.
My (Our) Creation
Carl describes himself as someone who is “rational in creative work but sentimental when it comes to feelings.”5 At first glance, his works are fairly rational, a sign that he is being influenced by the mindset of a “designer”–he would start with a concept/predetermined theme, then proceed to find a suitable method to present the content. Such approach has shaped many contemporary installation and conceptual art works. To explain in depth how the thought of a “designer” is compiled into a reasonable narrative, to express the issue of cultural identity, or how it may be compatible with the content/theme/concept, please refer to the discussion on “designer’s concept” in “Deterritorialization—the Arbitrariness of Cultural Identity”6 by Frank Vigneron. The article attempts to analyze how any cultural participant can accelerate the formation of cultural identity, something which normally takes eons to form, through one’s subjective desire and hanging “youthful” “habits” onto “cultural BwO” (BwO, Body without Organs). This ‘designer concept” is also applicable to the methodology used in some creative contemporary art. In the understanding of traditional art, artistic language and style are formed after long gestation period of creative works; much of contemporary art borrows from drifting elements/commonalities. Immature as they may be, these elements, when superimposed on specific “objects” or “subjects” and in conjunction with various narratives being generated from the theme, become a legitimate interpretation. From the perspective of creativity, after repeated mutual rejections, “youthful habits” and “cultural BwO” will produce a new format. That, of course, is dependent upon the competence and techniques of the creator.
While discussing about art during my interview with Carl, he admitted to being affected by design mentality. Nevertheless, he puts a strong emphasis on participation in his work, something I believe to be a direction with much potential for the development of the art. Works such as Worn Out (2012) and Is it to be Continued? (2013) utilize the iron shoes as a symbol of human urban cultural development. Carl invites the viewers to wear iron shoes to trample freely on the mud in order to experience how manmade concrete jungle is destroying the land. Although the iron shoes have been used repeatedly, the intended symbolic meaning may not be apparent to the viewers immediately. What may most likely come to the mind of many Chinese viewers could be the saying from the Sung Dynasty that may be translated as “That which is nowhere to be found after wearing out the iron shoes is eventually stumbled upon effortlessly”, or an explanation based on other material. Injecting the element of sharing and letting the viewers to take an active part in the process allows them to decide/discover the meaning of decimation for themselves. The content explored by contemporary art mostly keeps a close pace with living experience, something not beyond the comprehension of the populace. If given the chance to participate, they may experience the meaning first hand. Therefore, beyond the development of the visual elements, there is much room for exploration with the method of presentation for interactive contemporary art.
Carl has expressed with much humility that his creative works is still in the infancy stage. Nonetheless, I have found a lot of potential in the content and the elements of visual expression–the relationship between a small community and individuals, interactivity and the possibility of large scale/total community participation, social concern, Carl’s own undiscovered emotional territory, etc. With his determination and persistence, Carl can create more living art works for the masses.
Dr. Tang Ying Chi, Stella
二○○○年成立的香港藝術學院，圓了很多人的藝/美術夢，鄭志明也是其中的典型例子。志明修讀工商管理，成績優異，但鍾情美術，後來轉向設計工作，成績也很好，且成功地把設計公司賣盤。其間他不斷創作，積極參加各項比賽，從一九九六年開始作品多次入圍Philippe Charriol Foundation Art Competition及其他比賽，二○○六年在滿城藝術熱烘烘的氛圍下開始藝術碩士課程的學習。無可否認，志明是十分喜愛創作工作的。他還在唸香港藝術學院碩士課程時，是筆者指導課的學生；同時，他妻子蔡穎思也正在讀學士課程。由於學士課程有全面的基礎訓練，相比之下，穎思的藝術語言掌握得較好；然而，志明在學習的後期很快就追上了，並以優異成績畢業。畢業後他仍然繼續創作，除了自行籌備展覽外，並努力去爭取不同機構的支持，獲得了不少獎項。可以說，志明在教畫的工作之餘，就是把大部分時間投放在藝術創作上。香港這個城市有不少人喜歡美術，所謂美術，在大眾心目中就是美麗的東西。像志明一樣終日去看展覽的人，則會是投入創作或創造自己喜歡的東西。筆者任教多間學院，年青的朋友修讀藝術，也是這種心態，希望做到自己喜歡的事情；而成年的藝術學生，更有自己年青時種種未完的藝術夢。前輩/同行藝術家中，也有不少在設計方面相當出色，但仍然念念不忘「藝術」二字的，像靳埭強、劉小康和又一山人等，他們在從事設計工作之餘，繼續自己的藝術追求。成年藝術家的另一特色，就是有自己的專業知識和人生歷練，作品跟年青藝術家
愛德華‧格雷瑟在他的書《城市的勝利》(Triumph of the City ) 提出，密集的城市在資源共用的情況下，是最理想的居住地方，也是最環保以及便利生活和空間使用的。這本書為城市發展提供了另一個角度。然而，更多當代的香港人嚮往鄉土式自主自足的生活，志明也認為城市各種無限制的建設和擴展，不但沒有為人類建設美好的生活，反之是鎖着人類的自然發展。他的創作從探索城中建築物料開始，如二○○八年的作品《迷宮》用大量木材築起超過人身形大小的裝置作品，讓觀者親歷其中。二○一三年志明轉離以城市作為整體的論述，把創作緊繫着一個小社群──適安街。是次的展覽作品由室內延伸至室外，把志明曾經居住和工作八個年頭的地方串連起來，表達作者因城市更新、舊址逐漸消失的愁緒。適安街是灣仔一條非常細小的街道，從外面樓宇與樓宇之間看，只不過像是一個入口而已。進入後一邊是舊而矮的樓宇，另一邊其中一截地方是較新的樓宇，餘下是一個大眾傳媒形容為「蚊型」廢棄未發展的地段，中間是一條讓居民出入的樓梯。這是一個怎樣的社區？筆者有一個朋友，因工作走入這個地區，分享了志明的畫室，並跟其中一隻似是流浪的貓結成朋友；之後，環境變遷，人與貓之間產生了難捨難離的情感，也因着這隻街貓，居民之間多了很多互動與互助的機緣和動態。事緣適安街有很多街貓，這些街貓是社區一份子，牠們好像獨來獨往，但原來社群中許多人都會照顧這些貓的：如給牠們食物，帶牠們去看醫生等。而其中一個食物站位於志明的工作室旁，筆者的朋友就在進駐工作室後認識了其中一隻帶病的貓，跟牠結了不解緣，亦跟那裏的群體連繫了。
George Revill在一九九三年出版的Reading Rosewell – Community, Identity and Inner-city Derby 中，以一個小社群Rosewell去探討社區的獨特性。社群間透過參與和互動，產生有特色的社區身份，種種故事都是曾經在地生活過的人的集體回憶。這個也是近年香港人所期望尋找和保留的集體及可分享的社區/地域身份。二○一三年志明以小社區生活經驗去論述城市的發展，適安街給予他回味無窮的記憶。八年在建構社會/文化身份只是一段短時間，筆者的朋友在該小地土工作，時間比志明更短，但在個人層面去看，過去的社區生活同樣是不可磨滅的情感和記憶。愛德華‧格雷瑟所提出的不應看作是為城市的發展護航，而值得反省的是城市該如何發展，達到最理想的狀態，特別是有關小社區發展的關注。
志明這樣形容自己：「創作上我是偏於理性，情感上我是屬於感性的人。」 乍看其作品，像是相當理性。志明其實是受着「設計師」的思考方式影響：從意念/既定的主題找來適當的表現手法，從而道出其中的內容，這種做法也影響了很多當代的裝置和概念作品。如果要深入地解釋 「設計師」的想法如何可以構成合理的論述，去表達有關文化身份的問題，或如何能符合內容/主題/意念，可參考韋一空在《無領土化──文化身份的反覆無常》 引用「設計師概念」的討論，文章試圖分析：任何文化參與者如何可把原本需要經歷年代才能形成的文化習性，以主觀慾望把雖然是「年青」的「習性」掛在「文化BwO」（BwO, Bodywithout Organs 沒有器官的身體）身上，加速其文化身份的形成。這種「設計師概念」也適用於當代一些藝術創作的做法：在傳統藝術觀念中，藝術語言或風格是需要經歷一段時間的創作才形成的；而很多當代藝術，會把一切甚至浮游不定的元素/共性，挪移運用，這些雖然仍是幼嫩的元素，但放在特定的「物」或「主體」身上，配合各種從主題衍生出來的論述之後，就形成了合理的解說。在創作角度而言，「年輕習性」跟「文化BwO」經反覆排斥，最後也會創造到一種新的形態，這個當然要視乎創作者的功力和手法。
 Keith, Michael & Pile, Steve 1993, Place and Politics of Identity,Routledge.