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A complicated emotion

http://www.chinareviewnews.com   2013-07-25 18:06:09  


It is always interesting to see a person who cannot understand a word of Cantonese singing Canto-pop in a karaoke club. What's funnier is that it happens all the time. 

Last Sunday, Janet Fong, curator of a new exhibition A Better Tomorrow at the Yan Club Art Center in Beijing, shared her own similar experience at the opening of the exhibition. 

"They (mainlanders) can sing songs by Alan Tam or Leslie Cheung and they are also familiar with many Hong Kong television series," Fong said, describing the reason she decided to put on an exhibition related to Hong Kong's mass culture. 

In Fong's view, although the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong did not communicate as much 20 or 30 years ago, "there was a collective memory for both sides."
 
For the first Hong Kong-themed contemporary art exhibition in the 798 Art Zone, Fong invited 11 artists from both the mainland and Hong Kong to present their understanding of the title A Better Tomorrow, referring to the popular film directed by John Woo, featuring Chow Yunfat, Leslie Cheung and Ti Lung. 

The result seems to have revealed much more than the given topic. 

A better past
 
A Better Tomorrow (1986) was one of the most popular films back in the day. All the stars were icons of China's pop culture in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Films were only part of Hong Kong's cultural influence in the last century. For several decades, whatever was popular in Hong Kong would soon become a hot topic in the mainland. 

Fong wrote in the introduction for the exhibition that the impact of Hong Kong's mass culture "on personal values, culture, and even on values of love and consumerism, unintentionally exert a great influence on the lives of both mainlanders and Hong Kong people."
 
The hairstyles, fashion trends as well as a Guangdong-styled Putonghua were all things that people were willing to learn in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Now, the spotlight is gone. Most mainlanders still only know the names of those Hong Kong stars they saw on TV in the last century. 

"It's not as good as the 1980s," said Marco Chan, a lecturer for visual communications design at China Central Academy of Fine Arts. 

He finds that it is common in Hong Kong now to find many artworks depicting a yearning for the past. 

Hong Kong artist South Ho also told the Global Times that Hong Kong seems to have stagnated since its return to China in 1997, especially when compared to South Korea and Japan. Meanwhile, the mainland is in a process of massive development. 

Ho gave an example that television show The Voice of China is popular in Hong Kong. 

"The mainland has so many talents. But another reason is that we only have two entertainment channels and it didn't change: No competition, no improvement. I think we created today's situation," said Ho. 

"It's inevitable," Fong said, explaining that Hong Kong was a window of China in the 1970s and 1980s for culture as well as trade. 

Now, more Putonghua songs can be heard in Hong Kong. Films are also shot in both places featuring actors from both sides. "Mass culture is from the public and the potential of 1.3 billion people is huge," she said.
 
Uncertain identity
 
For Hong Kong people, feelings about the glorious past also lead to doubts and complicated emotions toward today's Hong Kong. 

On one hand, many things have changed, but on the other, values and ideologies remain the same.
 
For instance, a direct translation of A Better Tomorrow's Chinese name is "true colors of heroes." Thus, different understandings of the concept of "hero" became the main topic for artists from both sides in their panel discussion. 

A common difference is that among Hongkongers, there is no clear image of what constitutes a hero - that is, anybody can be a hero. Whereas in the mainland the traditional concept of hero is hugely promoted as one who can sacrifice his own interests to accomplish great deeds for the majority. 

"It is a difference between individualism and collectivism," said Fong. 

The changed and unchanged aspects of Hong Kong's culture and people's understanding of history provide inspiration for the artists.
 
According to Hong Kong artist Chow Chun Fai, the film A Better Tomorrow is inspired by an earlier film with the same Chinese name but a different English name: Story of a Discharged Prisoner.
 
For this exhibition, Chow picked two scenes from each film and used industrial paints to recreate an old poster's texture for his work. 

Sharing a similar idea, the two scenes represent a struggle between the character's good and evil side with lines like, "It's easy to steal a thousand wallets, but it's difficult to return one," and "We were scolded when we were bad, but now that we try to be good we are being tracked."
 
Chow said it's the same theme from different time periods, representing the emotion of Hong Kong: "an uncertainty of one's identity."
 
He finds that demonstrating students sometimes hold signs using words like "colony," but in fact most of them never experienced the colonial history. 

"I used to think that the issue of identity should not be a problem after Hong Kong's return, but I realized that it has only begun," he said. 

Finding a position
 
In the exhibition, Marco Chan's work includes two parts: an interactive installation that allows the audience to see their backs, and a shutter that separates the space where his installation was placed. 

Chan explained that the shutter concept suggests that people in Hong Kong and the mainland are still looking at each other through a shutter.
 
Mainland artist Shen Shaomin's work Before I See You is the most attractive one in the exhibition hall. 

It is a big board with lines and shapes for visitors to fill in with different colors. Each area is coded so the audience fill in the right colors. 

"We don't know what it is until people fill in the colors by following the rules. It then becomes a mainlander's impression of Hong Kong," said Shen. But in filling in the colors, some people reject the rules. "Same as Hong Kong, which is never perfect." 

For Fong, such artworks and communications between artists are ways of learning from each other. 

"We respect the feelings about the past, but it is also important to understand today's Hong Kong and find a position. I am interested to see what artists born after 1985 in the mainland and Hong Kong will offer in the future," said Fong.

From: Global Times
By:Liao Danlin

相关网址: Global Times

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