Inke Arns on Fri, 6 Oct 2000 18:36:48 +0200

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Syndicate: Part I -- Travel Report Hong Kong and New Zealand

Travel Report: From China to New Zealand. Or: ?So, you must know Vera Yu?"
Observations made in Hong Kong, Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland, 16
September - 1 October 2000

- Part I - (Part II follows in the next mail)

by Inke Arns <>

[This text will soon be online at including
some photos taken in HK and NZ]

[Note: I was invited by the Goethe-Institute Wellington to give a series of
lectures on current media art projects in Germany. Between 16 September and
1 October 2000 I gave two different lectures in Hong Kong, Wellington,
Christchurch and Auckland. The first lecture focused on ?Net art in the
1990s and some recent video art productions", and the second one dealt with
?Artists appropriating corporate identities, working with the notions of
the machinic / the machine, and networks and artists groups in Germany and
Europe (including some information about the most important festivals and
events in Europe)". I used visual material from the following two
publications: ?Media Art Interaction. The 1980s and 1990s in Germany", ed.
by Rudolf Frieling and Dieter Daniels, prod. by Goethe-Institute and
Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM), Karlsruhe, 2000 [book and
CD-ROM] and ?update 2.0. Current media art from Germany", Goethe-Institute
and Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM), Karlsruhe, 2000
[catalogue]. Both of these publications can be obtained directly from the
Goethe-Institute in Munich <>]

What follows are my personal impressions.

Hong Kong 17 September 2000, 6 p.m.

After having left Frankfurt/Germany yesterday, 16 September 2000 at 2 p.m.
(I actually left Berlin at 6 a.m.), we arrive in Hong Kong on time after
approximately 10 hours of flight. The flight was OK; I had expected it to
be much worse. 7:05 a.m., touchdown at Hong Kong?s new airport Chek Lap
Kok. It is built on an artificial island. Yes, an artificial island,
created next to the Lantau island. Well, where the airport is now there
used to be a small island with a monastery. For building the airport there
was a need to ?re-claim" land, and so, I guess, they must have piled up
tons and tons of stones and earth on top of that small island with the
monastery ....

I take the Airport Express to Hong Kong Central and then a taxi to the
hotel. Interestingly, I do not feel tired at all. The Goethe Institute has
reserved a hotel room for me in one of the high rising hotels in Wanchai
where I arrive at 8:30 a.m. Floor Number 13, Room number 13. I say to the
room boy: Oh, that?s my lucky number, hey? He smiles at me, hesitatingly.

In the hotelroom I feel really tired and get a nap. Two hours after, at
noon, I leave the hotel; there is so much to be seen. Also, the clouds have
cleared up a little bit. When I look at the city, especially the living
quarters which are actually crammed 40-floor high rise buildings, from the
train, or from my hotel window on the 13th floor, I see Blade Runner city
in its purest form out there. Or, maybe, this is William Gibson city.

I walk through Central District, downtown Hong Kong. There are all these
famous buildings, e.g. Foster?s Hong Kong Bank and Pei?s Bank of China.
There?s a multiplicity of traffic layers superimposed on top of each other.
Lanes for buses, trams, cars, pedestrians (!). Pedestrians even have their
own bridges. The famous building by Foster is closed (it is Sunday). But
there are thousands and thousands of Phillipine women sitting on the
"floor" of, or below, the building. They are also everywhere else in
downtown Hong Kong. It is incredibly loud. They have pickniques together,
prepare some BBQ, chat, meet, whatever. On the next day I am told that they
are there because it is their only day off. Philippine women seem to be
cheap labour forces here in Hong Kong. As I see later, in a book shop, one
of them wrote a book about how they started to fight for their rights. 

My first overall impression of Hong Kong is that there is no public space.
Everything looks like Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. OK, there are some public
spaces, but very few. Most of the seemingly public spaces are in fact
corporate spaces. A gloomy future, because, indeed, Hong Kong is the
future. It seems. I discuss this later with Vera Yu from the
Goethe-Institute. She partly agrees, but only partly. For sure there is
much corporate space, but people also use that space (and they are allowed
to do so) and make it their own space, temporarily, of course. Like these
Phillipine women I saw on the streets of downtown Hong Kong on Sunday.
Nobody chased them away. The city even blocked a street for them to allow
activities on that very street.

Sunday. The air is incredibly hot and damp. Like the tropical house in the
Berlin Zoo. Over 30 degrees. And there?s at least 99% humidity in the air.
Actually, the problem is not so much the high temperature and the humidity,
but rather the air conditioning systems at work everywhere. I was told to
always carry a scarf and a pullover with me, just in case I enter a bus, or
a building. Sunday. I decide to get some fresh air and walk to the peak
tram station near St. John?s Cathedral. The church is amazing in two ways:
With its Victorian style it is completely alien to its surroundings (or
should I say the surroundings which are much younger don?t fit to that old
fashioned Church style?). Second, inside where one would expect big
candelabers there are incountable ventilators hanging from the ceiling,
rotating at an incredible speed. It seems almost as if the ceiling is about
to be lifted from earth (this reminds me of the Tadshik film "Luna Papa"
which I saw recently where the crazy brother of the main actress secretly
builds a ventilator-elevating roof which at the end of the film allows his
sister to escape the mad village crowd). 

The eight minute ride with the peak tram ends just below, or near, the
Victoria peak which is situated 552 meters above sea level. The view down
on downtown Hong Kong, or, more precisely, the Central District, Western
District, Wanchai and Causeway Bay, all located on the Hong Kong Island
itself, is simply stunning. You can see Kowloon on the other side of the
harbour as well, but it is not the same. The high rises on this side look
like needles, like giant asparagus sticking in the air. The noisy city
retreats, as you can hear it only very remotely. The city and its urban
sound background is down there. A distant groaning. I turn around and,
behind the inevitable shopping center and the amusement hall I see lots of
green. The steep mountain is covered by a forest, and what a forest. There
are all kinds of exotic plants (well, exotic for me ;). I decide to walk
around the peak. For many Hong Kong citizens this walk around the peak
which gives you that stunning view of 360 degrees down on the city while
being within nature seems to be one of the favourite Sunday afternoon
activities (still, there are less people than in the inevitable shopping
center mentioned before. I am quite happy about that). The walk around the
peak takes me 90 minutes. It is longer than I had expected it to be, and my
feet start hurting. 

Once I am back at the tram station I decide to get some lunch / dinner. A
small Sate and a water cost 150 HK$ (= 50 DM, or 25 US$). This is complete

Later that afternoon I take the old Hong Kong Island tram to the Western
District, an old shopping district. Hong Kong?s biggest markets are located
here. There are also small streets which do not run parallel to the
mountain, but which climb the mountain in a very steep way, almost like a
ladder (Ladder Street). Here are Hong Kong?s ?antique" shops. I think you
could find any kind of antiques here. Because, in fact, in Hong Kong even
the authentic looking ?antiques" are fake. No shortages. Take giant buddha
heads, for example. Unfortunately I was a bit late, it was about 6 p.m.,
and most of the shops were already closed. The old Hong Kong double decker
tram on the island ? and it is really old ? dates back to the beginning of
the century. One ride costs 2 HK$, i.e. approx. 80 Pfennig.

Hong Kong, 18 September 2000, midnight

The morning newspaper reports about a missing autistic boy. The 15 year old
Man-hong, who is said to have the mental age of two, disappeared three
weeks ago after being separated from his mother at the Kowloon Yau Ma Tei
MTR (subway) station on August 24 and was later spotted in Shenzhen which
is the border town to "mainland" China. As it seems you can easily get lost
in this city.

The hotel serves "Continental" breakfast (two croissants, tea, butter, jam,
chemical juice) for incredible 88 HK$ (tip excluded). Almost 30 DM, or 15
US$. Madness again. If, at least, there would be plenty of it, the price
would be OK. Except that chemical juice. But two croissants .... that was
to be the last time I had breakfast down in that restaurant.

In the morning I phone Ms. Yu from the Goethe-Institute which is in walking
distance from my hotel. It is about 11 a.m. when I arrive there. From their
offices on the 14th floor in the building of the Hong Kong Arts Center they
have an incredible view: the entire harbour of Hong Kong. The name Hong
Kong originated from Aberdeen?s old Chinese name Heung Gong Tsai, Small
scented Harbour. This is what Chinese people call Aberdeen still today;
Aberdeen being situated on the southern side of Hong Kong island. Heung
Gong, which later became Hong Kong, simply means Scented Harbour. 

At the Goethe-Institute I am told that everything I requested is set up for
my presentation. I say hello to Mr. Keil, the new director of the
Goethe-Institute in Hong Kong. Then we go into the small screening room. It
appears that things aren?t really working that well. There?s no Internet.
And the projector does not really project the correct image. I go off to
check my e-mail, first in the library, then one floor down into the
conference room of the Goethe-Institute which now temporarily is housing
the organizing crew of the Festival of Vision Hong Kong - Berlin which is
scheduled to take place in November in Hong Kong. I meet one of the
festival coordinators, Howard Chan. He promises to come to my lecture

Then I run accross Danielle de Picciotto, a fashion designer from Berlin.
We are both amazed. About ten years ago I had written an article about her,
in the German daily Taz. She?s the curator and at the same time one of the
artists of the VJ/club events of the festival. As I understand, she will
bring Lillevän from Rechenzentrum, Pole, etc. to Hong Kong in November. She
was at the last mikro.lounge to listen to Zeitblom. She really liked it.
But she didn?t really know about mikro or the lounges. We exchange
addresses, and she promises to put me on the guest list for some event of
hers on 2 October in Maria am Ostbahnhof. If I am not too jet-lagged. After
all, I will fly directly from Auckland via Hong Kong to Frankfurt, arriving
there on 1 October at 6 a.m.

By now it is 2:45 p.m. and I decide to go back to the lecturing room.
Things get mixed up; first, the new computer has an Internet connection,
but its CD-ROM drive is too slow for the Media Art Interaction CD-ROM. The
other computer is fast enough, but does not display the projection image
correctly and cannot be hooked to the local area network. The usual stuff.
Finally, after some hours we manage to adjust everything correctly, and at
seven I finally leave the Goethe-Institute. I have some more plans for

Famous Night Market! I take the subway to Kowloon, Yau Ma Tei station. Then
I walk back through the really amazing Night Market in Temple Street. At
the Tin Hau Temple, at the corner of Market Street and Woodsung Street,
professional fortune tellers have set up their stands. Reading the future
from the hand costs 100 HK$ (= 30 DM, or 15US$). There are also Chinese
Opera singers performing at the street corner Market/Nathan Road. Back
through Temple Street. Thousands of stands, offering kitsch, false brand
name products, anything one could wish for. It is very crowded. I buy an
alarm clock for 19 HK$ and three hand-held battery-driven mini-ventilators
for 10 HK$ each. They?re transparent blue, pink, and green which reminds me
of i-macs. They are, in fact, i-mac hand-held battery-driven ventilators.
They are so amazingly Hong Kong. You can even hang them around your neck!
Among the kitsch sellers, there are a variety of food stands selling fresh
fried seafood, small octopusses, snails, meat, vegetables. The air is heavy
with extraordinary scents. 

After the Night Market I get back to the major Nathan Road, walking down to
the southern tip of Kowloon. It is one big shopping mall. Every ten meters
water is dripping onto the pavement. Strange, I haven?t seen any flowers on
the buildings ... Then I realize that it?s the air conditioning. The water
condensates on the cold air conditioning and falls down onto the street.
Nasty. My feet start hurting. It is 10 p.m. Arriving at the Kowloon Public
Pier the night view onto the opposed Northern coast of Hong Kong island is
amazing. It looks absolutely unreal. The high rising buildings in Western,
Central District, and Wanchai are all illuminated differently. It verges on
kitsch. It?s great! 

I do not dare to take one of the small ferry-boats which are offering their
transport services at the pier as Danielle had recommended. There are quite
heavy waves, and the small boats are shaking heavily. I am afraid of
falling into the water. Instead, I walk to the ferry terminal and take one
of the big ferries to Central Hong Kong. The ride costs 2,20 HK$ (i.e. 70
Pf. or 35 US Cents). On the other side I walk to the tram station in front
of Pei?s Bank of China and get on the next tram. 2 HK$. You get onto the
tram in the back, and only when you are getting off at the front door you
drop your coin(s) into a special box near the driver. 

I drop into a seven 11. It?s 10.30 p.m. I get a cold beer, some milk, a
dried noodle soup, and some pastry for breakfast. Luckily there?s a water
boiler and a fridge in the room, as well as two cups and some tea bags. If
I had to pay "normal" Hong Kong prices for the quantity of tea and water I
am drinking I would have already spent all my money ;) Back in the hotel
room I realize that I do not have a bottle opener for my 0,75 litre bottle
of cold Hsing Beer. Damn! I have to take the Carlsberg can from the hotel
fridge for 35 HK$ (11 DM or 5,5 US$). Will have to replace in early in the
morning, before the cleaning lady comes.

I never enjoyed a cold (well, cool) shower more than tonight. I have never
been dirtier as after one day in Hong Kong. I have another free cup of tea
in my hotel room ;). I go to bed at 2:15 a.m.

The next day I go to the Bird Market, the Flower Market, and the Ladies
Market, all located in Kowloon, where you can buy birds, flowers, and ...
no, no, just ladies garments. My lecture takes place at 7 p.m. in the
Goethe Institute?s screening room. It is packed, about 30 people I guess. I
later find out that it?s all people working in the fields of video (art),
film, academic media studies, artists, etc. I present work by (media)
artists working with the notion of the machinic/the machine (e.g. Nicolai,
Dittmer, --Innen, etc) and working with the appropriation of corporate
identity (Pflumm, Lütgert), and I talk about networks and groups in Germany
and Europe in the 1990s. After I finish there?s one question about the
Digital City by somebody who is really fascinated by the idea of creating a
virtual representation of a city on the Web (as far as I understand, this
fascination is somehow connected with Hong Kong?s present political
status). I exchange cards with many people who seem interested in what I
talked about. Later that evening I meet multi media artist Hung Keung who
is a lecturer at the School of Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic
University. He gives me a copy of his CD-ROM ?Human Being and Moving
Images" (actually, 2 CD-ROMs and a website, 1997 - 2001). He?s planning to
come to Germany in the beginning of next year in order to spend some time
at one of the art schools.

On the next day (20 September, actually my last day in HK) I meet up with
Connie Lam who is the Assistant Director of the Programme Development &
Marketing of the Hong Kong Arts Centre. She?s involved in the preparations
for the Centre?s ?digitalnow@2001". Connie?s really enthusiastic,
especially about the Berlin club culture and how this is getting mixed up
with arts ? a topic I talked about yesterday. We discuss about a possible
future cooperation for some events, e.g. workshops, bringing over some
people from Berlin to Hong Kong. Connie Lam shows me videos by a group of
young Hong Kong skater kids who are also involved with that whole DJ
culture in HK. The videos, especially the most recent one, are great. She
also gives me a copy of a CD-ROM entitled ?Poor Tech. Y2K and the Millenium
Butterflies" by Phil S.M.F. Louis King (concept) and Athena Cheung
(programming). Then she shows me the way to the film and video department
of the Hong Kong Arts Centre where I meet May Fung, the Assistant Director,
and Jimmy Choi, the Director of the Film & Video Department. Jimmy Choi was
the one who was asking about the Digital City after my presentation
yesterday. We spend one hour discussing the impact of new media on society,
and realities and utopias of so-called ?virtual" communities. Jimmy will be
studying in London for a while, completing his PhD degree.

I continue on to the exhibition premises of the Hong Kong Arts Centre. It
occupies several floors of the building. At the moment they?re showing the
?Very Fun Park", an exhibition featuring contemporary art from Taiwan. In
the introductory text the curators explicitely refer to the current
situation in Taiwan, and compare it to the situation in Hong Kong. It is
not so much about politics as it is about everyday life, commercialisation,
pop phenomena, etc. I saw some really good projects.

I notice that during the whole day I have been moving inside one building.
>From the Goethe-Institute I took the elevator down some floors to the Hong
Kong Arts Centre, and from there I descend (or did I go up?) a staircase to
the film and video department. The exhibition premises are located several
floors below, and occupy, as described, several floors. At home, going to
these various institutions means that you walk in a street (if you?re lucky
they?re in the same street), and you enter one building after the other.
Hong Kong, on the other side, is organized vertically, not horizontally.
And Hong Kong is very proud to be a vertical city. And, I must admit, it is
not such a bad solution at all. As Hong Kong could not spread horizontally,
they had to grow into verticality. Like this they are using much less
ground. The wild growth is not happening horizontally, like in the States,
Germany or the cities in New Zealand (a phenomenon we call ?Zersiedelung"
in German [urban areas spreading horizontally and thus destroying nature]),
but vertically. You see much less sky here, actually.

Between 6 and 7 p.m. that day I meet Fion Ng together with her colleague
Ellen Pau at the Central train station. Fion is the Managing Director of
the media artist collective Videotage. Besides offering production
distribution support Videotage also commissions web design and since 1996
organises, amongst others, the Microwave Festival which is the only
international video/media art festival in Hong Kong. The fifth annual
Microwave Festival will be held in January 2001 in Hong Kong. Videotage
invited Tom van Vliet, the director of World Wide Video Festival in
Amsterdam, as guest curator for Microwave 2001. Artists' videos and CD-ROMs
on the themes moving image, VS poetry, and video artists working with sound
can be submitted. There seems to be no section for web-based work. With
Ellen an Fion we talk about the financial and the overall situation for
producing works as well as the festival in Hong Kong. As we do not have
much time I promise to send them the two CD-ROMs of Media Art
(Inter-)Action (19960-1990s) and the mikro documentation. I have to catch
my train at 7 p.m. The plane for Auckland / New Zealand is leaving Hong
Kong at about 8:45 that night, arriving in Auckland at 11 a.m. the next day.

Wellington (this part written from memory, on 3 October in Berlin)

I arrive in Auckland in the morning of 21 September. Immigration procedures
are incredibly strict. Not so much for the humans, but much more concerning
all kinds of foods and plants. There are signs everywhere that remind you
to be honest and declare things that might be considered illegal (i.e. milk
and diverse plant products). If you don?t, and you do actually carry
illegal plants with you, then you can be fined with up to 10,000 NZ$. New
Zealand seems to desperately try to keep things considered alien to its own
nature out of the country. This is an understandable wish but also quite a
difficult task to reach. Anyway, if you are not sure about the things you
are carrying with you, just ask. I brought some pancake cookies with me
from Hong Kong. As I am not sure (I mean, for sure there are eggs, plant
products and milk in it, and the stuff is from Hong Kong), I ask one of the
officers with a dog. He thinks about it for a second, and then tells me to
ask one of the customs officers. I say, grinning: ?Hey, I got some cookies
with me from Hong Kong ? would you like to see them?" The lady at the
customs thinks about it for a minute, and then says, no, no need to. Phew.
I didn?t tell them that they were filled with chocolate.

I manage to get an earlier connecting flight to Wellington, where, as we
are landing, the runway seems to be a little short. Michael Herd from the
Goethe-Institute in Wellington is waiting for me at the airport. We drive
into town and he drops me off at the Museum Hotel (?Hotel de Wheels" - as
it was to be demolished some years ago I guess when Te Papa was built, they
put the whole building on wheels and pushed it over two streets to the
current location ;). Later that afternoon I walk up to the Goethe-Institute
located at Cuba Street, and together with Michael Herd we head off to
attend a lecture by New Zealand?s Labour prime minister Helen Clark who is
also the Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage. The talk takes place at
the National Library and is organized by the Friends of the Alexander
Turnbull Library. Clark apparently seems to be the darling of New Zealand?s
cultural scene because she enlarged the budget for culture from virtually
zero (a result of the last fifteen years of National government) to
something like 20 million NZ$. In a November 1999 Labour Party press
release she said: "Art and culture express the heart of our nation. They
play a huge role in expressing our identity as a dynamic, vibrant,
innovative nation which has so much to offer the world. But under National,
arts and culture have been sacrificed to the free market." And indeed, her
talk about the ?role of national institutions" is quite enlightening. The
way she talks about culture is not very common for a politician. She?s not
at all defensive about it, like ?yeah culture is costly, but ..." ? but
rather she talks about it as a ?job machine" which, once you start it, will
generate more and more jobs. She makes a lot of good points which I now do
not remember anymore. Anyway, it was quite impressive.

Apart from this prime minister, one thing that struck me most that evening
was the fact that there were no security measures being taken: nobody was
searched or scanned before entering the Library where the Prime Minister
would be speaking. It is like with their homes: many kiwis do not consider
it necessary to lock their doors. Like at the airport: here as well, at
least for the national flights, there were no security checks for people
entering an airplane. Amazing. Scary.

I gave my lectures at Te Papa on 22 and 23 September, at 4 p.m. in the
afternoon. For both lectures there are approximately 50 people. To me it
looks less because my lectures take place in the big auditorium with 200
seats. I?ve never presented on such a big screen. The museum which is
correctly spelled Te Papa Tongarewa (?Our Place"), New Zealand's National
Museum, was opened about two years ago. Two Te Papa curators take me
through the museum building on a one-hour tour. Te Papa has quite a great
collection of traditional Maori culture. There are also a lot of videos
where Maori people talk about their culture. This is really fascinating. I
learn that ?whakapapa" means family, and the same time it means genealogy
and history. This is very important to Maori culture because this is the
link to history and the connection to the land. Down in the museum shop I
find two great books. First, there?s a great book about Maori moko (facial
tattoos), published in 1999. It consists of photographs by the photographer
Hans Neleman. The synopsis on says that ?in April 1997, he
discovered moko, the striking facial tattoo of the Maori and was permitted
to capture and present images of this sacred art. This text presents a
collection of portraits, assembled as a testament to the Maori heritage and
culture. The plight of the mokomokai became a significant factor in
engaging Maori support for this book; the barbarous and illicit trade in
preserved heads of Maori ancestors. Maori are determined to retrieve these
heads and lay them to rest." The photographs show young Maori people with
facial tattoos in casual leather jackets, in business suits, with
dreadlocks, in all kinds of everyday clothing. The quality of these
photographs is simply amazing. The photos all have that kind of quiet
atmosphere. The people depicted all represent that perfect mix of casual
looks and pride in their culture.

There?s also that book by Queenie Rikihana Hyland, Paki Waitara - Myths and
Legends of the Maori (Auckland 1998). I buy this one and read these myths
and legends during the rest of the time I spend in New Zealand. When typing
in the search word ?Maori" Altavista finds 56,280 web pages on the Internet
(some of them listed below in the link list). 

Te Papa is a strange mix of a traditional art and (natural) history museum
(!) with all kinds of Disneyland gadgets. In the ?Awesome Forces" you can
experience a simulated earthquake, learn about volcanoes and the landscape.
A giant reproduction of New Zealand?s founding document is to be found in
the history section. Then, in the natural history section there is, among
other skeletons, a Pygmy Blue Whale skeleton, and next to it you can
experience the Time Warp (virtual reality motion simulator rides). The
museum also exhibits Phar Lap?s skeleton (Phar Lap was a famous kiwi racing
horse... whose skin is actually kept in some museum in Australia [!]). And
then, there is also some contemporary New Zealand art. It?s quite a wild
mixture (and I certainly ?overdid? it in my short description) ? but still
(or because of that?) the museum is a great place for families with
children to go on the weekend. They just *love* it.

In the morning of Saturday 23 September together with Michael Herd we set
out on a short journey through the landscape around Wellington. The
landscape and the coast are really beautiful. We stop at a colleague?s home
near the coast, have a tea, and a walk on the sandy beach.

After my second lecture in Te Papa on Saturday 23 September together with
Michael Herd, Karen Lowe, Events Co-ordinator at Te Papa, and two friends
of hers, Michael Prince and Shaun Scott who are both working for different
Wellington media companies as web designers (Mye-Time Productions Ltd and
clicksuite) we go out for dinner at some Thai restaurant. The food is
brilliant, and so are the discussions. Shaun really liked Daniel Pflumm?s
video. Later that evening we end up in the Liquid Bar around the corner.
Shaun asks about the situation in the IT business in Germany and Berlin. He
promises to come to Berlin at some point and have a look himself. I?ll show
you around the city, Shaun, that offer counts!

On the next morning (24 September) I fly to Christchurch. 


------Syndicate mailinglist--------------------
 Syndicate network for media culture and media art
 information and archive:
 to unsubscribe, write to <>
 in the body of the msg: unsubscribe your@email.adress