The Border Show: Hong Kong, Shenzhen linked by goods, money and art

The Border Show: Hong Kong, Shenzhen linked by goods, money and art

This art show says Hong Kong has a deep connection to Shenzhen, despite being in denial

the border show"Construction" by Jin Jiangbo, 2010.

At the Futian-Lok Ma Chau border crossing it takes less than five minutes to walk the bridge between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. But for all the difference between the two cities, the muddy Sham Chun River that acts as a physical divide, might as well be an ocean gulf.

“On the Shenzhen side, you see Uighur kebab stalls, people selling pirated DVDs,” says art curator Robin Peckham. “When you cross over to Hong Kong, everything is a chain store. People have different hairstyles, different uniforms, you see different goods being sold [than in Shenzhen].”

Hong Kong is becoming inexorably more integrated with the mainland. Well over 200,000 people already cross the border each day. The value of trade between Hong Kong and the mainland rose 33 percent last year to US$205 billion. It’s destiny, after all: the “One Country, Two Systems” approach might be in place until 2046, but after that, who knows?

At Hong Kong shows, nobody talks about Shenzhen, but in Shenzhen, everyone talks about Hong Kong — Venus Lau on what Robin Peckham calls an emotional reaction against integration with China.

But the differences between Shenzhen and Hong Kong paint a more nuanced picture. “The fact is, goods and money move more easily across the border than people,” says Peckham. Those street hawkers outside Futian crossing? For them, the border isn't a river, it’s an impenetrable wall.

That’s part of the idea behind The Border Show, an unusual new show curated by Peckham and his partner Venus Lau, who have mounted four contemporary art exhibitions since they founded the Society for Experimental Cultural Production in 2009.

Set in a collection of shipping containers next to the Tolo Harbour in Wu Kai Sha, The Border Show includes works by three of Hong Kong’s contemporary artists -- Nadim Abbas, Leung Chi-wo and Adrian Wong -- as well as Guangzhou artist Huang He, Shanghai’s Jin Jiangbo, Laoban Soundsystem from Beijing and Li Jinghu from Dongguan.

Their work touches on feng shui and urban space, migration and labor, grey markets, shanzai (or copycat) culture, the engineering of sound and the psychology of architecture.

The setting is as significant as the artwork. Rather than a gallery or some other kind of formal art space, Lau and Peckham chose a container terminal in the New Territories, halfway between the urban areas of Hong Kong and Shenzhen. After the exhibition wraps up at the end of January, the containers will be shipped across the border, where another show will be held in Shenzhen.

“So often, site-specific art becomes a purely formal proposition,” says Peckham. He gives the example of Anish Kapoor’s celebrated Cloud Gate, a reflective, bulbous arch in Chicago. “It responds to the site, but not its history or context,” he says.

By contrast, The Border Show makes reference to Hong Kong’s economic integration with mainland China, but also the fragmented and sometimes insular nature of its art scene. Not only is art often removed from much of Hong Kong -- art might be produced in places like Fotan, but it’s almost always exhibited and sold in Central -- it is also disconnected from what’s happening just across the border.

“At Hong Kong shows, nobody talks about Shenzhen, but in Shenzhen, everyone talks about Hong Kong. And Guangzhou is more oriented towards Shanghai and Beijing,” says Lau.

But why? “It’s an emotional reaction against integration [with China],” suggests Peckham. “They try to push that away, but they end up pushing away all of these resurgent critics, intellectuals and artists that are now working on the mainland.”

“We’re big border crossers ourselves,” says Peckham. “One of our goals is to integrate the Hong Kong and Shenzhen art scenes, but the Hong Kong art world is not interested in that.”

The Border Show might be a start.

the border show"Fish Farm House" by Leung Chi Wo, 2006-2007.

the border show"Laoban Container" by Matt Hope and Jon Phillips, 2010.



The Border Show

The Border Show opens with a waterside barbecue on Saturday, January 8th from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The show runs every weekend until January 28, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

How to get there:
Take the MTR to Wu Kai Sha Station and follow the signs to the Whitehead Club Driving Range (白石俱乐部), approximately 10-15 minutes by foot.
Alternatively, shuttle bus service is available directly to the Whitehead Club from Shatin Town Hall every hour on the half hour until 8:30 p.m., or from Sunshine City every half hour until 10:45 p.m.

From the entrance to the Whitehead Club, follow the parking lot driveway between the golf driving range and the barbecue restaurants to arrive at the container lot.