First look at Detour 2012: 'Going for the jugular'

First look at Detour 2012: 'Going for the jugular'

Hong Kong's most exciting art and design festival aims to change public space with direct artistic interventions

detour 2012The Wanchai Police Station will be the main site of Detour 2012. Still partly in use by the police force, Detour will get the ground and first floors.

Detour, the annual festival in Hong Kong that celebrates art and design, will try to change the way we perceive and engage with public space, particularly in Wanchai. And they're not going to be subtle about it.

"[We will] make the busiest passersby stop in their tracks and remember where they are," says James Reeves, one of the international artists confirmed for the festival, to be held November 30-December 16.

"People are just walking around with their [smartphone] screens -- so how do you disrupt that?"

The artist, who arrived in Hong Kong on Monday, is working with his partners at New Orleans creative studio Civic Center, as well as Detour's guest curator John Bela and creative director Aidan Li to make a public art project at Detour's main site -- the semi-occupied, 80-year-old Wanchai Police Station.

Detour, put on by the Ambassadors of Design, has come to be known for transforming historical architecture in Hong Kong with spectacular installations, as well as encouraging public participation with open workshops, meet-the-designer markets and great parties. 

Judging from the creative minds behind this year's Detour, we can expect an amped-up version of the festival.

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Soapboxes and cargo bikes

Park(ing) Day, where Rebar turns a parking space into a park.There's Reeves, a New Orleans-based artist, who's determined to wake people up to the possibilities of city space.

Although no details about his Detour project is confirmed yet, Reeves promises to avoid any soporific theoretical talk and instead "go straight for the jugular" with a work that can act as an amplifier or soapbox for Hong Kong people to express what they want to about their city.

People are just walking around with their smartphone screens -- how do you disrupt that?

- James Reeves, participating artist, Detour 2012

Guest curator Bela is an artist-activist who launches guerilla art projects in urban spaces.

The principal at San Francisco art and design collective Rebar, Bela and the team started the Park(ing) Day movement in 2005 when they paid for two hours of a metered parking space on a street in downtown San Francisco just to transform it into a temporary park.

The action forced people to rethink the uses of public space and how they could reclaim it. Bela is trying to bring the same message to Hong Kong.

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"We are searching through Wanchai to look for underutilized public spaces, seeking niches or loopholes in the social fabric, taking advantage of loopholes to exploit them for public benefit," says Bela.

One of these loopholes is the city's dependence on automobiles.

Bela plans to bring over N55, a Danish art group that has created a cargo bike design. Detour will collaborate with the group to hold cargo bike workshops where the public can create the non-polluting vehicles and ride them in a procession through the Wanchai streets.

Creative director Aidan Li is a Hong Kong native who transformed an industrial building into studio space for artists and designers. It is now the home of HK Farm, an urban-beekeeping initiative that is representing Hong Kong at the Venice Biennale this year.

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Li is the lynchpin of the project, providing the local context for the international artists.

"As an outsider I have a different way of seeing things than someone who lives here and is stuck in the cultural norms of this specific place," says Bela.

"Aidan really understands the kind of nuances of the public realm that I'll never understand. That cultural collision is how we think will produce some really rich work."

Watch this space for the latest updates on Detour's vein-seeking cultural collisions and public space insurgencies.

Detour 2012, November 30-December 16, main site at the Wanchai Police Station, 123 Gloucester Road, Wanchai. Satellite site at The Central Oasis,

After traveling around the world on a fistful of dollars, Zoe returns to Hong Kong, where she grew up, to discover and write about all the inspiring stuff that happens here on a daily basis.

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