Bi-city Biennale: Futuristic archeology in West Kowloon

Bi-city Biennale: Futuristic archeology in West Kowloon

The reclaimed land of West Kowloon has been transformed into a mock archeaological site, but the line between faux and actual is hard to draw
bi-City Biennale
"Uncle Hung" makes a statement against the backdrop of West Kowloon.

Bi-City BiennaleBird's eye view of the "excavation."In the most remote corner of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture's West Kowloon site, three architects, Kingsley Ng, Syren Johnstone and Daniel Patzold, are digging up Hong Kong's heritage. The concept: we're several centuries into the future and an old street market has been discovered, leading to an archaeological race to save what remains of it.

Uncle Hung

"Artifacts" from the Central street market are scattered around the Bi-City Biennale's mock archaeological dig, including an old market booth the team brought in from Gutzlaff Street. It now sits in an open plain with the giant glass-and-concrete walls of the just-built International Commerce Centre rising incongruously behind it.

"When something like this is in the [Central] market, you don't notice because it's a shitty old thing, but when you move it here, you start seeing all of the details. There's a lot of stories here," says Johnstone. "If we found an old market 350 years in the future, we would want to preserve and protect the ruins. Why not today for the markets that still exist?"

The booth that Johnstone and his partners took from the Central street market was built in the 1970s and covered in relics of a bygone era. Near the top, it is engraved with the Chinese characters for Hung's Electrical Appliances. Johnstone and his partners have given the booth an identity ("Uncle Hung"), a signature (made by applying ink to a rusty bit of metal poking out of the booth) and a Facebook page.

Real Finds

If we found an old market 350 years in the future, we would want to preserve and protect the ruins. Why not today for the markets that still exist? — Syren Johnstone, architect

Ironically, while setting up the installation at the Bi-City Biennale in West Kowloon, Johnstone began to find real "artifacts" buried in the soil, which is actually reclaimed land. Last week, he was hard at work excavating dirt from around a piece of rebar that had mysteriously appeared after a recent string of rainy days. Nearby, a piece of PVC pipe was found embedded in the ground.

"It makes you realize that, even if this is new land that has been reclaimed from the sea, all of this soil came from other parts of Hong Kong," he says.

West Kowloon highlights

Johnstone et al's mock archaeology is not the only installation at the Bi-City Biennale to put the unique geography of West Kowloon to good use. The other installations just opened this past weekend include:

The Stage, an ethereal bamboo performance space created by actor Daniel Wu, artist Teddy Lo and designer Edward Huang. At night, the stage is illuminated by LED lights that change color and pattern based on what people are doing inside.

BYOBench: Interconnectivity creates hammocks from strips of continuous, brightly-colored strips of fabric meant to represent the connection between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. But this isn't high-minded conceptual art: it's a fun installation meant to evoke carefree days on the swing.

Reading Café near the promenade's main entrance, contains an ever-growing library of books donated by the public. Bring your own book or check out what's available while you sit reading next to the water.

Christopher DeWolf is a writer, photographer and self-styled flâneur.
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