Second Skin: West Kowloon's trees dressed like women

Second Skin: West Kowloon's trees dressed like women

At West Kowloon, trees are 'tamed' for the Hong Kong Shenzhen Bi-city Biennale
West Kowloon
Second Skin's ethereal scene.

For one of the installations for the Hong Kong Shenzhen Bi-city Biennale at West Kowloon, Baptist University's Academy of Visual Arts professor Peter Benz and his students decided to domesticate some of the "wild forest" in West Kowloon by dressing up trees all over the site in bright pink skirts. This might make it easier for most Hong Kongers who have become so disconnected from nature that they're afraid to really engage with it.

"This is a place that is fairly wild by Hong Kong's inner-city standards," says Benz, as he walks with one of his students, Sophy Shi, through a field of shin-high grass. "I was inspired by a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who said, 'One only understands the things that one tames.' We're dressing up the barbarians.

"But even if it seems wild, this site is actually quite artificial. It's created from landfill and before the biennale, it was actually used as a tree nursery."

'One only understands the things that one tames.' We're dressing up the barbarians. — Peter Benz on the concept for Second Skin

The installation is titled Second Skin. During the day, the nylon skirts look a bit like tents; at night, many are lit from within, and they take on the appearance of Mid-Autumn Festival lanterns. Benz's students made all of them by hand -- even though none of them had sewn before -- and each skirt is tailored for a specific tree.

"Our project is more fine arts than the others, and we wanted to do something really contextual," says Shi. "When I look at them, it makes me want to interact with them."

Wild, wild West Kowloon

Apart from Second Skin, more than two dozen exhibits are scattered across the biennale site, including some interactive, site-specific installations that comment directly on its quasi-rural state.

After it was created from landfill fifteen years ago, parts of West Kowloon was developed but most of it was simply fenced off and left fallow; land reclaimed from the sea was gradually reclaimed by nature. With the totems of Hong Kong finance soaring at either end of the site, it's an odd experience to wander along a dirt road past wild grass, untamed shrubs and the sound of crickets buzzing in the sun.

"What appeared to us about the site was the rawness, the idea that there's this public space with the most optimum views of Hong Kong but also raw nature," says Marisa Yiu, the biennale's chief curator. "But we actually had to fight for it. We were originally given the very manicured waterfront promenade, but after walking through this wild bit [that was fenced off from the public], we fought pretty hard to get a permit to open it up."

See more details about the Hong Kong Shenzhen Bi-city Biennale at their website hkszbiennale.org

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