However, as an artistic way to express feelings or even political views, performance art is never easy. One thing performance artists cannot ignore is the problem of funding.
Augustine Mok Chiu-yu, the chief executive of the Centre for Community Cultural Development (CCCD), believes art is the right of everyone and continues to encourage performance art, but at the same time he also notes the difficulty in promoting it.
Last year, the CCCD held a performance and seminar session, “Inter-via Encounters between Hong Kong & Taipei’s Performance Artists”, which was aimed at enhancing the exchange of ideas for artists in the two places. It applied for funding from the Art Development Council but was rejected. Mok tried to find ways to pay for the event, including inviting the Hong Kong Society of the Deaf Youth Section to be a co-organiser. They ended up getting a 50 per cent discount for the venue booking.
While local artists struggle to cover costs and find funding, the city is often criticised for neglecting art development. Hong Kong is even frequently referred to as being something of a “cultural desert”.
But some local critics say this is unfair. Kith Tsang Tak-ping, an associate professor from the School of Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and a visual and performance artist, says it is unfair to compare the situation in Hong Kong with that of the West. “It is just because western society built up foundations hundreds of years ago. The art development there has a clear logic,” Tsang says.
Tsang thinks art development in Hong Kong has taken a different path. In the 1970s, people went to study abroad and they brought the western style of art back to the city. As time went by, inspiration from the West did give birth to the performance artists here, but it also pushed out local characteristics. Tsang says performance art in Hong Kong turns out to be very similar to the so-called “western style”.
“When the local artwork is shown overseas, the foreigners don’t even bat an eyelid at it. We found that we are the Third World in the cultural field. It is difficult to gain recognition from cultural centres such as London and Paris,” Tsang says.
To Tsang, it is time for change. He thinks performance artists should be looking for what is unique in Hong Kong’s daily life and culture, in the eastern traditions as well as within their souls.
Tsang stresses this is not in order to gain recognition, or even the understanding of their work by the public. He says artists are not overly concerned about whether the meanings behind their performances are discerned. “Real artists do not need to consider these things. It is all about pursuing the ideals deep in their hearts,” he says.
Edited by Elaine Tsang