This is Wan Chai

Posted: 23/04/20
 

We caught up with Tina Norden and the creative masterminds behind Wind & Foster to discuss how art and dance are shaking up commuting in Hong Kong.

In London, the average commuter spends 7.5 hours a week travelling to and from work. In Hong Kong, the world’s most expensive city to rent, that number is significantly higher. Most of us, myself included, spend this time avoiding making any form of connection with our fellow commuters or surroundings, choosing instead to bury our heads in books and phones. Then, as we hurry from tube to platform and up the escalator our minds are littered with adverts, each trying to shout louder than the one before, telling us what to like, how to dress and who to listen to. For many, it’s an overwhelming and often stressful way to start or end the day.

Projects like ‘Moving Cities’ a global collection of film and photography in which cities are transcribed through dance, are standing up to this uncomfortable and uninspiring travel experience which we have all come to accept as the norm. As part of the collection, ‘This is Wan Chai’, has transformed the lower platforms of a busy Hong Kong MTR station into a static but living stage. The choreographed street scenes see dancers from Hong Kong Ballet performing to passersby against the urban streets of Wan Chai, allowing commuters to relax into the space and play their part as they travel through the various scenes.
I caught up with the man behind the project, Wind & Foster’s Jevan Chowdhury. He explains, ‘Wan Chai MTR Station is actually quite a beautiful space but the visual noise is intense and overwhelming making it hard for people to find a quiet sense of place. We wanted to create a visual experience which is melodic and natural, telling a story without shouting too loudly.’

In Europe where a number of other Moving Cities projects have been exhibited, art is generally quite accessible and more integrated into daily life. Jevan continues, ‘In Hong Kong it’s easy to feel like you’re a small cog in a large machine; the environment is loud, the lights invasive and the space is small; it’s a sensory overload and a lot to take in. Luckily, art works against this by reminding us who we are. The motivations behind art are unlike any other visual stimuli.’

Over the last decade Hong Kong’s creative scene has being building some serious momentum. With more galleries, creative installations and design conferences popping up across the city, led by a new generation of expressive raw talent flying the flag for contemporary art. ‘This is Wan Chai’ saw a collision of creative forces from around the world including a multimedia artist, choreographer, interior designers, 45 dancers, photographers and over 35 post-production specialists come together during a somewhat difficult time to create a truly beautiful visual interior that responds to its surrounding context.

Jevan continues, ‘Everyday life is theatrical, watching life move around you is dramatic. Our project uses this everyday life as a stage and layers it with dancers to offer a twist which makes us question the world around us. Some may just simply glance at the scenes as they pass but others will delve deeper, appreciating the cracked lines on a road, the expression on a dancer’s face, or the texture of a roof. All the world’s a stage and this project really puts that into a literal sense.’

Conran and Partners’ Tina Norden who also collaborated on the project explains, ‘We had to take this beautiful collection of work and make it a physical reality within the sensitivities of a very public space. You want it to be provocative and immersive without being too intense or controversial. That’s the great thing about this project, there’s so much variety and detail that you can really engage with it on your own terms.’

‘When designing for public spaces, relatability is key. ‘This is Wan Chai’ is a street screen but there’s a familiar, yet unfamiliar thing about it that makes people connect with it without just accepting it at face value. It’s not trying to be abstract but if you really engage with the artwork you find lots of hidden layers and stories within.’

Jevan adds, ‘This is essentially a placemaking project. It encourages people to look at the world differently, ultimately renewing and refreshing their relationship with the city above.’
Given the unrest that Hong Kong endured towards the end of 2019 and the ongoing country-wide lock down that was triggered by the global Corona Virus outbreak, this project couldn’t have materialised at a worse time. The schedule was moved, the shoot was cancelled, postponed and moved again, the launch event was cancelled, the scope regressed and the ideas on how to turn the content into a physical installation were abandoned. Despite this, the vision did not change, and the impact of the project on those who will experience it is just as meaningful.

When the dust settles and we slowly transition back to what we once called a ‘normal life’, this project will encourage us to slow down, to open our eyes wider and to ask more questions. It will remind us that the contrasting views and interpretations that we have towards art do not make us different, they in fact untie us. When stations around the world fill themselves once again and we bundle underground into busy metro cars, rushing to work without thought or purpose, spaces like this will also remind us to appreciate the cities above and the people around us.
Since opening, MTR Corporation has instructed the team to extend the installation to the station's upper floor so the experience can permeate through the various floors and spaces within the station.

This project was produced by Wind & Foster in a collaboration with Hong Kong Ballet, Artistic Director Septime Webre and Conran and Partners. It was commissioned by Chief Architect, Andrew Mead, of the MTR Corporation as part of the Art in MTR programme and facilitated by the Hong Kong Design Centre, Royal Academy of Dance, Raffles Design and the UK’s Department for International Trade.

Beth Cinamon, Producer at Wind & Foster concludes, ‘This is our first Moving Cities project in Asia and it was a great pleasure to work with Conran and Partners, an ambitious production team and such talented artists. Everyone grasped the concept, making it fun and instantaneous for all involved - a great international collaboration that we’re really proud of.”
Visual content produced by ©Wind & Foster ©Treacle Media

www.windandfoster.com
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