2 July 2004
On a sunny morning during this year's Dragon Boat Festival, unlike the majority of people who flocked to the seashore for the festive mood, I joined a group of about 60 university students visiting the industrial blocks in Kwun Tong, where half a dozen artists' studios are situated.
Kwun Tong, the oldest industrial satellite town in Hong Kong developed in the 1950s-60s and located in east Kowloon, has undergone a sea of change since the 1980s when Hong Kong's manufacturing industries began relocating north. Once considered the most industrially polluted area in the territory, Kwun Tong has re-invented itself with the moving in of retail outlets and an emerging art community. Since the late 1990s, the industrial flats have been converted into retail warehouses, touting clothes and accessories, cosmetics, furniture, household items, and office stationery and paraphernalia. Most recently, the move of an increasing number of artists, looking specifically for bigger spaces and cheaper rents, into these under-utilised industrial high-rises has resulted in Kwun Tong South becoming referred to as "an up-and-coming artistic hub."
The sculptor Jaffa Lam moved in the Sing Win Industrial Building five years ago, and has lately begun sharing her 1000 sq. ft. studio with one of her students. Working mainly with wood, a woodworking studio seems a prerequisite for Lam. It is only a three-minute-walk from the Kwun Tong MTR. Convenient location and easy material sourcing within blocks keeps Lam commuting daily to her studio from her home in Shatin, the New Territories.
Two floors down from Lam's, artists Stella Tang, Grace Tang, Chris Chan and Monti Lai began sharing a 600 sq.ft. studio half a year ago. Apart from using it as a working space, these artists also make use of their studio as a venue for informal art discussion-sessions with other local artists.
Around the corner one finds the Timely Factory Building, where an advertising production company has taken up an area of 3000 sq. ft. for designing and modelling large-sized decorative, sculptural displays for festivals and other occasions. Since an artist friend of the owner asked whether the factory could be used to do paintings after the factory's daily routines, the space has subsequently turned into a studio to five mainland-China-trained painters.
Up in the Hing Win Industrial Building, which is a couple blocks away, there are two newly established studios shared by five women painters who are final year students of the Art School, Hong Kong Arts Centre. In these communal studios, each artist has an autonomous space marked by their works in progress and finished works on display. Like many other part-time students like themselves, they frequent their studios after work and on Sundays and holidays.
The tour ended with a visit to another 3000 sq. ft. workshop, named Kaleidoscope Studio that was founded single-handedly in 1993 by autodidact glass artist Wong Kwok-chung. The studio has occupied this open plan premise at the edge of the industrial area for less than two years. It is a multi-purpose studio, combining Wong's personal workspace and teaching studio. Wong's glass-works are on display in the entrance lobby, whereas equipment and facilities are orderly placed for teaching a wide variety of hot glass processes, such as lamp work, kiln forming glass and glass casting. Indeed, part of Wong's studio is still in disarray, more installation needed when glass blowing to be incorporated by the end of the year. The space is complete with a library corner of more than 500 books and magazines on glass art. Kaleidoscope Studio is perhaps the best equipped among the seven glass workshops in Hong Kong.
City studios of independent artists scattered in the Kwun Tong industrial high-rises increasingly develops an artistic synergy that may be comparable to that of Fo Tan in the New Territories. The art community of Fo Tan has been expanding and become better organised since 2001. Its successful open-studio event in November 2003 entitled "Fotanian" featured a total of 14 studios housing over 60 artists (see website: www.fotanart.com).
As Jaffa Lam expresses, her Kwun Tong landlord, an active member of the building's landlords committee, welcomes the artists' contribution, believing that art and cultural activities will gussie up the district. The landlord has cut Lam's rent in consecutive years, and has even offered to seek sponsorship from the landlord committee for publicity – banners, signage and the like – should Lam organise a big scale open studios occasion. It is encouraging to see that the power of art is being acknowledged.
- Sun, 1 Aug 2004