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Shipping portable Hong Kong art to the world

THIRTY-EIGHT Hong Kong artists have painted 37 cargo shipping containers on 37 freighters and sent them on a four-year exhibition tour around the world in an unusual project about art and communication, writes Nancy Zhang Hong Kong is better known for its finance and commerce than for its artistic achievements, but in a blend of both, a group of independent artists is shipping vast "canvases" around the world in the form of painted cargo containers.

The three-stage, four-year Container Art Project literally transports Hong Kong art to new international audiences. They will return transformed as transformed works, showing wear and tear, customs marketing, posters and probably the work of other artists and graffiti.

In the first stage, 38 artists (including one couple) painted their visions and messages onto 37 shipping containers, one for each of 37 ships that left Hong Kong last May on regular four-year voyages. The ships then go about their business transporting goods - and art - around the world. Thus far to Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Along the way, the art is supposed to communicate with cargo handlers and anyone in port who happens to spot it. "A dialogue will take place between the art and its surrounding environment and people," a curator says.

The deal is that all 37 big boxes are to return to Hong Kong in four years, possibly changed with other artistic and commercial messages.

In the second stage, Hong Kong artists will send more conventional exhibitions to Shanghai, Macau and Singapore.

The Shanghai exhibition from March 1-14 further explores the idea of traveling art. Titled "Thirteen Stories of Portable Art," the show features 12 of their works on the theme of mobility and portability. The 13th work is a reflection on the journey of the 12 works from Hong Kong to Shanghai.

"This exhibition is special because of the 13th work," says Yu Keikei, one of the two curators. "It represents the creation of the exhibit itself."

It displays photos of the 12 artworks at various stopovers, including Pudong International Airport and Metro stations. This is supposed to represent the "dialogue" of Hong Kong art with Shanghai.

The other 12 works include several takes on suitcases and the weight of packing life into them, such as William Lim's "Life in a Suitcase." Others deal with the dark side of increasingly mobile societies, such as Tang Ying-mui's "Taking Finger Fur." Inspired by the requirement in some places to leave fingerprint at customs checkpoints, Tang's fur-tipped gloves touch on the increasingly complicated security checking systems in an age of fear and terrorism. All travelers, human and animal, are required to leave a mark to prove their innocence and to pass.

The Shanghai exhibition is organized in cooperation with Fringe Shanghai that promotes cutting-edge Chinese art that may not be commercially viable.

In the third and final stage, the whole Art Container Project wraps up with an exhibition in Hong Kong in four years time when all the art-containers return and the container "canvasses" can be appreciated.

Even as the project shows the world a more thoughtful side of Hong Kong, it is still intimately linked to business. When asked about the Hong Kong art scene, the first thing that occurs to curator Yu, tellingly, is that it's a lot harder to get studio space in Hong Kong than in the Chinese mainland.

The project also aims to raise support for local artists.

Portable Art

Date: March 1-14, 10am-8pm

Venue: Pottery Workshop, 2/F, 220 Taikang Rd

Tel: 6445-0902

Admission: Free


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