I have been thinking: what function of “public art” has my work achieved?

Propaganda? There is no agenda for propaganda at all.

Social networking? In the process of gathering information, we spent a whole day interviewing shop staff, street vendors and passer-bys; we also liaised with several schools in the district and organized several workshops. We had made some contribution in terms of social networking! Yet I really dare not say we have done anything significant.

Reflecting the character of the district? While Sham Shu Po has a diversity of characteristics, the social problems it faces could also be disheartening. I wonder if we still need the postcard when we’re actually there! Ain’t the audiences standing in front of the artwork those who live their lives in Sham Shui Po every day? These audiences have the most realistic and lively understanding of the district. Of course, not everyone fancies and treasures the touching moments in reality; there are people who overlook and neglect the problems in life. Isn’t it already quite good if I could find the touching moments in life and reflect that in the artwork? Yet, these touching moments in life will not be regarded by everyone as “character”.

Enhancing the environment? This is not only the organizer’s aim, but also part of my ambition to delight people in visual and spatial terms through the artwork. I hope that people who walk past the artwork, or those who look at the artwork in detail, would have a deeper understanding of the artwork, understanding that I do not only want to enhance the environment. Beauty is also a means for various purposes.

Widening the audiences for art? This could have been an obvious function of this scheme. There are many people who think that one can only appreciate artworks in galleries or art museums. Yet, the “artworks” now displayed in “public spaces” can be viewed by those who do not visit galleries or museums. As an artist, I have never thought whether the audiences who come here would agree that my piece is an “artwork”, and I do not know if they can better appreciate art after seeing this piece here. What I care about is whether the work is inspiring to them. One thing I am sure of is that, this scheme has broadened the horizons of the artists. 

At this point, I am thinking about the publicness of art. Publicness is not unique or essential to public art (whether the artwork is a “public art” is not important. The publicness of a government office building is a topic that deserves more discussion). Publicness is not a function of art, but reflects the preference and level of commitment in art of a society. It reveals a reflection on values, as well as the likings of both the majority and the minority. “Sham Shui Po”, without a definition, is an “area” for exploration. (I thought about using the term “theme” instead of “area” to express my argument, but the term “theme” seems too accurate.) In this way, the artwork enjoys publicness that enables it to go beyond the boundary of the district. Different people can find a perspective to appreciate the artwork. My background is very different from those of the students joining this scheme, but we can still exchange our ideas in the creative process. This is exactly because “Sham Shui Po” is a platform with diversity, tolerating different views. We did not have a theme for our artwork but just a general direction for development and certain technical capabilities. Finding the relationship between the artists and the audiences, figuring out the role of “Sham Shui Po” in the artwork, building up the relationship between the site and the people – all these are part of our exploration on the publicness of the artwork.

Leung Chi Wo, in Fo Tan
on 9 May,2011