Anyone living in or visiting Hong Kong would take note of the lack of space, among many other things wanting in this ‘world city’ of surplus. For instance, public spaces like parks are seemingly rare, hence people tend to gather and make use of ‘other places’ such as shopping malls, tunnels and walkways, and even MTR passages, which are either private or regulated, hence they are considered as ‘quasi-public spaces’ (Li 2002; Lo 2013, p6).
Officially, the Hong Kong SAR’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department lists about 73 spaces for public use on its website1, while the Department of Justice’s Bilingual Laws Information System lists 1,696 spaces for public use (excluding beaches) on its Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Chapter 132)2. When these ‘official’ lists are averaged together with the ‘unofficial’ count of Google Maps and Wikipedia, one can have a rough estimate of nearly 500 ‘public spaces’ all over Hong Kong. In other words, anyone can supposedly find one public place available for every one-mile radius, whether in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, or New Territories.
Using the same spatial logic, curators Kristian Agustin and Vivian Fung explored possible locations for holding a public art exhibition/intervention, Intersection (交界). After mapping the locality within a 1-mile radius from their base — the Hong Kong Baptist University Communication and Visual Arts Building — the curators identified not only one but several open spaces made available for the public. Thus, while there is indeed a lack of space in Hong Kong as many would instantly agree with, ironically, these spaces can be found everywhere — as small, medium, or big patches of land, greenery, or even concrete.
The small park (or as termed by the District Council, ‘sittiing-out area’) located at the intersections of Nathan Road, Nullah Road, and Sai Yeung Choi Street is an example of a public space which is approximately a mile away from our place of study, randomly speaking. However, while this specific park is only a random example, it is particularly interesting because it exemplifies both a lack of space and its palpable existence. Anyone visiting this space would feel this contradiction, especially when one is greeted by the monumental significance of the Goldfish sculpture3 marking the open space a ‘place of interest’, especially for tourists.
To further explore these contradictory insights outside of the classroom, we propose to organize an art intervention/exhibition to be held in an open public space, specifically the Nullah Road Sitting-out Area, which lies somewhere along the perimeter of our estimated 1-mile radius class investigation. While there are other public spaces and similar parks located within this radius of interest, we decidedly chose the Nullah Road Sitting-out Area because it exemplifies the lack of spaces in Hong Kong despite it being an open space available for public use. The location is also strategic because it serves as an intersection not only of busy roads but also of special interests and urban ecosystem — the touristy goldfish market, the old cinema turned shopping mall, the defunct gasoline station, and the refuse collection area, not to mention the ‘nullah’ or stream of water that runs underneath the area.
In choosing this place of interest, we revisit Augé’s theory of ‘non-place’, or ‘a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity’ (1995, p77-78). Perhaps, we can even argue, many people notice the lack of space — especially public spaces — in Hong Kong precisely because they merely exist as ‘non-places’. They are spaces where many moving bodies and intersections occur, yet nothing remains, nobody dwells, especially at the age of ‘supermodernity’ (Augé 1995) when almost all inhabitants of the city are inextricably linked to their mobile devices, walking along busy streets, passing through public and private spaces, and traversing time and memory.
Apart from the theory of ‘non-place’, we also propose to explore other theories of ‘space’, ‘place’, and ‘locality’. These include:
(1) place as ‘open’ (Massey 2005) and ‘unbounded’ (Ingold 2007, 2008)
(2) ‘place’ as a theoretical concept, hence it is a cultural construct, and ‘locality’
or ‘location’ as a more geophysical specificity (Pink 2014: 118)
(3) ‘spatial concepts’ as phenomenological, and multi-sensory (Pink 2014:115)
(4) the ‘two-way linkage’ or ‘co-building’ between cities and bodies (Grosz 1992)
(5) the association of vision (or visuality or visual memory) with a particular
landscape to elicit a ‘sense of place’ (Boellstorff 2008:92-93)
(6) the ‘sense of place’ individuals experience ‘online’ through the Internet
(Boellstorff 2008:91); and
(3) the ‘space of flows’ (Castells 1996)
Thus, through a public art intervention/exhibition specifically catered to the public, we can further explore the many concepts of ‘space’ and ‘place’ and how these are relevant to the public and their lives. Perhaps, it can also help us discover new ways of understanding why a lack of space does not necessarily mean a lack of opportunities to be creative and/or resourceful.
Augé, M. (1995). Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity. Translated by Howe,
J. London: Verso.
Boellstorff, T. (2008) Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human.Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Castells, M. (1996) The Rise of the Network Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell.
Grosz, E. (1992) ‘Bodies-Cities’ In Sexuality and Space, Eds. Colomina, B. and Bloomer, J. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, pp241-253.
Li, L. (2002) Indoor city and Quasi-public Space: A study of the shopping mall systems in Hong Kong.China Perspective. Vol.39.
Lo, K. M. (2013) ‘A Critical Study of the Public Space in Hong Kong’. MCS Symposium, February 2013.
Massey, D. (2005) For Space. London: Sage.
Ingold, T. and Lee, J. (2008), Eds. Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Pink, S. (2007) Doing Visual Ethnography (2nd ed.). London: Sage.
Pink, S. (2014) ‘Visual Ethnography and the Internet: Visuality, Virtuality and the Spatial Turn’ InAdvances in Visual Methodology. London: Sage, pp112-130.
1 List of Facilities & Venues (Parks, Zoos, Gardens), available from:http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/en/facilities/facilitieslist/parks.html (accessed 9 October 2015)
2 pages 89-120 of Chapter 132: Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, available from:http://www.legislation.gov.hk/blis_pdf.nsf/6799165D2FEE3FA94825755E0033E532/
40DC34E06542CFE1482575EE003FE971/$FILE/CAP_132_e_b5.pdf(accessed 9 October 2015)
3 a street landmark funded by the Yau Tsim Mong District Council’s Facilities Management Committee (unveiled on 17 June 2011), photographs available from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Goldfish_Sculpture_(Nullah_Road_Sitting-Out_Area) (accessed 9 October 2015)