September 30th, 2009
In a city packed with some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, you don’t expect to find a piece of prime waterfront property such as Oil Street on the North Point waterfront, abandoned like an old shipwreck. But this waterfront scene speaks more to government indecision than miracle-economy expansion.
Proposals to redevelop Oil Street have come and gone over the years. In the 1990s, the depot was home to a thriving artists’ colony, but the bohos were unceremoniously booted out for a proposed redevelopment project that never materialized.
Oil Street ends abruptly at Victoria Harbor in a small cul-de-sac surrounded on three sides by graffiti-covered walls, which on my last visit included a poignant homage to the city’s most famous graffiti artist, the King of Kowloon, who died last year. The sloshing of water against the concrete shore and dull roar of traffic from the nearby East Island Corridor provide appropriate ambiance.
September 25th, 2009
Shanghai Street near Bute Street, Mongkok
September 25th, 2009
This new ad for the recent extension of the Hong Kong MTR’s West Rail Line, which now runs from Tsim Sha Tsui all the way out to Tuen Mun, via the farm fields, housing estates and wife cakes of Yuen Long, straddles a line between parallel traditions of public transit advertising: the earnest and the bizarre.
While it does a pretty straightforward job of depicting all of the places linked by the West Rail Line, the ad uses multi-coloured rings as a visual and narrative device to link everything together. I’m not really sure what the rings are meant to represent (stations? transfer points?) but it’s a cute concept.
September 22nd, 2009
On dirait que le prochain Big Owe au Québec sera, en effet, un deuxième Big O. Un gros O en orange, pour préciser, qui amènera ses usagers en comfort et luxe sous la plaine banlieusarde de Laval, coupant dramatiquement le temps de parcours entre les deux bouts de la ligne. Gilles Vaillancourt, vous avez de quoi être fier : vous avez donné un beau nouveau jouet à vos électeurs.
Quand on était à l’école primaire, on nous a toujours dit qu’il est plus facile d’obtenir ce qu’on veut si on travaille avec ses camarades. C’est donc encourageant de constater que les maires des trois plus grandes municipalités dans notre région ont chacun fait leur tour en école primaire. Avec rien de plus qu’un coup de crayon – sauf peut-être des ‘consultations’ en huis clos – nous avons collectivement décidé de faire prolonger notre métro. Déjà reconnu autour du monde, il sera bientôt étendu au reste du monde.
September 19th, 2009
Drinking fountains are everywhere in Rome, quite useful in a city where temperatures hover above 35C in the summer. These cast-iron fountains are known affectionately as nasoni, or “big noses,” due to the Pinocchio-esque appearance of their spouts. The design dates back to 1872, when the first twenty fountains were installed. Today, there are over 2,000 in the city, most of them emblazoned with the ancient Roman motto SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus).
September 18th, 2009
Thunderstorm seen from the footbridge over Mong Kok Road
September 16th, 2009
In the interests of flagrant self-promotion, I’m sharing with you my first foray into the world of francophone music pseudo-journalism. Earlier this summer, Bande à part, the excellent web-based indie music radio station, asked me to do a segment on the Hong Kong music scene for their weekly video podcast, L’actualité musicale. I decided to talk about hip hop. My dispatch took the form of an interview and my photos were remixed by DJ Ma; you can find it 10 minutes in.
Cantonese is a particularly good language for rap, thanks to its many tones, nuances and potential for wordplay, and a number of MCs and groups have taken advantage of this, making what people tell me is some very clever music that reflects Hong Kong culture and is often quite critical of the social and political status quo.
September 15th, 2009
The Midtown West intersection was windswept and deserted, save for two fighting children. To their right, a weed-strewn lot, some freshly-painted tags, a shopping cart filled with someone’s belongings from some far-off store called “Buy Buy Baby”, a long-unnecessary construction cone. To their left: an empty, suburban-style Mercedes dealership, out-of-place, surreal — just a little beyond was the Empire State Building. In the near background, a panorama of half-finished new condo towers, half-gleaming in once-trendy sheaths of glass.
New York has not reverted to the destitution claimed by some of the shriller portraits painted by the European press, which cover the economic downturn’s grip on the U.S. with the same sensationalism they once reported on the country’s urban crime. The recession is marked by subtler symbols — the increasing emptiness of storefronts, on the one hand, and the skeletal remains of stunted skyscrapers, on the other. New York’s condo tower boom is over, leaving behind a forest of halted cranes, a frozen Dubai.
September 14th, 2009
September 13th, 2009
Times are a-changin’ and so are the squares. This summer in New York, cars were banned from Broadway between 47th Street and 42nd Street, making Times Square a true gathering place rather than a glorified intersection. Here in Hong Kong, the plaza in front of the Times Square shopping mall has found a new vocation as the city’s go-to spot for anyone wanting to make a public statement.
September 12th, 2009
September 10th, 2009
Infernal Affairs, “I want my identity back”
Enamel paint on canvas, 100cm(H) x 150cm(W), 2007
Hong Kong’s story is one best told on screen, through dihn ying, electric shadows. For decades, it was one of the world’s film capitals, and it was through film that Hong Kong projected itself onto the world with action films and comedies that, beyond their mass appeal, explored the deeper corners of Hong Kong’s psyche.
Since 2006, Chow Chun Fai, one of Hong Kong’s most interesting artists, has reproduced stills from more than 100 movies, complete with English and Chinese subtitles. Each painting captures a small truth about Hong Kong’s culture and identity; together, they form a sweeping and surprisingly nuanced narrative of the city’s history from the 1970s to the present day.
Earlier this summer, I paid a visit to Chow’s airy studio in Fotan, an industrial district in the New Territories. As I sat beneath his fastidiously-organized collection of books, Chow made me coffee and we talked about art, Hong Kong and a show in which he reproduced Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting.” What really interested me, though, was his film series. Below is a short and lightly edited excerpt from our hour-long conversation.
September 10th, 2009
I like this short documentary about a Filipino carnival, even if it is essentially an advertisement for a new DSLR that shall remain unnamed (it should be obvious enough once you finish watching it). There are some remarkable shots here but the pace is a bit too brisk for its own good. I wish it would linger on some of its subjects, just for a little bit longer.
September 8th, 2009
Seoul feels a bit like the world’s largest college town. With 34 universities and hundreds of thousands of students from across Korea, large swaths of the city have been dedicated to the amusement of students, teenagers and people in their twenties. Each of these youth-oriented neighbourhoods has a similar feel — lots of multi-storey cafés and soju-fuelled BBQ joints — but with some thematic variations. Hongdae is full of offbeat shops, bars and nightclubs; Daehangno is Seoul’s centre of independent theatre; Apgujeong is where the rich kids hang out.
Edae, which is found outside the gates of Ewha Women’s University, is probably Seoul’s most gender-specific district, with block after block of shops selling women’s fashion and accessories.