Hong Kong Rooftops: Russell Street

The tong lau on Russell Street, across from Times Square, is not in the best shape. Walking upstairs from the street, I pass a bookstore and a hair salon; after the third floor, the shops give way to apartments and the stairwell becomes filled with rubbish, its tiles stained by years of grime. By the time I reach the top, I have to step over piles of construction debris just to get outside.

But I’m here precisely because this building has been overlooked: its roof is now covered in graffiti. Compared to many other cities around the world, graffiti and street art are still fairly uncommon in Hong Kong, and rooftops like this give artists a kind of sketch pad on which to practice away from the eyes of the public. There are lots of tags, but also some work by the city’s best-known street artists, Graphic Airlines — whose chubby-faced characters are now as common in galleries as they are on the street — and Start from Zero, whose preferred media include stickers and wheatpaste.

There’s more up here than just graffiti. From here, I can peer behind the giant billboards that face Times Square; I’m surprised to see they are propped up by bamboo scaffolding. I would have expected something more elaborate and permanent, but perhaps bamboo allows the billboard to be easily dismantled in case the market for luxury watches and designer handbags collapses. It seems a fitting irony: the city’s corporate advertising is supported by traditional craftsmanship, its presence as fleeting and ephemeral as graffiti that is painted over or worn away by the sun.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday April 18 2010at 10:04 am , filed under Asia Pacific and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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