Macau Art Space: Ox Warehouse

Tucked away next to the slopes of the Colina de Mong-Há, halfway between the dog-racing track and the Red Market, the Ox Warehouse doesn’t call much attention to itself. But inside the slightly ramshackle quarters of this former cattle depot is one of the avant-garde spaces that are nurturing the arts in Macau.

Frank Lei Loi-fan has run the space since it opened in 2003. “At the time there wasn’t much going on,” he says. Few organizations existed to support Macau artists and not many artists were working full-time, especially not in the realm of contemporary art. So the Ox Warehouse began organizing exchanges between Macau and overseas artists. “Before, the Portuguese just had official galleries in the centre of town that showed artists who weren’t local,” he says. “Now we see that young people want to organize their own activities, ones that are closer to our local culture in Macau. Macau has a lot of people who like to take photos or to draw, but they needed to branch out and learn to absorb knowledge and experience from others.”

Macau’s art scene has always been fluid, with many artists coming from Portugal and other European countries, while local Chinese artists leave Macau to study overseas or on the mainland. After studying journalism, Lei moved to France, where he studied film and photography. When he returned, he first resisted joining an arts organization. “There’s too many cultural associations in Macau and they exist only to ask for money,” he says. But he realized that, without something to support local talent, Macau’s art scene would never develop.

The Ox Warehouse contains workshops, a bookstore and two exhibition spaces that showcase works by local artists. Earlier this summer, the main exhibition space was occupied by “The Ever-Changing Coastline,” a group show by 13 young and emerging Macau artists. While the quality of the work was uneven, it was exciting to see art that raised questions about Macau’s urban form, especially the disjuncture between the neglected, workaday Inner Harbour and the extravagant casinos built on reclaimed land on the opposite end of the city.

Carolina Neves Rodrigues is one of the artists whose work was featured in “The Ever-Changing Coastline.” After moving to Macau last year to work as a videographer for the Casa Portugal, a Portuguese cultural organization, she became fascinated by the life of the Inner Harbour. “[It] seemed so cold and industrial when I came to Macau, but when you start walking around and meeting people, you find they’re so set in their ways, so removed from all the tourists and casinos,” says Rodrigues. “There’s women who spend their entire days in little boats shuttling people back and forth between China and here, or old men playing Chinese chess in the warehouses.”

Rodrigues contributed several photos and a video of Inner Harbour life to the exhibition. “The government is very concerned about preserving the old Portuguese buildings for tourists, so I think it’s more important to document the Chinese life and areas that might not be so pretty,” she says.

Behind the main exhibition hall, an outdoor storage area contains bits and pieces from previous exhibitions, including these mock Macau street signs.

Artists’ materials are stored in former animal cages.

The Ox Warehouse also contains pottery workshops that are used by community groups and people from the surrounding neighbourhood.

Though it is located near a busy shopping district, few visitors find their way to the Ox Warehouse. Lei says there isn’t enough money for publicity and it doesn’t help that art space shares the building with a depot for government vehicles. “I’m asking the government to give us the rest of the space,” he says, with an air of resignation. Though millions of patacas are being spent to restore old buildings in Macau’s tourist precinct, money for an independent art space is harder to come by.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday August 23 2010at 11:08 pm , filed under Architecture, Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Heritage and Preservation, Interior Space, Society and Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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