In the night sky of 5000 years of human history, the unique 150 years of Hong Kong colonial period is but an insignificant faint sparkle. And within that faint sparkle, the history of the demolition of a hundred-year old building would be an even feebler spark, doomed to vanish as soon as it was created. But something happened in that year - if we wind back to 1987, and use a magnifier to focus on one of the last surviving old house in Hong Kong - there were a lot of art happenings on one weekend in October. An exhibition titled OUT OF CONTEXT was held inside the old house situated at 15 Kennedy Road, a road in the Mid-levels on the Hong Kong Island, named after Arthur Kennedy, who governed Hong Kong from 1872 to 1877.
The Eu family mansion, which was prone to be demolished in a foreseeable future, was built around the late nineteenth century on number 15 Kennedy Road, an area where a lot of the rich and prominent Chinese families lived under British rule. Despite its present crumpling state two artists were still residence there, and saw the venue's potential as a stimulating exhibition space. The art exhibition OUT OF CONTEXT then, was organized as a reaction to the possible demolition of the premise, as well as "a response to the art ecology at the time when there was a lack of institutional support to artists' practices" (quoted from the catalogue forward).
There was no particular patronage, but various institutions and individuals interested in the arts collaborated in the effort to eventualise the exhibition. With help from the proficient organizer Christine Loh 陸恭蕙 (Loh has been active in public policy and politics since the 1980s, helped to establish several non-profit organizations in Hong Kong related to the environment, equal opportunity, arts and culture) and presented in association with the Hong Kong Arts Centre, OUT OF CONTEXT was proposed in January, 1987, approved by the authority and flung into full action for an exhibition of artworks on the second weekend of October. Participated by twenty one artists; the show included painters, sculptors, photographers, installation artists, performing and video artists. As there was no specific theme in this exhibition, and as most artists at that time had always been working with a sense of displacement in a cultural climate which showed no concern, or being indifferent to what they were doing, the name 'Out of Context' might have been thought appropriate for the show.
Ka-sing and I were fresh green (by any standard) of making fine art at that point in time when we participated in OUT OF CONTEXT. We had befriended the sculptor Antonio Mak 麥顯揚 (1951-1994), who came back from UK and the States to establish his career in Hong Kong. It was probably Antonio who informed us of the show and encouraged us to take part in it. For us, it was a particularly busy time executing and churning out commercial assignments, but we did want to join this art project for a break. I undertook the responsibility to take a portrait of all the artists for the exhibition's catalogue. The black and white photographs were taken by two 35 SLRs simultaneously (with slightly different focal lengths), placing side by side, shooting at slightly different angles and fired off with a remote control at the same moment. In fact, for this brief encounter I did not know, nor familiar with all of the artists, and upon close examination only about half of them appeared in the picture.
During that weekend, we carried the Hasselblad to the grand old building and took some pictures, using the 120 film back to alternate between black and white and colour films. We don't have that problem now since we can switch colour to black and white with just an instant click. But when I revisit both versions, I find certain smell in the colour films that I cannot find in the black and whites, and a lucid, definite and almost declarative mood in the black and white that I cannot feel in the colour. The eighties, in a strange sense of time, is not that far away. But people have already been gleaning information for this tiny bit of Hong Kong art history, through photo archives, catalogue and essays, and even oral history from participating artists who are still alive and healthy today. To people who concern with the short art history of Hong Kong, this tiny spark does make some appearance. And I am glad to share with them those moments of memories through the photographs I took that weekend. The only thing I regret is, they are not a complete documentation, which at that time something I was less concern with.
And the history of 15 Kennedy Road today? Since 1989, some big developer, having acquired property sites from number 10 to 18, everything on site was demolished, eradicated. It becomes just another expensive, banal mid-rise building. 62 units were created in the 31 floors apartment building, each measuring 3,400 sq. ft, charging a monthly rental of US$16.5K. What, I would then ask, be the history of this place they now call Kennedy Heights? There would be for certain many more stories to tell, but we would have to leave it to future archaeologist to unearth that layer, and find that sparkle, if there is any.
Participating artists in OUT OF CONTEXT:
Adevor, Antonio MAK (麥顯揚 ), CHOI Ronald Yeekie, CHOI Yanchi (蔡仞姿), EPOXY, FUNG Manyee (馮敏兒), HO Hingkay Oscar, (何慶基), Holly LEE (黃楚喬), Jim SHUM (沈聖德), Josh HON (韓偉康), Larry DEMING, LAU Gukzik (劉掬色), LEE Ka-sing Wingo (李家昇), Ming FAY (費明杰), Robert FUNG (馮萬剛), Robert O'BRIEN (白禮仁), Sunny PANG (彭錦耀), Susi KRAMER, Tommy Wong (王志強), WONG Yankwai Yank (黃仁逵), YEUNG Sauchurk Ricky (楊秀卓)
OUT OF CONTEXT exhibition catalogue
The original photograph for OUT OF CONTEXT catalogue cover
Gelatin silver photograph, 8x19.5 inches
Photographed and printed in 1987
(left frame) from left to right: Antonio Mak, Robert O’Brien, Susi Kramer, Yank Wong, Tommy Wong, Fung Man-Yee, Lau Gukzik, Ricky Yeung, Holly Lee, Jim Shum, Lee Ka-sing.
(right frame) from left to right: Tommy Wong, Fung Man-Yee, Lau Gukzik, Ricky Yeung, Holly Lee, Lee Ka-sing, Jim Shum
A suite of 14 vintage photographs by Holly Lee
Taken on-site at the OUT OF CONTEXT exhibition
Photographed and printed in 1987
8x10 inches gelatin silver photographs, signed and titled on front
(work of Antonio Mak)
(work of Robert O’Brien)
(work of Susi Kramer)
(work of Lee Ka-sing)
(work of Choi Yan-chi)
(work of Fung Man-Yee)
(work of Ricky Yeung)
(work of HO Hingkay Oscar)
(work of Lau Gukzik [left] and Holly Lee [right])
(work of Ming Fay)
(work of EPOXY group, New York)
An article on OUT OF CONTEXT, published at Bok Yit Monthly, written in Chinese by Holly Lee