Au mois de mai, à ma dernière journée à Hong Kong, j’ai rencontré Ashley Wong pour ce prochain Regarde les Chinois. Torontoise de naissance, autrefois Montréalaise, et à ce point-ci Hongkongaise, elle a travaillé pour une organization artistique en nouveaux médias appelée Videotage jusqu’au début de cet été, et je venais de participer à Folktales From Many Lands, un de leurs projets à ce moment. Nous avons parlé le défi de trouver de l’espace et son propre espace à Hong Kong.
Back in May, on my last day in Hong Kong, I met with Ashley Wong for this next Regarde les Chinois. A Torontonian by birth, she was once a Montrealer and at that point a Hongkonger, she worked at a new media art organization called Videotage, and I had just participated in Folktales From Many Lands, one of their projects at the time. We talked about the challenges of finding space and one’s space in Hong Kong.
Comme les Chinois : What do you do?
Ashley Wong: I’m the project manager of Videotage, a media art organization.
CLC: In Hong Kong…
In Hong Kong.
CLC: So where were you from originally?
I’m from Toronto, I grew up there. And then lived in Montreal for three years for studies.
CLC: How did you end up in Hong Kong?
Basically well… My parents are both from Hong Kong. I never spent much time in Hong Kong – I only went once when I was very young and when I finished school, I decided to come here to travel and see what’s going on in China, and kinda (laughs) connect back with my… my background!
CLC: So did you have any expectations; were you looking for a job when you first came here?…
Actually, I came here without a job, so I kinda came just on a whim. And just started looking and found a job within two days! And it’s actually quite easy at first. There’s a lot of opportunities here compared to Canada.
CLC: And do you like it?
Uh. (laughs) It’s kind of a love-hate. It’s definitely different when you live here from when you are just visiting. But ah, I guess if I had some more distance from it, I would like it more.
CLC: Do you like your job?
It’s okay. It’s been very difficult for me, but like…
CLC: How long have you been here?
I’ve been working here almost a year (editor’s note: it was May 2008 when this interview was recorded), but it’s just the situation at the organization – it’s quite strange. But, in general it’s been a very good experience and I would’ve never been able to get the chance to kind of engage in quite a place in Canada. I mean, there’s a lot of opportunities, potential…
CLC: …here in Hong Kong.
CLC: Why is that?
Um… Well in the arts for one, I don’t know for other fields, but there’s a lot of room to grow. They’re still developing, so they need people to help really build the art scene here. In other places, the art community is already well-developed; there’s already lots of people in these positions. But in Hong Kong, you can just come in and pretty much do whatever you want and just give it a try – which is something you can’t do in other places.
CLC: I mean, Hong Kong, economically is as developed as Canada, but why – do you know why – there’s so much space in the arts, I mean.
Well, it’s not that… There is a lot of space because there isn’t much happening here, there’s not a lot of…
CLC: …people are not interested?
Um, there’s not support from the general public. It’s very difficult to… There’s very few venues and there’s very little support from the government to open up to more cultural activities, and it’s very difficult to get permission to do things that are… the usual things that people do.
So it’s a very difficult environment to work with because there’s a lot of restraints. Because of government and policy, the public…
CLC: You have to ask permission to do certain types of things…
Yeah, for sure. Like if you want to get a space within… Like the only space – a lot of them are in malls, and if you ask permission to use a mall, they have to see what kind of art you are going to put in there, how you are going to place it. And like they don’t want to offend anyone, and you’re very limited… it’s such a long kind of bureaucratic process to deal with this kind of people. And the only kind of art that they understand is like very traditionnal paintings, drawings or things like that.
Even here at the Cattle Depot, it’s a government building. It’s a Heritage site, it’s kind of a former _cattle depot_ where they had cows – not sure if they slaughtered them. Basically, we have to gain permission from the government property agency just to use the outside space for events, and we have to submit proposals just explaining what we’re doing, what we’re going to build in the space, how long we’re going to use the space, how many audience… They’re usually very paranoid about bringing strangers here or strange events and stuff.
CLC: I mean, that’s arts, it’s bound to be on the side (fringe?) of society.
Yeah exactly, but they don’t understand that – if you say something that’s a little bit strange to them, they give you a very hard time to do anything. And even when this is the cattle depot artist village, they still have all these, like, restrictions to what you can do here.
CLC: When did the Cattle Depot Village start?
It started about seven or eight years ago.
CLC: And who were the people behind it?
Um… Well, there’s five organizations here. It was basically offered when… a lot of these organizations were located on Oil Street (油街) in North Point (北角), and they had to get kicked out because they were renovating the area and the government decided to offer them this space in To Kwa Wan (土瓜灣) and to rent it out to art organizations for cheap. So there’s five art organizations and a few other art studios here.
CLC: So it’s not easy to find space to do events. Do you think there’s a lack of space in Hong Kong?
There is definitely a lack of space in Hong Kong. It a very compact city, the apartments are very small, but like, it’s also the fact that there is no free space, like no space where people can just… go outside in a park, I dunno, play your guitar (laughs), or like have any sort of cultural activities, because all these parks, or the few parks that there are, are very highly secured and there’s really no space where you can just go and hang out.
When you go into venues for either events or artistic projects, you have to again through this bureaucratic process of getting permission from these corporations or people who own these buildings, property owners.
CLC: So what are your plans? … You are quitting Videotage…
(laughs) Well, initially I only planned on staying in Hong Kong for six months. So I already outstayed my intention by a year! So I think I’ve learned hell of a lot being here.
CLC: Like what?
Learning about China. … Just being here, you absorb things that you don’t really notice or that you didn’t know about. Like, international relations… also geography of where the places in Asia are, and the relationship to different places. Like how Chinese people see Japanese people, or the relationship between Taiwanese and Hong Kong, our relationship to the Philippines, Filipino, … Australia, and Thailand. It kinda makes sense now. A kind of geography, cultural…
CLC: I mean, you grew up in Canada. I also grew up in Canada, and I sort of understand that Canada focuses on North America, Europe, so we know how the relations go between these countries. And Asia is kinda foreign.
Yeah… And you start to understand the trade… just the relationship between countries and the politics as well that affect trade and what we get are kind of the information that we access to. And it’s also the relationship between China and Europe, which is something I didn’t realize was actually closer than America to China obviously. A lot of the information that we get is European.
CLC: Because Hong Kong is a former colony?…
Uh, but in general China has more ties with Europe than with the US. Like the countries are more… benevolent (laughs) with each other.
CLC: Are you going somewhere else?
… Uh, not sure yet. Probably Europe next.
CLC: Thank you Ashley.