Going to Habitus, a “designed space” owned by renown Hong Kong artist and designer Kith Tsang Tak Ping, feels like a form of time travel. One must first follow the antique tram-car tracks from one of Sheung Wan’s MTR stations and approach the red bricks and white mortar of the historic Western Market. Inside, one finds Victorian architecture leading to a surreal array of Germanic cake-shops and fabric merchants. Brave the Escher-like iron staircases (reminiscent of Los Angeles’ famous Bladerunner Bradbury Building) and follow the disembodied music to the third floor, where middle-aged Hong Kongers are twirling around in ballroom dancing class. Head towards the bathrooms and a semi-hidden staircase, and ascend into Habitus itself, where the past is shed and a design-y future awaits.
On this particular evening, Habitus was celebrating both its recent “re-opening” (for many months the shop has been laying low, only open rarely, but is now re-invigorating with new hours, products, and events) and the launch of the video-art and animation DVD “PLAY>“. The party began with a courtyard performance by Moneme (an electronic music/video duo comprised of French translants Cedric and Sylvain) and HC Gijie (Norwegian sound/video artist) in which they mixed live sound and video coming from the massive freeway and docks on the other side of Des Voeux road. Simple, hypnotic, time ran in fits and starts as the grainy video feed of cars slowed and overlapped, faded and rushed on. The sound cycled like a dream of the city’s own music-car tires, horns, metal meeting air, all mixed to make the hard edges seem soft and warm.
After the performance, selections from “PLAY>” were screened, all the audience sitting on folding chairs or on the ground of Habitus’ open-air brick courtyard, sipping wine and chatting softly. As expected, all forms of “games” and “play” were the focus of the films included. Many selections were by Hong Kong artists, such as Ho Siu-Kee’s “Counting from 1 to 100” (a meditation on counting, math, and mirrors), Hung Keung’s “Time Liquid [2 Players Version]” (a time-game involving cylinders made of video-stills), and Jamsen Law’s “A Little Little Game” (a more abstract take on “game”, in which a young woman crayons in a coloring book while the video image gradually blossoms in full color from black-and-white). One of the best pieces in the entire program was a mash-up of Jackie Chan and Super Mario Brothers by Eric Siu Chi-Man entitled “Super Cop World”. The video takes the viewer through a virtual “session” of playing Super Mario Brothers (the original, lo-fi, linear version), with Mario cleverly replaced at every moment by a fitting clip of Jackie Chan-when Mario jumps, it is a tiny square screen of Jackie jumping from a building onto a truck that is super-imposed; when Mario swims, there is Jackie diving down into shark-infested waters. At the end, Jackie/Mario wins and gets the girl, striding out through the castle gates (as a super-imposed explosion rages in the background). This piece’s visual inventiveness and general freshness was unparalleled by any others, except perhaps by American artist Cory Arcangel’s “Nipod”. In this short, vibrantly-colored animation, a shoddy computer rendering of a 16-bit iPod is scrolled by some unseen controller to play different contemporary American radio hit-all interpreted in Gameboy polyphonic tones. Nelly’s “Hot in Here” seamlessly merged into Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, which slid into Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in an exhilarating (if not particularly “deep”) co-opting of 00’s pop music and 80s aesthetic.
Though the DVD contains 14 pieces by as many artists, the November 4th screening only presented about half, and when the 45 minutes or so ended, most of the audience hung around to finish their drinks and window-shop in Habitus’ newly-stocked (and re-organized) interior. Handmade artist’s books propped up against a shiny red plastic CD player, Kith Tsang’s famous garlic-skin light fixtures beaming onto crocheted doll-figures and cast silver jewelry, the night presented an interesting hybrid old-and-new future for this re-energized center of Hong Kong creativity.
PLAY > Video Screening + After Screening Party
Date: 11th November, 2005 20:00 – Late
Tickets: $80 (one drink included) / Free entry with purchase of PLAY> or Cityscapes DVD at the door
Address: 3/F Western Market, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Text and Photos: Samantha Culp