Walking by Holy Motors, it’s easy to spot art enthusiasts and curious passersby alike as they stop, hone in, step back and sometimes snap a picture or two of the modest, street-level display window, before going about their daily business. Perhaps it’s the attraction to small-scale viewing – no doubt aided by our now almost-constant focus on just about everything through the lens of handheld digital devices – that helps make the otherwise blink-and-you-miss-it project space visible.
Over the last year, Holy Motors has established a significant reputation for a space with a small footprint: at the intersection in front of a motorcycle repair shop in the north-western Kowloon neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po, a district traditionally associated with electronics. Increasingly, however, the area has also become known for playing host to emerging artist-run and independent project spaces, which are growing in number if not in scale in the city. Often referencing and materially sourcing from the neighbourhood, they resemble countless initiatives from New York to Beijing that operate on big ideas and modest means.
By comparison, across Hong Kong, many grander schemes are planned or pending. These include MILL6 and Tai Kwun, both of which will give new life to historic buildings as cultural centres, and the surprise addition of Beijing’s Palace Museum to the same west Kowloon plot as the long-awaited M+ museum for visual culture. Their imminent arrival provides a glimpse of the cultural scene of a city on the verge of a sea change.
Responding to this shifting context, Holy Motors’ latest offering, ‘Outlette’, is an installation produced by the collective Display Distribute. Billing itself as ‘shop, exhibition space, distribution service and thematic inquiry’, the Kowloon-based group invites collaborators for projects that play on different cultural, capital and sharing economies. Here, they have worked with local fashion designer Yat Pit, who presents sample garments and accessories from her 2016 debut collection. These include a beaded top, handbag and shoes (with brilliant, purposely badly translated Chinese titles such as I’m Not Perfect but I Am Limited Edition and The Good Feeling of Fine Quality) installed atop display structures created by artist Bruno Zhu. Primarily comprised of a makeshift concoction using velvet ribbon and soda cans – the tabs of which are used as additional hanging space – Zhu’s resulting diamond-pattern display structure denotes anything from spider webs to Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic designs to home-improvement hacks. Each interpretation can be seen as a means of bringing some sense of control to circumstantial limitations.
While ‘Outlette’ cannot take on the magnitude of what Hong Kong’s ubiquitous high-rise developments represent, it can hint at the precariousness of its own existence among the reality of those similarly affected: namely, the hawker stalls, street markets and pop-up shops that form an intermittent patchwork blanketing the city. After all, how does any sense of rootedness exist in a city where your local anything – from groceries and bakeries to food, tea and medicine shops – can vanish overnight on account of rent hikes?
As Display Distribute proclaim in their press materials: ‘Constant partitioning and subletting results in the gradual degradation of space under the neoliberal guise of mobility and self-actualization. These are the same infrastructural conditions that inform the current configuration of Holy Motors.’
Main image: Display Distribute, 'Outlette', 2017, installation view. Courtesy: the artists and Holy Motors, Hong Kong
What ‘Outlette’ offers is the consideration of how a host of incongruent parts can come together: that is, the possibility of reconfiguration. In the context of a dynamic space like Holy Motors, which is showing what new creative outlets offer in a city of seemingly endless build-ups and tear downs, the installation becomes a testament to survival in Hong Kong and the balancing act its citizens face, teetering between self-determination and how others may wish to encapsulate them.
First published in Issue 188