Cleverly intermixed with Hong Kong’s famous (and underwhelming) nightly light show, two artists’ secret political message for the city has been unceremoniously and unsurprisingly snuffed out.
Last week, the facade of Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, the ICC building, was lit up for nine minutes a night with a seemingly innocent string of nine random digits, as well as various other seemingly apolitical messages.
However, once the shows were underway, the artists revealed the true meaning of their work. The numbers represented a clock counting down by the second to July 1, 2047 — the date that China’s 50-year agreement to govern Hong Kong by the “one country, two systems” principle expires.
Dubbed the “Countdown Machine,” the installation was the work of two local artists, Sampson Wong Yu-hin and Jason Lam Chi-fai, and was part of a larger public media art exhibition called “Human Vibrations” that was commissioned by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC).
However, on Sunday, the HKADC issued a statement, charging that the artists had changed both the title and statement of their work without first consulting them. The council said that this unsanctioned move was “jeopardizing our profession and put at risk any future possibility to work further in the public space.” Therefore, while it was scheduled to run until June 22nd, the work has been cancelled.
Wong and Lam had originally named their piece “Our 60-second friendship begins now,” inspired by the classic Wong Kar-wai film “Days of Being Wild.” According to HKFP, they originally pitched the work as an “apolitical animation to encourage people to have impromptu interactions with each other.”
The installation just so happened to coincide (unintentionally the artists claim) with last week’s visit to Hong Kong by Zhang Dejiang. A Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs, Zhang was in town to discuss China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative. During his stay, he resided at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Wan Chai right across the harbor from the 119-story ICC building in Kowloon.
In a Facebook post, Wong said that the work was cancelled under the direction of “people in power at high levels.” He confessed that he wasn’t surprised his work had been pulled, but slammed the council’s reasoning.
“The public and history can decide who’s really jeopardizing the (arts) industry,” he wrote.
You can watch a video of the “Countdown Machine” below: