What is the truth about Hong Kong
Vivienne Chow's letters from Berlin # 12
The best from both worlds
The Hong Kong journalist Vivienne Chow documents with her Letters from Berlin her research trip lasting several months through the art and culture scene of the German capital. New Letters appear weekly in the magazine.
We grow up believing that our home is the best place for us. Here we look for security and protection, here we are accepted as who we are, where we celebrate love and where we lick our wounds when someone has hurt us in the wide world out there. Our home is our refuge, physically, psychologically and spiritually.
But under what circumstances do we uproot ourselves and live our lives elsewhere?
That's the question a lot of people have been asking themselves lately, at least in my Hong Kong circle of friends. To tell the truth, many of my friends have toyed with the idea of moving abroad and building a new home in a distant country. But many of them are still reluctant to take this step. The prospect of starting a new life in a place with a higher standard of living is tempting, but maintaining that standard of living is a different matter.
However, some artists are able to do this. I recently met with the artists Isaac Chong Wai, Carla Chan and Jacqueline Wong from Hong Kong as well as Wu Chi-tsung from Taiwan, who has a connection to Hong Kong as he is represented there by Galerie Du Monde. They are some of the young people from Hong Kong (and Taiwan) I know who call Berlin their home.
For artists, Berlin seems like a sensible choice to live in. Hong Kong simply does not have a favorable environment for artistic and creative productions. The rents and livelihoods are far too high and there are not enough affordable large rooms that can be converted into artist studios. There are not enough museums and galleries that present art and artists who could further inspire the creative minds. They need something else to develop their artistic career.
Despite recent reports that rents in Berlin have increased so dramatically that the rate of increase was the highest in the world last year, it is still at levels that are significantly more affordable than Hong Kong's. There are many open public spaces and parks in Berlin. And believe it or not, the physical space in which we live has a great influence on our psychological space, which we need to think creatively and artistically. And the lifestyle in Berlin is much more relaxed and easier than cracking down in Hong Kong. In Berlin you can take your time to experience life and not just survive.
Chong and Chan recently moved into new studios in Berlin. Chong's studio is located in a studio complex in Wedding. It might not be the largest studio, but the ceiling is the tallest I've ever seen, probably five meters or more! Such a place would never exist in Hong Kong - any greedy landlord would have built two floors to increase profits. Chan's studio is smaller, but is located in a great new building in Gesundbrunnen, which houses artist studios and creative companies and is therefore a kind of center for tenants to exchange ideas, support each other and form a network.
Wu's studio is located a little further east of Berlin and is also a large complex for artists from all over the world. As a slightly more established artist, Wu has his studio in Berlin to get away from the hustle and bustle in Taipei and concentrate on his art.
In addition to the space, Berlin also offers countless art and cultural activities, whether on an institutional level or independently organized events. There is inspiration everywhere. And another important reason to live abroad is to stay away from the more and more politicized society in Hong Kong, which creates insecurities, social injustices and pressures on people's lives as if someone was always sitting on your back. People's limits are tested anew every day. You are distracted by the political turmoil and endless, unnecessary debates that revolve not only around politics but also basic rights and injustices.
So Berlin sounds perfect, doesn't it? But the truth is, despite all of Hong Kong's flaws, these artists cannot completely sever ties with their hometown. Aside from personal and family reasons, the thriving art scene in Hong Kong and the rest of Asia has opened many doors to these artists. Chong, for example, has exhibited in Hong Kong, including a solo exhibition at the Goethe-Institut Hong Kong and a performance piece with M +. Wong returned to Hong Kong this month to attend the iCoDaCo (International Contemporary Dance Collective) event as part of the ArtisTree Open Rehearsals. Wu has already had many exhibitions in the region and his stand at Art Basel in Hong Kong was a complete success. Chan is already planning upcoming exhibitions in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Where do we stand at this crossroads? The only solution is to live between two continents and have the best of both worlds - creating art (and living) in Berlin while pursuing the possibilities of exhibitions and career opportunities elsewhere. A big paycheck isn't guaranteed, but it does bring you a far more fulfilling life than committing to one place. Artists have always been the forerunners of society, and the way these artists live may give us a glimpse of our fate in the future.
Author: Vivienne Chow
Vivienne Chow is an award-winning journalist and critic specializing in art, culture and cultural policy. At the moment she works as an independent author and writes for the BBC, among others, Variety, Quartz, Artsy and South China Morning Post. In 2014 she founded the Cultural Journalism Campus, a non-profit initiative for the social participation of young people.
In 2018 she was the first female journalist from Hong Kong to receive the IJP Premium Fellowship Award of the International Journalist Program in Germany. In the summer of 2018, she spent several months in Berlin on a research trip on the subject of cultural policy.
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