Author: John Batten

Arthur Hacker’s Unique Hand 許敬雅的藝術之手

Arthur Hacker left London in 1967 for a job as an art director in the colonial Hong Kong Government’s Information Services Department. Among his luggage would have been the air of London’s cultural whirl, glimpsed in the ambience of movies of the time: Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup; revolutionary youth against the whole (damn) system in Lindsay Anderson’s If… ; and the violence and Stalinist social conditioning in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Hacker brought his tight modernist graphic skills with him, complemented by the era’s psychedelia and surreal humour. His artist’s eye was broadened by the satire and profanity of Oz magazine; the bright animation of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine; the era’s counterculture and rock music; its fashion, book, magazine and record cover design; and the ground-breaking pop art of his British contemporaries Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton. These progressive influences and an openness to depictions of life’s oddities would form a key source for Hacker’s curlicue graphical drawings.  Hacker came to Hong Kong with a liberal, individual outlook on life and over the years he …

Entrance lobby of Tang King Po School, Ma Tau Wei, Kowloon, Hong Kong, 29 December 2021.

A few days after hearing of the closure of another of Hong Kong’s remaining pro-democracy news outlets, Stand News, and its web archive, I decided I needed a good walk to shake off the gloom. Before meeting Michele Chu, an artist friend exhibiting at 1a space in Tai Kok Tsui, I wandered around nearby Ma Tau Wai. I entered the beautiful 1950s modernist campus of Tang King Po School, which has an open chapel for worshippers. I admired the inner cloistered courtyards, visited the chapel and chatted to the friendly caretaker. The ambience was utterly solid, stable – otherworldly, almost. It was a perfect retreat for an hour – and a reminder to just get on with it. Later, I mentioned to Michele that I had visited the school and she recalled that when she learnt to drive a car, the instructor told her to remember “Tang King Po” School as she was preparing to drive, a homonym in Cantonese for “seat, mirrors, gears” – a simple reminder to adjust all three before driving. A moral there: …

Unloading a container of fruit near the wholesale fruit market, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong, 26 September 2021.

Daily, from the late afternoon until the early hours of the following morning, the streets surrounding the wholesale fruit market in the old district of Yau Ma Tei are transformed. Large containers arrive from just-unloaded ships or across the mainland border. Teams of workmen quickly unload the contents onto pallets that are trundled on trolleys through the streets, with cars and minibuses weaving in between. The newly arrived fruit is temporarily held in the market’s warehouses or on roadsides before being distributed throughout Hong Kong to independent fruit vendors, restaurants, suppliers and other outlets. The historic market is a labyrinth of alleys linking small wholesale businesses, including a row of 1930s shophouses converted into a warehouse. The site’s heritage extends onto the streets, as the physicality of loading and unloading under darkness amid moving, torch-like car headlights has a timeless, gothic ambience.  However, all this could go; the Hong Kong government has just announced the future removal of the market and its conversion into a place “for tourists” – no doubt, the business plan will involve high-price and/or tacky restaurants, bars and shops. …

Statue of Sun Yat-sen on National Day, Shek Tong Tsui, Hong Kong, 1 October 2018

Seemingly facing the flags of China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the statue of nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen is itself overlooked by the hovering presence of the nearby mainland Liaison Office’s distinctive sphere-topped office building. Photographed six months before government-proposed extradition legislation that triggered mass demonstrations, the statue itself was later graffitied amid widespread anti-government street protests. This formal scene does not anticipate the outbreak of Covid-19 and the momentous introduction of the mainland-imposed national security legislation to ensure that in the future only “patriots will run Hong Kong”. 民族領袖孫中山的塑像看似面向中國國旗和香港特別行政區區旗,倒被附近座落中聯辦獨特的圓頂辦公樓俯瞰。攝於政府送中條例風波引發大規模示威之前六個月,照片中雕塑完好無損,但在大型的反政府街頭抗議中被塗鴉。從這個景象裡,未能預計疫情的爆發,以及由中國大陸推行的國安法的重大實施,去確保將來只有「愛國者治港」。 Photo: John Batten

Seafront assemblage, Peng Chau island, Hong Kong, 9 December 2020.

On the small, carless island of Peng Chau (pop: 6,487), this is a typical scene: the contents of a ground floor apartment spilling onto adjacent public space, absorbing it as its own. Seen in the distance is Hong Kong’s largest island, Lantau; and, with a lovely seafront position the affects of offshore winds can give ‘dynamic movement’ to a photograph, but has battered the blue-striped multi-use tarpaulin, whose shards now roughly cover surplus hardware, furniture, and appliances, but miss a set of ‘musical’ chairs, and a washing-machine mouthing “Oh!”  在無憂無慮的小島坪洲(人口:6487)上,有這麼一幕典型場景:底層單位的傢俬散佈至畔鄰的公園區域,將其納為己用。身在此處,能眺望到香港最大的島嶼,大嶼山。於此絕佳位置,照片看起來有一層離岸海風吹拂的動感效果,但同時也令藍條紋的多用途防水布變得破舊不堪。這塊布如今草草的遮蓋在多餘的五金用品、傢俱和電器上,卻忽略予一對「音樂」椅子和一架「O咀」的洗衣機。 Photo: John Batten

‘Jesus’ graffiti in Arcadia (lazing lovers, roped-off picnic area next to waterfall), near Mui Wo,Lantau Island, Hong Kong, August 14, 2020. 

After summer rain, this peaceful park has a cascading waterfall and a full water hole. Groups of young people lounge in the late afternoon sun after a swim. A languid couple relax, chatting, the only people caught in the photograph.  Another place is demarcated by the padlocked BBQ pit and roughly erected, frequently ignored security tape roping off seating and tables. Covid-19 social distancing rules are still loosely prescribed, even in this isolated spot. In this year of coronavirus, the graffiti on display is  alternatively a wailed cry to Jesus or one of disdain – “Jesus!” – concerning the restrictions imposed in Arcadia. 一場夏季雨後,這個寧靜的公園出現了一個傾注的瀑布和一個完整的水洞。一群年輕人在池中暢泳後,在夕陽下悠然自得。照片中唯一的人物就是一對從容的情人,兩人神情輕鬆,你一言我一語。另一個地方的燒烤爐被鎖起,旁邊的椅桌由保安膠帶隨意圍起,但市民大都漠視。即使在這個偏僻的地方,2019冠狀病毒的社交距離規則仍然在目,雖然人們只勉強遵守。疫情嚴峻的一年,展出的塗鴉是一個對上帝的哀號,亦是怒喊——「耶穌!」,對遠離塵囂仍存在的枷鎖表態。 Photo: John Batten