Sunday, January 16, 2011

At Fo Tan for the Fotanian Open Studio Days

Venture onto this corridor and into an open door
on Fotanian Open Studio days...

...and you might find yourself in surroundings
such as Chow Chun Fai's wonderful work space

As the proverbial "they" say, never judge a book by its cover. To which I'd like to add "and buildings solely by how they look from the outside" -- and maybe especially in Hong Kong where I currently reside in an apartment in old tong lau which was nicely renovated and refurbished only a year before I moved in, and where more than one former industrial building and area have latterly become the spaces of choice for film companies and personnel, gigs organisers and fine artists.

A case in point is Fo Tan, a suburb of the New Territories "new town" and district of Sha Tin that, as late as the 1970s, was a rural township of about 30,000 people but now is an urban sprawl that is home to over 600,000 people. Developed as a light industrial area, it now may be better known for its artistic community whose members occupy over 80 studios, galleries and related space in this physically unassuming part of Hong Kong.

Ten years ago, members of this community held what amounted to the first Fotanian Open Studio days. This past weekend, I attended the 10th edition of this arts event which has grown to involve 260 artists and more than 80 studios but still remains quite a bit more casual and low key than one might expect -- especially when it counts the Sino Group as a backer.

If truth be told, I found quite the qualitative range with regard to the art on display at the event. Put another way: the works at the first studio I visited left me distinctly unimpressed but I fortunately went on to find art that I could appreciate at other locations on my tour -- notably Chow Chun Fai's studio and Belgian transplant Sarah Van Ingelgom's Blue Lotus Gallery, both of which are located in Wah Luen Industrial Centre that is at the Fotanian art community's heart.

In addition, I have to admit to often finding the space in which I got to go inside more fascinating than the art on display within them. For instance, in Chow Chun Fai's studio, I found a large but cosy space full of books that provided ample illustration that this artist was well versed in art history and criticism, DVDs that showed that he was a major movie buff who really had done his research with regards to his Hong Kong movie-themed artworks and a work desk and related accoutrements to die for! Meanwhile, the Blue Lotus Gallery -- with its white walls and floor and large windows that let in views of a nearby green hill -- had a wonderfully light and airy feel to it.

To say the least, these are not the kind of spaces I expected to find in an industrial area. Alternatively, I definitely can see how they could be the kind of spaces where one can come by artistic inspiration as well as the kind of spaces where art can be exhibited in style. :)

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