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Speech by the Secretary for Home Affairs


Following is the speech by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Dr Patrick Ho, at the closing session of "Soul of the City: International Symposium on Art and Public Space" held at the Hong Kong Arts Centre today (February 14) (English only):

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

It is a tremendous pleasure to see you all again - I am sure you are more tired than when we met yesterday morning, but hopefully also more enriched. I for one am extremely happy with the way that things have gone over the past two days. The programme that we put together has not only stimulated a lot of discussion and debate, it definitely helped us here in Hong Kong to view our city from new perspectives, as well as establish new contacts with the cultural and arts sectors in Eastern Europe, the UK, Japan and the Mainland. I certainly hope that, to borrow the words of Humphrey Bogart, 'this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship'. And I hope that our overseas guests have enjoyed your time here in Asia's world city.

Yesterday morning, when I spoke at the beginning of this symposium, I shared my view on the various ways in which art was integrated into public space, from the rudimentary level of simply putting artwork in public space with or without reference to spatial temporality, to a subtler approach of creating an artistic public space with art being integrated into the various elements that outline and exist in the space such as in London as shown by Manson, and finally to the metaphysical meaning of public space when public space itself became a living, organic structure which can be conducive to artworks being created. We have debated the fundamental question as to who has the authority to make the choice of artwork to be placed in public space. Should the art reflect the taste, values and aspirations of the community? Those of the artists? Or those of the curators? Or the authority? On the other hand, we are having a fruitful discussion on how to turn public space for a more artistic 'look and feel'. This is readily within our reach insofar as cross-sector co-operation, involving both public and private sectors, could be achieved.

This symposium adopts the title, "art and public space". Having heard the lively and enlightening discussion over the past two days, I would say that it might be more appropriate to call it " public space and art". Art is ever-changing, shaped by the culture, history, geography and the people around it. To me, art can be like a sponge - it could expand and take on greater volume so long as there is enough water for it to soak up. Creation of artwork alone is, without doubt, important, but this importance must be seen in context.

For art to flourish, it needs a platform that is conducive to its creation, refinement and continual enhancement. And one of such platforms is a public space that nourishes creativity, provides ample room for artistic endeavour and builds on its past achievements to generate unlimited artistic expression. I am glad that the discussion of this symposium, in general, goes beyond the more mundane issues of what artwork to be placed where and who to put it. The focus has rightly fallen on the metaphysical meaning of public space - how to create an organic public space within which art could grow and prosper with full strength.

Public space owes its existence to the people who create it. How well it functions in the process of facilitating artistic creation depends very much on the soul of the city the water that the sponge soak up to fill the space, the driving force that gives the city its shape, movement, content and essence. So when we discuss about the 'soul of the city', we are really examining. What it is that makes Hong Kong kick and tick? What gives us heart and soul? Indeed, what gives any city a heart and soul, or what is the city's heartware and soulware.

As I mentioned yesterday, people often comment on the hectic pace of life and the energy here in Hong Kong. But why do people get that impression? Is it simply because there are lots of people hurrying here and there, anxious to close a business deal, catch a train, or perhaps even to buy the latest and most trendy mobile phone model? Why is it that when we want something done in Hong Kong? We want it done yesterday? Is it because of the way that the city is built, with high-rise buildings dominating the skyline and thousands of neon signs shining in the streets - does that atmosphere instil in people a sense of urgency, action or progress? To a certain extent, all of that is true. Hong Kong people live life with a passion, passion for ourselves and in what we do, and passion for what we believe in. Passion, is Hong Kong's heartware. Passion is what makes Hong Kong interesting - that the Hong Kong experience is different - and also because we live in a very complex and diverse society made up a lot of interesting people with sharply contrasting background, inclination and disposition, juxtaposed and rubbing shoulders day after day in this confinement called Hong Kong. And diversity, is Hong Kong's soulware.

We are not a uni-dimensional community. There is enormous contrast here - from the trams and ferries that have carried passengers the same way from more than 100 years, to the private jets parked at the airport to fly business executives around the world; from glistening high rise to humble squatter hut; from concrete canyons to quiet country park track; from bustling street markets to the silver sheen of shopping malls.

There are quite distinct social and ethnic groups in Hong Kong. There is a constant diversity of races and cultures and expectations living here and passing through. We are an overwhelmingly Chinese society, but a Chinese society influenced by more than 150 years of Western, colonial administration. Expatriates from around the world have made Hong Kong their home, and in the process added yet more layers and colour to the fabric of our makeup. Large communities of domestic helpers from The Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka add yet another dimension to our society. We are a natural attraction for overseas Chinese - people who have emigrated to, or grown up in, the West but feel more at home in an Oriental city blended with an Occidental outlook on life. More and more of our Mainland cousins are also venturing to Hong Kong for work and leisure - drawn by the lure of the international market and our different social, economic and legal systems.

All of these contrasts create a dynamic tension within our society, which in turn generates a driving force and vibrancy that keeps this city on its toes. This tension keeps modulating the ambit of our city, so that every day we are forced to keep learning to live with ourselves and to keep learning to love with a passion, to hate with a passion, or to do both at the same time and equally with a passion. That's the Hong Kong way.

Many of you will have seen, or at least heard about, the Dragon Dance, which is usually performed on auspicious occasions, or to provide special events with an auspicious start. Before a Dragon Dance can begin you must first dot the eye of the dragon to bring it to life, to make it complete, to give it meaning. Without this small black dot a dragon cannot see, he is without direction and cannot follow the pearl of wisdom that is always paraded elusively before him. And if the eyes are the window of the soul, then the people of a city are like the dot of a dragon's eye, bringing it to life, giving it vision and reflecting its soul. Hong Kong is an interesting place, with interesting events happening everyday, with interesting people, and with an interesting future, outlook.

Public space and art. But it is people that makes the chemistry between public space and art meaningful and pertinent. The diversity, complexity, multi-layering of our society, and our dichotomous cultural histories have provided a foundation upon which creativity of our people finds its persistent inspirations and momentum. This creativity, when sewn as seeds in a cultivated public space watered with passion, will blossom as artful elements, pursuits and results. That is why I strongly believe we, as a people, should embrace passion and celebrate diversity and variety. The most important task for the government, in my view, is to safeguard, protect public space, create more public space, and endow the space with the necessary ingredients and infrastructure, and let art flourish.

Ladies and gentlemen, this symposium, and discussions over the past two days have provided us in Hong Kong with a template to pursue similar endeavours in the future. We are eager to further explore how art affects and reflects people's lives and the societies in which we live. And if we begin to explore art and culture in greater depth, we may also begin to look at other areas such as economic and social development, and government, with new eyes or from different angles. We might begin to realise that public policy cannot be dealt with in isolation, but rather as a sum of competing interests in political, economic, social, cultural and artistic development. That as the world becomes more connected, it becomes more complicated. That we need a holistic approach to our problems and challenges to make sure that we balance the various competing needs within our societies.

I hope that this symposium will also help to boost our creative industries, in terms of international exposure, economic opportunity and as a cultural asset. As our discussions have shown, art and public space is itself a multi-faceted and even complicated topic. It sounds simple enough but impacts on many aspects of our lives, as individuals and as a society. I believe all of those who have taken part in this symposium have helped us to gain a greater understanding of art and public space.

Thank you all very much for your enthusiastic response to our call, and your contributions to the symposium. I do hope that we will see you back here in Hong Kong again soon, I am sure that we will take with us our own personal reflections on the 'soul of our city' and that, perhaps one day in the future, those reflections will form the kernel of an artistic endeavour of our own.

Thank you.

Ends/Saturday, February 14, 2004


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