The heavy wooden door at the Oil Street Art Space doesn’t open properly – it gets stuck on an uneven concrete floor, so you have to squeeze through it. Such quirks can be forgiven: the venue is housed inside the former clubhouse of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, a tile-roofed, 114-year-old redbrick structure that was off-limits to the public until its restoration in 2013. It’s now an unexpected window to the past in a busy modern neighbourhood, a peaceful enclave where galleries and a café open onto a lawn shaded by mature trees.
In a way, it’s the ideal venue for 7-Paperholic, a new exhibition that uses paper art to examine the history and culture of North Point. Like the historic structure it calls home, the exhibition pays homage to texture and idiosyncrasy. “Normally an office lady will just use A4 paper, but they don’t know about thickness, colour, texture,” says curator Louiza Ho, standing inside one of Oil Street’s vaulted galleries. Many of the artists involved in the exhibition also work at the Hong Kong Open Printshop, which promotes paper art. “When we start working on printmaking, we really care about what kind of paper we use,” says Ho.
She walks over to a series of lithograph prints by Liz Lau that depict the topography of North Point in moody grey tones. Each print is deckle-edged—folded and ripped instead of cut by a blade—which exposes the paper’s layers. “We printmakers love these edges,” says Ho.
Many of the works use the texture of paper to reflect on Hong Kong’s urban fabric. Rainee Ng created a large poster inspired by the Ming Yuen Amusement Park, which once stood near North Point’s popular swimming beaches – all of which has vanished through redevelopment and land reclamation. “I took the idea of a big, playful thing that disappears in a short time,” says Ng. Using a raw cotton, mulberry paper from Thailand and cookie cutters, she has made figurines that visitors to the exhibition can pin to her poster – and then unpin when the exhibition winds down. “Everything around us in our neighbourhoods, the shops and buildings, they appear and disappear,” she says. By modifying her work through addition and subtraction, Ng hopes visitors will think about their own role in the city’s constant transformation.
Another set of works by Alvin Yiu explores Hong Kong’s relationship with the written word. Inspired by Sam Kee, a North Point bookstore famous for its abundance of cats, Yiu delved into Chinese literary history to produce two woodcut prints that reflect on the sacred nature of the written word. “In the past, Chinese people worshipped words – they thought that studying would give them a higher social status,” says Yiu. One of his prints contains a list of rewards for respecting the word, including long life, a harmonious family and wealth. The other details punishment for disrespect: poverty, bad health, failed career.
“I love to read a lot of books, especially literature and poetry, but nowadays people don’t treat the written word in a good way,” says Yiu. “I’d like to remind people stuck to their iPhones and tablets to rediscover text and its meaningful relationship with paper. The medium is the message,” he adds, echoing media theorist Marshall McLuhan.
A total of seven artists are participating in the exhibition, including hip hop star-turned-artist Prodip Leung, who channelled his fascination with aliens into a collection of UFO-shaped paper lanterns made by a craftsman on Cheung Chau. Illustrator Rex Koo contributes two silkscreened prints of North Point’s bustling Chun Yeung Street market, which are accompanied by a recording of the market’s ambient sounds.
Aside from the exhibition, 7-Paperholic will also play host to paper art workshops. A walking tour of North Point will take place on the afternoon of April 30. It will be a chance for visitors to reflect on how the city is changing, a recurring theme in most of the works – including Ho’s own contribution to the show, a series of embossed maps that depict the history of land reclamation along the North Point waterfront. “The tempo of Hong Kong is quite fast and a lot of us only care about our own lives, not about what’s around us,” she says. “I hope they can stop and think about what’s being lost.”
7-Paperholic takes place at the Oil Street Art Space from April 22 to July 24, 2016.