One of the interactive works during Art Basel in Hong Kong that’s bound to capture the imagination of more than those who only visit the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre’s main venue will be roaming the streets of Hong Kong Island from March 20. Well, it’ll be trundling around on tram tracks between Causeway Bay and Sheung Wan, to be more precise. Local conceptual artist Kingsley Ng’s work Twenty-Five Minutes Older invites viewers on board two trams that essentially become moving installations that absorb, filter and project the urban landscape they traverse, to an accompaniment of prose extracts – narrated and displayed in both Cantonese and English.
Here, the artist himself explains more about the project that he’s been honing over the past few years.
How would you describe the conceptual intention of the tram piece?
Twenty-Five Minutes Older invites the audience to contemplate the city in a different light. A moving tram is turned into a camera obscura, in which passengers see a real-time optical relay of urban scenes in reverse. Along the century-old tracks, the tram also travels through time with a parallel narrative extracted from Liu Yichang’s renowned Tete-bêche, an illuminating tale that strikes a chord with today’s Hong Kong in numerous ways [it describes archetypal local cityscape’s sights and sounds].
How long was this project in the making?
It’s the cumulative result of experiences and thoughts since my first prototype in 2013.
What do you hope the visitor will experience when going into a tram?
When they see the moving lights of the city, and listen to the evocative narrative, each of them might form a different story in their mind. Multisensory treatments [also] hint that other stories are going on in parallel. While each visitor can experience the work in a unique, personal way, I hope they also share a moment of coexistence.
Will the trams be put back in action or were they already obsolete?
The trams are reconfigured from two that are usually routing through the city every day. The thing about a camera obscura is that, unlike recordable cameras, it doesn’t capture a single image. After the transient flow, if these 25 minutes are to last, perhaps they do so in the audience’s memories?
Were there any major challenges in making this piece of work as you planned it?
A very important idea in this work is that instead of offering a montage of visual images edited by the artist, the “live cinema” presents the life of the city as it is, uncut, and in real time. Through very small apertures, streams of moving cityscapes, momentary encounters, images of passers-by, often in the background, enter centre stage.
There are certainly challenges – we have no control of what will be seen. The work can vary so much at different times of day and in different weather conditions. No two moments are ever the same. I have been riding on the work perhaps close to a hundred times, and every time it’s still captivating. The very fact that the final result can never be anticipated is continually fascinating to me.
Kingsley Ng’s Twenty-Five Minutes Older runs between Causeway Bay and Western Market in Sheung Wan, from March 20-28. Tickets must be booked in advance via ticketflap.com/artbasel25mins.