Tag Archives: Hong Kong


11 Jun

Follow up to WHAT THE DUCK? When the Chinese Communist Party talks more sense than many art wonks about the real (i.e. non monetary) value of contemporary art, things are really screwed. It’s a bit like Hitler telling you to cool it with the anti–Semitism. The People’s Daily newspaper, effectively a sock puppet for the Party, recently issued an editorial in which it praised artist Florentijn Hofman’s wildly popular 16m tall duck installation in the bay at Hong Kong, while also firmly castigating the flood of copycat inflatables as “kitsch and unoriginal”. Kitsch and unoriginal are also pretty good descriptors of the Chinese commercial art world in general, which has been blindly hyped in the West in recent years.

Unoriginal art “will ruin our creativity and our future and lead to the loss of imagination eventually,” according to the People’s Daily. “The more yellow ducks are there, the further we are from Hofman’s anti-commercialization spirit, and the more obvious is our weak creativity,” it said. “It’s good that the rubber duck is popular, but it’s sad to see the innovation of our country to go down. We often talk about awareness and confidence in our own culture, but where do they come from?”

Giant Rubber Duck Given As A Gift In China

Fake Duck in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province. Bonus fake mini Arc de Triomphe!

The clones in question have appeared like a rash in third or fourth tier cities like Hangzhou, Wuhan and Tianjin as a shortcut for property developers selling the myth of a Hong Kong-esque lifestyle to the nouveau riche of mainland China. A 2m copy of Hofman’s duck can be had for 2,800 yuan (£290/€340), one the size of the original costs 118,000 yuan (£12,380/€14,490), and if you want to supersize it in truly vulgar, in-your-face, loadsamoney Chinese style a 20m tall giant copy costs 149,800 yuan (£15,700/€18,400).

Fake Duck by a magazine stall in Shanghai because… reasons.

A particularly shoddy replica capsizes in Shenyang, Liaoning Province.

PS: To further plumb the depths of China’s kitsch and unoriginality, read my post about visiting Shenzhen’s Dafen Painting Village, where any painting ever made can be copied and re-painted perfectly to order.

PPS: I shall be spending an unreasonable amount of time this afternoon exploring the site of KK Inflatable Factory (formerly Seven Star inflatable manufacturing factory and the Inflatable King Co. Ltd.) which is based somewhere in Guangzhou’s vast industrial megacity hinterland. It’s one of the Chinese manufacturers of the unoriginal and kitsch inflatable duck replicas. Can’t write any more now, must browse bouncy castles.



21 May


‘Rubber Duck’, like its maker Florentjin Hofman’s other work, is daft, kitsch, intellectually undemanding and entirely uncool. Yet its value, I think, lies in precisely these attributes. When was the last time the work of any artist celebrated on the front cover of Art Review or Frieze aroused general excitement, civic pride, despair at the prospect of it going away, or “limitless amounts of joy”? This last comment is from a discussion at the governmental level about the widespread positive fallout from Hofman’s avowed attempt to spread this joy. I certainly don’t think art can be or should be uniformly subjected to tests of popularity or popularism, but I also think that somebody except the artist and their friends should care about and connect with an art work.

Until recently the 16m tall duck was floating between Hong Kong island and Kowloon. Although described by the artist as a contemporary art work, which it is, the duck was brought to Hong Kong by a shopping mall as a promotional stunt. It’s very healthy that absolutely nobody seems at all interested in the sponsors and that the artist and his duck have gained far more publicity and kudos than the mall.

I say “until recently” because the joy came to an abrupt end when this happened:

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And it happened amid accusations of cigarette attacks by mainland China’s notoriously uncouth, vulgar tourists, the enmity of “duck haters” (yes, really) and various other conspiracy theories of the kind that run wild on Sina Weibo and its ilk whenever they get going on any subject even tangentially involving relations between Hong Kong and China. The most likely genuine explanation is environmental stress from the wind and waves, although the eventual face-saving Chinese style explanation was planned maintenance, i.e. “no, no, it’s not a PR disaster, we meant to do it.”

People had been coming from hundreds of miles away to see it, with a collateral commercial impact on everyone from street hawkers with yellow bath ducks (almost certainly made in neighbouring Shenzhen, the world’s factory) to hotels offering “duck view” hotel rooms. Rubber Duck’s untimely demise left many locals as jocularly or genuinely distraught as the Weibo user who wrote “Don’t die! I still haven’t had the chance to make a pilgrimage and come worship you, big yellow duck.”

Now let’s try to imagine anybody apart from their friends who work as curators or at art magazines giving a single, tiny fuck about the joyous arrival or the sad premature departure of absolutely any of the formulaic work done recently by critical young darlings like Haroon Mirza, Karla Black or Elizabeth Price who can apparently do no wrong…

OK, put down your pens, time is up. Anything? No, me neither.



18 Dec

Shenzhen by Guy Delisle

It was slightly surreal to read one of Guy Delisle‘s other books about being a temporary resident among famished, fearful citizens in an oppressive Communist country (Pyongyang) while I was a temporary resident sitting among beautiful, healthy Scandinavians in an extravagantly equipped, wonderfully comfortable and relaxed public library in über liberal and progressive Norway. It was in some ways even more surreal to read more recently his similar graphic memoir about working as an animation director in the Chinese city of Shenzhen and to realise that he’d had almost identical experiences and reactions to the place as myself. I don’t mean I identified with it. I mean he had exactly the same experiences as I did. Delisle was there in the late 1990s and I lived there ten years later (2007-2008), but surprisingly little seems to have changed. Probably a lot more buildings went up, and the metro system wasn’t there, and the population was smaller, but I could still even recognise some of the places from his drawings. I was there as an artist in residence at a gallery in Shenzhen. You can read about the (mostly ludicrous) experiences I had at that gallery in my book.

Delisle mentions the occasional blessed escapes to nearby Hong Kong where it feels like a massive weight has lifted from yourself and from everybody else; the fine Communist art of doing the absolute minimum amount of work (or less if you can get away with it), what’s called in Russian tufta; the pathological Chinese aversion to the sun, “as if it’s radioactive” to use Delisle’s perceptive phrase; the worrying amount of time you spend, with hindsight, lying on your bed in your underwear doing nothing, just for some respite from the dirt and the difficulty and from people randomly shouting HELLOO at you on the street when it’s clearly a kind of racist dig rather than a genuine greeting. I experienced all this too. When I finished this book I just wanted to give him a big hug and tell him with relief that it was OK, somebody understands, I felt exactly the same. Continue reading


31 Oct

Career Suicide: Ten Years as a Free Range ArtistI thought I would spice up our imaginary (and in most cases non-existent) relationship, dear reader, with some teasing previews of the good seeing-to that awaits you between the covers when you buy Career Suicide. It’s also coming out soon for the Apple store and other ebook formats (available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple Store, etc. now) so that might tempt you if you like ebooks or if you’re one of those zealots who threw all your DEAD TREE books and BARBARIC CDs onto the bonfire because you think it’s the future and you’re the protagonist in a William Gibson novel or something. See, this is what passes for marketing when I do it. I’m not going to kiss your arse. You should read the book, it’s good. It will improve your world a bit, I think. A number of people have said it’s better and more grounded in reality than Sarah Thornton’s book about the art world, which honestly isn’t a very high bar to hurdle. Still, I thank these people for the compliment.

The section excerpted here deals with my last period of work and residence in China; some of it has taken on new resonance following the arrests and disappearances of Ai Weiwei, Ai’s colleagues and various other artists and activists in the last few years.  It wasn’t exactly an idyllic utopia when I was there 2006-2008, but I wonder now how myself and my colleagues would have fared in the considerably more draconian climate that came into effect shortly after I left.

Ni hao, PRC Blue Army sock puppet whitewashers! Please criticise interfering, arrogant foreigner in comments!

I’m splitting this into several parts to be published over the next few days. It may interest you to know that this part of the book is the nucleus around which everything else was written. Following a conversation with one of the friends mentioned later on, at first I wrote it as private catharsis for myself. My secondary objective was to make my friend laugh. Having achieved both of these aims, I went on to catalogue some of the other highly educational artistic catastrophes I’ve been lucky enough to get tangled up with… and lo, a masterpiece was born.


The problems start before I do. I get an email warning me that when I arrive I’m to take a red taxi, not a yellow taxi, or a green one, or any vehicle calling itself a taxi whether it looks like one or not. At the time this raises a smile; obviously someone’s just had an adventure because it’s the kind of stipulation that only comes after a narrowly averted disaster.

It should also act as a reminder of the way things go, since I’ve been to China before, but the intervening time had eroded away my first temporary attempt at a Chinese mindset. But it doesn’t act as much of a prompt, possibly because my first Chinese experience was with younger people, the beneficiaries of China’s opening up to the world, and some of them have rather more open minds and hearts to match. Go as little as ten years further back— look even to people in their late twenties— and for the most part it’s Cultural Revolution damage as far as the eye can see. Continue reading

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