Press release

Exploring Hong Kong’s history of pandemics and its impact on the city

Starting this January, Wellcome Trust, the London-based global charitable foundation, will present Contagious Cities in Hong Kong. The international cultural project, which is taking place across global cities including New York, London and Geneva, supports local conversations about epidemic preparedness and how diseases have shaped the city physically, socially and culturally. 

The Hong Kong instalment of Contagious Cities explores Hong Kong’s experience of pandemics and the cultural and social impacts of disease on its community, and signifies Wellcome Trust’s first project of its kind in Asia.

In Hong Kong, the city-wide project invites its six local arts, culture and heritage partners to tell illuminating stories of the city’s history of epidemics – from the plague in the nineteenth century to the more recent SARS outbreak in 2003 – and its impact on the society. Opening to the public in Hong Kong in January with a talk on SARS at the Hong Kong Science Museum and an exhibition at Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, Contagious Cities’ insightful series of multidisciplinary programmes will run until July 2019.

The project in Hong Kong also features works of art produced from artist residency programmes supported by the Wellcome Trust, including Hong Kong artist Angela Su, who has recently completed a residency at the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, and artist collective Blast Theory’s residency at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

Contagious Cities will bring together a diverse range of in-depth programmes in collaboration with Art in Hospitals, Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, Oi! Street Art Space, Tai Kwun and The Common Core (HKU). 

'Far Away, Too Close' at Tai Kwun Contemporary

Officially kicking off the six-month long programme in Hong Kong is 'Far Away, Too Close', a research-based exhibition curated by Ying Kwok at Tai Kwun Contemporary, opening to the public on 26 January 2019. The exhibition explores the psychological and emotional dimensions of disease and contagion, particularly in relation to people and their ways of life. A heritage component in the exhibition will address the historical context of the bubonic plague, revealing how this relates to Tai Kwun and perpetual changes in daily lives and city development. 
'Far Away, Too Close' will include new works by ten emerging and established artists from the region: Oscar Chan Yik Long, Eastman Cheng, Enoch Cheng, Cheuk Wing Nam, Gayle Chong Kwan, Chou Yu-cheng, Firenze Lai, Angela Su and Wang Sishun.

The ambitious exhibition also includes works by eight artists that were specially commissioned for this exhibition, including Chou Yu-cheng’s olfactorial interactive work that will conjure ideas of sanitisation and habitmaking; a experiential and interactive work by Enoch Cheng that takes audience on an audio-led tour of Tai Kwun and will include performances; and Angela Su’s video- and performance-based work that explore the complicated implications of the project’s title.

The exhibition will feature UK-based artist collective Blast Theory’s 'A Cluster of 17 Cases', an interactive installation that explores the World Health Organization’s response to the 2003 spread of the SARS virus that started at the Metropole Hotel in Hong Kong, and a result of the first ever artists’ residency at the World Health Organization that was held in collaboration with Wellcome Trust for their Geneva leg of Contagious Cities. 'Far Away, Too Close' will run until 21 April 2019. 

Other partner projects

In addition to the exhibition at Tai Kwun and Angela Su’s artist residency, Contagious Cities will also feature collaborative projects with key partners across the city: 

  • From January 2019, Art in Hospitals will present 'Our Times', a series of art workshops, exhibitions and various activities that explore people’s memories, experiences and imaginations in disease through zine-making, painting, games and various creative activities to illustrate people’s reactions to diseases. Art workshops in hospitals will be conducted until March 2019, and patients and people with different abilities will be invited to Oi! Street Art Space to interact with communities. Art in Hospitals will also host two exhibitions at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital galleries from March to June 2019.  
  • Asia Art Archive will host a series of talks and workshops focusing on zines as a selfpublished medium that circulates outside of the mainstream visual art channels. It will explore the politics of zine production and distribution, and the radical approaches zines require librarians to take on. The programmes are organised in collaboration with local and UK zine practitioners, including zine librarians from Wellcome Collection.
  • In addition to hosting Angela Su’s artist residency, Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences is designing a bilingual mobile application that serves as a valuable resource for the Taipingshan Medical Heritage Trail and provides a map for app users to embark on a self-guided tour of the significant heritage trail. The application is slated to roll out in March 2019.
  • Oi! will invite Lawrence Pun and Tozer Pak to create 'Contagious Reading' from 22 March to 16 June 2019. Through writing and creating artworks, the project will rediscover the importance of reading and knowledge sharing in this Internet era, and respond to the theme of Contagious Cities with 'knowledge' as a medium.
  • The Common Core at the University of Hong Kong will collaborate with Wellcome Trust through various transdisciplinary programmes and activities including hosting Jazz Thoughts and Ferris Wheel Lectures around the concept of contagion and related terms. 

Contagious Cities is initiated by Wellcome Trust’s Creative Director Ken Arnold and delivered by International Cultural Producer Danielle Olsen working with partners across New York, London, Hong Kong and Geneva.

Running from January to July 2019, Contagious Cities will feature a diverse range of programmes and exhibitions that illuminates the role of urban areas in causing – and controlling – infectious disease in our densely connected world, through insightful collaborations with Hong Kong partners Art in Hospitals, Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, Oi! Street Art Space, Tai Kwun and The Common Core (HKU).

For more information, please visit Contagious Cities

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