After the Umbrella Movement – Countervisuality and Socially-engaged art practices in Hong Kong

Frank Vigneron

In late 2014, the pro-democracy demonstrations that were called the ‘Umbrella movement’ revealed to the world that Hong Kong was not the money-obsessed society it had often been portrayed as. During these 79 days, its participants produced a very large amount of ephemeral objects that came to represent a number of things to various people. Presented as art by some, as mere mementos by others, they collectively represent an important trace of a major intellectual and political event whose consequences are still extremely difficult to assess. In the words of Nicolas Mirzoeff, professor of visual culture at New York University, they can be seen as a manifestation of the countervisuality enacted by the participants of the Umbrella movement: they represent the resistance of those fighting for the right to see and be seen. As such, these ephemerals need to be preserved. This talk will trace the destiny of a collective of artists and activists who tried to keep them as a living collection and how these objects and the way they have been managed have revealed many of the contradictions inherent in the society of Hong Kong today.

Following the idea of socially-engaged art practices as dissensus formulated by Jacques Rancière, and considering it in the context of the idea of universal education he analyzed in The Ignorant Schoolmaster, this talk looks at different ways to introduce contemporary art practices to a public not prepared to appreciate them. Several art events organized in Hong Kong over the last few years, and analyzed as either tactic or strategy (following Michel de Certeau’s classification), will be presented in order to understand how they function in Hong Kong as a way to the public’s emancipation aesthetically and, sometimes, even politically.

Frank Vigneron, Professor, Fine Arts Department, The Chinese University of Hong Kong