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From Cow Shed to Creative Community: Hong Kong’s Cattle Depot and the Nurturing of Grassroots Art

By Localiiz 30 May 2014
May 30th 2014 Fresh off the back of its second Art Basel, the Hong Kong creative scene has cause for celebration. From the successful launch of PMQ in April to the highly anticipated M+ (due to open in 2017), it would appear that Hong Kong art is beginning to gain confidence and credibility. But in order to become a true force on the global art stage, do we need to redress the balance between commerciality and creativity? Jessica Hamilton visits the little-know Cattle Depot Artists Village to find out. Somewhat of a hidden gem for Hong Kong art lovers, the Cattle Depot Artists Village (63 Ma Tau Kok Road, To Kwa Wan) is an unusual space, housing some 19 studios and offices dedicated to many facets of art. Here, there is a sense of a diverse and an engaged community; a real example of how the wider HK art scene could unite. The Cattle Depot site is interesting in itself; a Grade II listed building, red brick sheds and cattle troughs (complete with ring fastenings) remain as evidence of its history as an abattoir. Converted in 2001, the atmosphere is now very serene – perhaps one advantage of being in a largely quiet part of Kowloon. The depot’s generous outside space is usually unused by the artists, but recent months have seen well-attended music sessions with a genuine feel of spontaneity. At one such event I stumbled into studio number 1 and found artist Wong Chun Wing, who has been happily tinkering away at the Cattle Depot for 13 years. He works largely with metal and glass, and also runs workshops with local children.

Frogman at No.10

  Studio number 10 belongs to renowned Hong Kong artist Kwok Mang-ho, better known as ‘Frogman’ or ‘Frog King’. An artist of international standing, Mang-ho still relies on this space to develop his portfolio. In addition to individual artists, the Cattle Depot is also home to non-profit organisations like Videotage, headquartered here for 13 years. Videotage provides a platform for video and media art, hosting exhibitions and discussions from artists around the world. The organisation’s chairman Isaac Leung believes passionately in improving communication between different parts of the art market and the Hong Kong government. “I think the problem in Hong Kong is that we don’t have a coherent master plan for cultural industry…lack of land space is a particularly big issue. If the government could observe some artists working it would be a big help,” said Isaac, adding that now is the perfect time to start building this plan, as the Hong Kong art world starts to evolve.

Wong Chun Wing

  “Historically, the local art scene was very strong and the commercial art scene was too, but they were not really collaborating until recently with art fairs and new projects. Suddenly all these different people had opportunities to work together. The landscape is really changing.” Communication, it would seem, is key to shaping the future standing of art in Hong Kong and ensuring local and commercial enterprises, as well as the government and art groups, collaborate more in the future. Art Basel and commercial art fairs have doubtless gone some way towards helping this, but I for one am yet to find a venue so open to the questions and opinions of a total stranger as the Cattle Depot. To go there is to escape for a moment to a space where it is the creation of art, and not its monetary value, that really matters. I hope that in the building of its cultural capital, Hong Kong can learn from communities like this one.

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