Both Sides Now II – It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times?

Isaac Leung and Jamie Wyld

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ is the famous opening line of Charles Dickens’ book A Tale of Two Cities, which depicts the complexity of the French Revolution and the parallel ugly world of London life that took place at the same time. Despite the horrors of mob violence portrayed in the novel not occurring in Hong Kong in the present, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ is nevertheless the ideal description of the current situation in Hong Kong and beyond.

Perhaps we should celebrate Hong Kong’s recent best of times. The sesame-seed-sized city, which transformed from a cottage industry economy to a gleaming financial centre, enjoyed a strong Hang Seng Index and excellent tourist figures in 2014. From the Golden Bauhinia statue, with the backdrop of magical fireworks that light up the synchronised dance of the neon skyline, to the hustle and bustle in the shopping malls – Hong Kong’s accomplishments are vitally connected to the flourishing age of China. The successful story of Hong Kong grows onward from being an entrepot of the East/West to being a part of China, the new super power of the world.

Apart from the unabashedly postcard views of Hong Kong’s skyline, zooming in at street level one can also see Hong Kong’s best time, from a different angle, in 2014. From the micro-communities that emerged on the unprecedented car-free streets to live music that was in sync with thousands of friendly smiles, many finally found the city they grew up in. In daylight, without the glitz and glamour of nightly neon lights, the iconic Lion Rock Mountain glowed, returning the spirit of action to Hong Kong’s people, and a sense of home and belonging. In smoke-filled air, through tears, the new generation of Hong Kongers found their way.

No matter which perspective you prefer, 2014 was with little doubt Hong Kong’s best time. But what about the worst? According to a survey conducted by the Sunday Times, London has more billionaires than any other city in the world, with Hong Kong in sixth place for number of billionaires. In an age of meritocratic ideals when aristocracy has virtually been abolished, perhaps the current ‘prosperity’ is too opaque to get a clear picture of reality. In a time when the Bauhinia is coated with shiny gold, perhaps it is too luxurious to even think about what is the worst. The rose, the national flower of England, planted in Hong Kong by people from the other side of the world, has become the ever-flourishing flower in collective and romantic memories.

In contrast, the UK could be said to be experiencing a very clear worst of times. A country being thrust into austerity, the threatened deconstruction of the welfare state to 1930s’ standards, and the NHS on the edge of privitisation, there is a sense of foreboding darkness. In 2014, the United Kingdom came close to disuniting, with the Scottish referendum at 45% yes votes; Scotland almost went its own way. And with a European referendum planned for 2017, there is the possibility of leaving the EU. The UK is in cultural, financial and national identity crisis.

The UK government is aggressively attacking its people – with citizens legally voting in a pro-austerity, pro-NHS-privitisation agenda. It is the worst of times. For some. Many.

Opposingly, the UK remains in the G7, one of the richest developed countries in the world. The UK has the most progressive equality rights for LGBT people globally. It supports and promotes internationally recognised arts and heritage through national funding programmes, and has some of the best universities in the world. Yet inequality is strife.

Both Sides Now 2 attempts, through moving image works, to explore national identity and culture, and to raise questions about both China & Hong Kong and the UK. Comparisons between both countries arise – revolution and referendum, richness and austerity, lions and tigers. And unicorns.

Both Sides Now 2 – It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times? is the second phase of a long-term project that proposes (historical) re-readings of artists’ moving image from Hong Kong, China and the UK. By selecting video works of art, animations and documentary films, produced by Hong Kong and UK artists from 1989 to 2014, the project will reinterpret the experience of here and now by looking into the potentially excluded and forgotten moving images of Hong Kong.

In the new edition, videoclub (UK) and Videotage (HK) bring together internationally-recognised artists from the fields of video and film during a several month-long programme from June – December 2015. To build on the ideas posited from the success of Both Sides Now – Somewhere between Hong Kong and the UK, 15 art organisations in the UK, China and Hong Kong will take part in various extensive screenings, exhibitions and artists-in-residence programmes.

Both Sides Now is part of the new initiative Acentered – Reterritorized Network of European and Chinese Moving Image, which is a project umbrella that interlinks extensive media art institutions in China and Europe.  To build on the ideas posited from the success of Both Sides Now, Videotage and videoclub are planning to further initiate exchanges between Europe and China with an eye towards the future of experimental moving image. Acentered will continue to explore moving image from regional, national and global perspectives. By initiating long term collaborations between extensive European and Chinese art institutions, Acentered will aim to stimulate minds and broaden horizons for institutions and individuals alike on both sides of the world.

Programme Booklet