HONG KONG: MUSEUM PLAY
We’re browsing a gallery of Chinese antiquities at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, weary at the end of a long day’s diversions, when suddenly it sinks in that there’s something quite odd about the exhibits.
Among the Ming Dynasty vases there’s a glass case containing what looks like an expensive blue and white porcelain bowl that’s been dropped and frozen at the moment of impact before it shatters into at least a thousand pieces. Stuck to the sides of the cabinet are three plump, cheeky ceramic babies, presumably the cause of all this commotion, with their faces pressed against the glass like pink prunes.
We look around at the traditionally staid objects and suddenly they come alive. In each display case more chubby ceramic tots are cheerfully creating havoc.
One stares defiantly at an imperial guard dog, pointing proudly at the corkscrewed pile of poo he’s produced; another strikes a heroic pose as he pisses into a priceless pot; another appears to gleefully breakdance before a band as it strikes up a tune.
We discover it’s all the work of Johnson Tsang, a brilliant sculptor and ceramist who’s among 18 contempor- ary Hong Kong artists invited to contribute to the exhibition The Past is Continuing, which runs at the museum until September 28.
Tsang calls his work bReAK tHE ruLeS and says he hopes it will encourage visitors to look at the antiquities with fresh eyes.
We’re in Hong Kong on a five-day jaunt with our 11year-old son and we’ve been lured to the New Territories by the prospect of a day’s activities that range from the kitsch to the bizarre. We’ve decided that today will be one for cultural diversions, having spent the previous two exerting ourselves on exhilarating walks over Hong Kong Island — first hiking the magnificent Dragon’s Back trail to Shek-O Beach, then taking in peerless views over the city on The Peak Circle Walk.
Today we’ve opted to stay Kowloon-side, so our shuttle bus drops us at Hung Hom MTR station, not far from our waterfront hotel. A 15-minute train ride takes us to Sha Tin station, and from there we follow the crowd for the short walk to the bottom of a bamboo-forested hill. A humble sign on a wire fence announces The Sha Tin Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery and we trudge up 430 steps, gazing in awe and amusement at the 500 gilt, lifesize statues that line the path. These figures range from the grinning to the grotesque (one even has a pair of arms emerging from its eye sockets) and each apparently represent a different aspect of the experience of enlightenment. Inside the main temple at the top we see walls lined with 13,000 miniature statues of Buddha, each also adopting a different pose and expression.
We make our way back down the hill, past the Snoopy theme park and municipal gardens and along a canal to the cool, cavernous Hong Kong Heritage Museum. The star attraction here is a long-running exhibition (to July 2018) devoted to kung fu master and movie star Bruce Lee, whose short but influential life is celebrated in the show, the largest ever on the local hero’s life. Its 600-odd items of memorabilia include the famous yellow tracksuit he wore in his final, unfinished film, Game of Death (copied for Uma Thurman’s costume in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill), personal notebooks recording cha-cha steps and even a 3D hologram animation of Lee swinging his nunchaku.
It is while we are reeling from all the kung fu overkill that we have meandered through the ceramics exhibition to be hit with that surprise punch from Johnson Tsang’s playful porcelain tots. It’s been that sort of day. • hk.heritage.museum • discoverhongkong.com
The Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, above; one of Johnson Tsang’s playful works, above right