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The buildings of a city, like the lines on the palm of a hand, are the silent vehicles of its memories. Old houses are the most intriguing buildings from the past, because they used to be homes, where memories and traces of the life of past inhabitants would offer later generations a channel to go back in time and share a piece of history that encompasses us all. In a contemporary context, art can give old houses a new lease of life, and help foster local cultural memory and community empathy. The value of a house is not in the space built to live in; it is in the extension of the spirit of its inhabitants.

With this mission to free old homes and houses from their time wrap, the Art Promotion Office presented the exhibition from January to July 2017. Entitled ‘Hi! Houses’, it was an art project set out to re-think the use of space in old houses. The project had chosen four century-old historic buildings in Hong Kong, namely the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum, Old House at Wong Uk Village, Law Uk Folk Museum and Sam Tung Uk Museum and commissioned four local artists, Wilson Shieh, Lam Tung Pang, Fiona Wong and Jaffa Lam, to lead their teams to create site-specific artworks to inject new life into them. The artists apply their idiosyncratic visual lingo to project how the past inhabitants lived and what stories they had in the old houses. These four public exhibition spaces derived from previous old houses all have their own histories and culture, and together with on-site public art installations, hoping the visitors would find it easy to visualise and feel the house as once being a home.

Wilson Shieh endowed various artistic elements such as Canton enamel from ceramics of Qing dynasty’s Tongzhi era, wallpaper patterns of Victorian era, architectural styles of Hong Kong colleges and Ukiyo-e from Japanese Meiji era to create artistic screens in Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum. Shieh said he hoped to trace the footsteps of Dr Sun Yat-sen throughout his life with visitors and review the revolutionary history from another perspective.

Lam Tung Pang put old furniture that he collected from different places into the Old House at Wong Uk Village. By looking at the old furniture, visitors would be able to recall the past and be inspired to reminisce about a past era and explore its history. Lam said he also hoped, with the help of sounds and images as well as a series of public programmes, to transform the Old House into an interactive space that can be studied and viewed at ease, exploring with visitors on how old houses can relate to themselves.

Working from a modern perspective, Fiona Wong re-designed and decorated the rooms of Law Uk Folk Museum by putting new furniture and clothes made with porcelain together with the existing old furniture. Juxtaposing the old and the new, Wong did not only bring out contemporary people’s passionate yearnings for a home in this historical monument, but also discussed the connection between the Hakka spirit and the universal culture with visitors.

Jaffa Lam presented scenes of the Chan clan's daily life in Sam Tung Uk with various art installations. Blending the Hakka migration story with her personal experience, Lam also created Nanyin music to be played in the exhibition. The music could not only strengthen the fact that Nanyin is a form of intangible cultural heritage, but also let visitors examine the meanings of "home" and "guest".


  • Trailer of Hi! Houses