Oi!

Come Art with Us

油街實現

Lesley Lau 劉鳳霞 / Wilson Fan 范庭峰

屬於二級歷史建築的「油街實現」是前香港皇家 遊艇會會所,其建築外型呈現了中西文化合壁的 「藝術與工藝」風格。二十多年前,它毗連已拆卸 的前政府物料供應處大樓曾是「油街藝術村」- 香 港第一個自發組成的藝術群體的發源地。經活化後 的「油街實現」是一個公營的藝術空間,旨在讓大 眾體驗藝術的同時,亦為本地年輕藝術工作者提供 一個實現創作及互相交流的平台。本文藉著說明 「油街實現」的理念,帶出歷史空間活化的無限可 能性,以及讓藝術融入社區的意義。


Subsequent to the 2013 Policy Address, which put a focus on revitalising historic buildings in Hong Kong, Oi! was established and under the management of the Art Promotion Office, with the transformation of the historic buildings at 12 Oil Street, North Point, into an art space, whose aim is to nurture young artists, promote community engagement, and become a project space for social innovation. Oi! is a platform for empowering the experience of multi-disciplinary co-creation to spark creativity and transform the everyday lives of people and those around them through art. It is a space that allows boundless imagination and encourages experimental ideas. Countless possibilities are waiting to be explored in Oi!’s extension due to open in early 2022.

History

Oi! Comprises a group of Grade II historic buildings that formed the clubhouse of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club from 1908. After being surrendered by the club in 1938, the site was used for 60 years as governmental staff quarters and store and as an archaeological storage site by the Antiquities and Monuments Office.

In 1998 and 1999, a number of artists and art groups moved into the former government buildings and store located next to the historic buildings because of the low rental fee, forming a local artist village with galleries and artist studios. They held regular exhibitions, talks and workshops until the government decided to reclaim the buildings in 2000. Although the artist village lasted for only a short period of time, it played an important role in local art history as the first artist village in Hong Kong, creatively integrating the past and the present.

Reuse and transformation

Until the inception of Oi! in May 2013, these historic buildings had never been opened to the public. In their redevelopment scheme for the site, Oi! preserved most of the building’s original external and internal architectural elements, including the dirt on the external walls, the red brickwork, roofs, chimneys, drainpipes, floors and matt-glass windows with their original bronze handles. In this way, the authenticity of the buildings was balanced with artists’ need for space. Upcycling and environmentally friendly materials were used for some additional facilities. The ramps for wheelchair users, for example, are made of old railway sleepers from the MTR Corporation.

Oi! is positioned as an art space in the community whose aim is to ignite art and fuel creativity. This idea can be further understood in the branding strategy used in its name. Oi! ( 油街實現 ) sounds similar to its address ( 油街十二號 ) in Cantonese, so attracting attention and providing a platform for young artists to realise their dreams in art. Assisted by curatorial input, the building has been transformed into an art space that emphasises the process of creative place-making. Strengthening the community by coordinating different art projects, the art space injects new inspiration into the community, connects people with the community, and explores new possibilities for the community. Valuing the importance of people in the community makes it very different from a white cube gallery or leisure park. The achievements of Oi! have been recognised with numerous significant awards, including the Shenzhen/Hong Kong Lifestyle Awards 2013 (Southern Metropolis Daily, Shenzhen), the Japan Good Design Award, the Hong Kong Public Space Awards and the Hong Kong Arts Development Awards.

Art and creativity at the core

Apart from the branding strategy, the community engagement element of Oi! has been reflected through the involvement of visual artists, designers and architects in the art space over the years. Focusing on social innovation, they have organised a wide range of art projects, notably those using one of the project’s most significant facilities, Oi! Kitchen, an activity room. Unlike a gallery with artwork displays, Oi! Kitchen is a space for art projects featuring the exchange of ideas and open dialogue which can facilitate community engagement in the regeneration process.

“IMPREFECT I’MPERFECT XCHANGE” was Oi! Kitchen’s first project to feature exchange and engagement in the community by inviting the audience to participate on a spiritual level. The project designers observed that many people were trying to pursue perfection in their daily lives, but perfection does not exist. Through the project, the audience was invited to accept and embrace imperfections by participating in different activities, sharing sessions and workshops. For example, designers developed an IMPREFECT mug for the project by transforming mugs that had been rejected because of minor imperfections, such as a small stain or a dot on the surface. They then printed the word “IMPREFECT”, with the stain or dot in between the “I” and “M”, and turned it into “I’M PREFECT”.

By forming a herbal farm at Oi!, the project also celebrated interaction and sharing with a cup of freshly made herbal tea with the audience. The participants were invited to write their own imperfections and enjoy the herbal tea in return. Oi! introduced multiexperience with traditional herbal tea in the reimagined art space, which provided the participants with the opportunity to get closer to their inner self and look for their own imperfections.

Another project held in Oi! Kitchen was called “XCHANGE: Social Gastronomy”. Its aim was to raise public awareness of the daily challenges faced by Hong Kong in dealing with food waste, and to initiate changes and new practices with the aid of design. The project demonstrated green living by creatively transforming surplus food ingredients into mouth-watering dishes and organising a series of activities to set an example of food upcycling for the community. The participants were encouraged to bring along fresh ingredients and canned and packaged food from their kitchens. In exchange they received a drink and an enjoyable time, with a shared lunch and living experience. They were also invited to jog after work hours, run to the wet market and collect unsold food in exchange for an hour of exercise, professional diet and sports advice.

The two art projects demonstrated ways to connect with the community by involving artists and other creative people in Oi!. They created opportunities for the community to exchange ideas, thoughts and experiences through their participation in the activities. Improving well-being and reducing food waste are only two of the many challenges the community faces. It is important that people have the opportunity to enhance their ability to reflect and to broaden their imagination by interacting with other people in the community, injecting new inspiration into the community and putting sustainability into practice.

Add Oi!

To explore more creative possibilities in the community, planning of an extension to Oi! started in 2016. Using adjacent public open space, the new space will be oneand-a-half times the size of Oi!’s original area. With construction work now complete, the extension is due to open to the public in February 2022. It features a twostorey multi-function building to be used for exhibitions and other activities. The design of the new building follows that of the neighbouring historic buildings with timber purlins and roof tops, and red brick tiles. An open space is also included for outdoor installations, screenings, performances and forums.

Add Oi! aims to promote greater collaboration in between artists and the community by experimenting with more cutting-edge art practices. One of its goals is to become a leader in Hong Kong through unconventional curatorial strategies and projects. It hopes to be an iconic point of contact and a focus ofattention for the art community to gather, collaborate, experiment and showcase new ideas. One particular goal is working with social innovators to create strategies that could lead to a more liveable city.

Scientists see planting trees as the best and fastest way to reduce carbon emissions. To promote the green art and urban gardening in the community, Add Oi! will also explore sustainable living possibilities and related concepts, such as creative upcycling, waste reduction at source, cherishing natural resources and co-living with nature through various art projects. The art space has also selected evergreen trees, fruit trees and flowering plants, among them a lychee tree and wisteria, that change with the seasons. People can spend time in this urban oasis with art projects and exhibitions, and learn more about environmental conservation issues.

Conclusion

A few years ago, a food magazine mistakenly took Oi! to be a food place. In the interview that emerged from this encounter, it described the art space as “an unusual 5 6 7 space in the metropolis and a rare beauty”. Throughout its transformation process, Oi! has added meaning to the historic buildings in which is housed. It has also consistently encouraged interaction among artists, designers, art lovers, local residents and the general public. Although each person will have a different interpretation of the space, Oi! believes everyone can use it to experience the transformative power of art. As our city, its people and art evolve and change, Oi! will continue to explore the possibilities of finding new uses for the site and building a better future together.

Dr Lesley Lau is the head of the Art Promotion Office (APO) and the founding curator of Oi! art space.
Wilson Fan is the assistant curator of Oi! art space.
劉鳳霞博士是藝術推廣辦事處總監及油街實現的創始館長。
范庭峰是油街實現的助理館長。

View of external staircase addition (Credit Ayman Tsui)

Elevation to internal lawn

View of Oi! Kitchen as multi-use activity room for displays and dialogue (Credit Ayman Tsui)

Oblique view of external elevation along Electric Road (Credit Ayman Tsui)

View of Arts & Crafts building from the Lawn. (overleafParade Ground / lower plaza, former CPSC,
“Re-fabricating City”, HK-SZ Bi-City Biennale of ArchitectureUrbanism, 2007.

XCHANGE: Social Gastronomy, evening event on the Lawn. (overleaf)

An installation of visual illusions “Batiment – Oi!” created by Argentine artist Leandro Erlich in 2014 (image courtesy Oi!)