Occupy Central changed the way Hongkongers think, says artist

Birdy Chu‘s multimedia show, It’s just the beginning, at the Goethe-Institut Hongkong, documents the democracy protests from different angles

 They started something: works from Birdy Chu Shun's exhibition (above and below).

Goethe-Institut Hongkong

Birdy Chu Shun is no stranger to tear gas assaults. A former journalist, Chu witnessed the 2005 anti-WTO protests by South Korean farmers in Wan Chai and, seven years later, the anti-Japanese demonstrations in Shenzhen. Tear gas was used on both occasions. But nothing stunned Chu as much as what happened on September 28, 2014, the day that kick-started the umbrella movement.

“The fact that the police fired tear gas at the Occupy Central protesters changed everything. It incubated what happened in the following months,” says Chu, a photojournalist, videographer, and media lecturer at HKU Space Centre for Degree Programmes. “It triggered people’s anger, which has more to do with the shock of what the police did than any physical pain inflicted.”

Chu has a knack for capturing arresting visuals of the city’s socio-political scene. In 2013, he published a book titled I walk therefore I shoot: a record of Hong Kong demonstrations. This time, the result of his chronicling the civil disobedience sit-ins is a multimedia exhibition at the Arts Centre.

The month-long show is made up of photography, short films and multimedia installations. Instead of using a straightforward documentary approach, Chu — using his graphic design background — gives all his works an artistic twist to enhance interest and pique contemplation.

A video playing on a television is called Can you hear the students speak? For this, the video footage and audio recordings were made separately. The interviewees stare directly into the camera and maintain static expressions, but on the audio soundtrack they talk passionately about their yearnings for democracy.

One wall is lined with student portraits collected from 50 people from different walks of life — the number is an allusion to Central government’s futile “50 years unchanged” promise — as a tribute to the virtual support offered by the viral social media campaign.

Another wall features an installation Chu created using art pieces and handicrafts donated by protesters. “I documented the whole movement from many angles, and interviewed occupants who had unique ways of participating in all three districts. All this is shown in my short film, which will be projected in the Black Box Studio. I’ve concluded that there are many other possibilities for Hong Kong,” says Chu.

“Hong Kong people are too obedient. Who says Hong Kong has to be the way it has been? The way that the protesters occupied roads has been transformative — who would have thought you could ever take a stroll up a flyover? This is essentially a city redesign. It is a way of thinking that can be expanded to a much broader scope. Politicians may see it as a threat, but for the rest of us, it’s a breakthrough in the way we think about things,” Chu says.

14/F Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Monday-Friday, 10am-8:30pm Saturday, 1pm-6pm. Until February 11. Inquiries: 2802 0088

#OccupyCentral #BirdyChu #UmbrellaMovement #civildisobedience