Work In Progress

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The bottom part of this fridge doesn't work; the freezer compartment now functions as the fridge
The Cyrcle. crew, Davey and Rabi: Tutus are the new street art

A disused office space in Quarry Bay has been transformed into Work In Progress – the largest international exhibition of street art ever in Hong Kong. Anna Cummins talks to the artists and organisers behind this groundbreaking project

"The street art scene in Hong Kong? It's relatively non-existent. The culture doesn't care about art. It's more about survival. The rents are crazy. Who has time for art? Who has space for art?" This candid appraisal comes from Rabi and Davey of Cyrcle. – the well-respected LA duo rising quickly in the global street art world (which, yes, is spelt with a full stop). It's a harsh assessment they've laid upon Hong Kong's street art landscape but consider that Cyrcle. are in our city to take part in the first major street art exhibition ever to be held here and you'd suspect they may not be far off the mark. "[The people in Hong Kong] haven't seen a lot of street art," says Davey. "So if we can represent that well, people could embrace it – that's part of the goal now."

Indeed, this exhibition, Work in Progress, held in a vacant office space in Tai Koo Place, may be a breakthrough moment for the city's diminutive street art scene. The exhibition sees seven internationally renowned groups and seven local artists create works using the walls and features of the empty office as a blank canvas, producing traditional painted murals and mixed media installations with a distinctive 'street art' attitude. In addition, the programme – jointly organised by Above Second gallery, Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (HKYAF), Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and Swire Properties – also includes a series of interactive talks, films, workshops and live painting sessions.

Given the lack of recognition street art has received thus far in Hong Kong, it's hardly surprisingly that this exhibition has the city's scene excited. "I do feel like this is a starting point, this is a really big thing. There are so many big artists coming," says Cara To, aka Cat Time Biatch, one of the local artists creating work at the exhibition. Fellow local artist Mark Goss agrees: "There have been no events like this in Hong Kong before. Not on this scale."

Some of the highlights of the exhibition include Cyrcle.'s giant painted murals, which explore stereotypes and duality in the form of cowboys and Indians, as well as portraits by Portuguese artist Vhils, etched straight out of the wall, and Danish Victor Ash's irreverent murals on the outside of the building – perhaps one of the 'purest' forms of street art in the exhibition.

Indeed, for years, there has been an ongoing debate about 'street art' and the increasing blurring of the lines with gallery art and other contemporary art. Perhaps that's why Cyrcle. do not solely define themselves as street artists. "When I think 'street artist', I just think of someone who puts posters up in the street, or stencils," muses Rabi. "In LA, it's hard not to hear that [term] – you do a mural and then all of a sudden you're a street artist." Davey continues: "Then you do a sculpture and you're a street artist doing a sculpture. We do other things." Yet they don't mince their words when it comes to doubters. "There are a lot of street artists who hate on gallery artists, but it's because they can't get into a gallery. It's like dude, shut the fuck up."

Maria Wong of HKYAF is co-ordinating the rich programme of side events and workshops that accompanies the exhibition. "Every Saturday or Sunday you will see one or two films about street artists, about how they struggle, how they become successful," says Wong. "We're doing guided tours in English and Cantonese. [Local artists] Mark Goss and Parents Parents will be doing workshops with the public – Mark will show you how to use spray paint and a stencil to create a T-shirt, and Parents Parents will be doing a workshop using hang-dye and stencil techniques to create a tote bag."

The combination of international names and grassroots energy behind this exhibition creates the feeling that this is the start of a movement for street art in Hong Kong. Featured local artist Peter Yuill encapsulates this attitude. "Shows like this can encourage people in Hong Kong to appreciate the artwork that's around them all the time... if we can make people see the world in a different way, that's the best that thing we can accomplish."

Work In Progress, Until Jul 7,13/F Somerset House, Tai Koo Place, Island East 

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