By Chen Guang

Cake-cutting and a slice of polemical, interactive artwork were on the menu as  the Institute of Contemporary Arts opened its first regional exhibition, Hong Kongese, at Duddell’s restaurant in Central.

Curated by the institute’s executive director, Gregor Muir, Alia Al-Senussi and Abdullah AlTurki, Hong Kongese sets out to identify with the evolving nature of Hong Kong as it enters a phase of rapid development. “This is an exhibition of local and international contemporary artists whose work is inspired by our ever-changing world and cosmopolitan centers in which they live,” Muir said. The various artists offer distinct viewpoints on social, economic and political transformation.

The exhibition opens at a time of political discord, and the impact of last year’s 79-day street blockade for democracy – known as Occupy Central or the “umbrella movement” is keenly felt. Local artist Phoebe Man uses her edible sculptures Birthday Cakes as a playful way to comment on the protests and the government’s response to them. The sculpture consists of delicious cotton candy birthday cakes, on which are written statements made during last year’s protests that attracted the ire of the protesters and sparked debate among citizens. They include “Police are frank and openhearted”, “The Sino-British Joint Declaration is void”, “Hong Kong is China’s directly-controlled municipality” and “1,200 people represent us to nominate chief executive candidates”.

The novel idea came from a tactic adopted by the protesters when confronted with abusive government supporters. The young protesters would break into a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday in an attempt to confuse their opponents and blunt their harsh comments. “People can choose to eat it, which in one way means to destroy it and in another way also means to internalise it,” Man said. “One of the audience told me that she didn’t want to eat it at first, but later she was attracted by the adorable look of the cake and as she was hungry, she ate it.” Such contradictions made Man think of the choices people made in everyday life.

“Sometimes you don’t want something, but your needs and real life made you accept it.”  Is the cake a blessing or a curse? Delicious or hard to eat? “When real cakes are served as a form of performance, the puzzle is left to the observer to solve.

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