Para Site moves upstairs – but not to an ivory tower

By Jacqueline Leung and Madeline Lai

Para Site is going up in the world – literally. Its new home is 22 floors above the bustling streets of Quarry Bay – a far cry from the independent, not-for-profit contemporary art space’s previous down-to-earth homes in Kennedy Town and, more recently, Sheung Wan.

The new location is more spacious, with artworks spread around and visitors given the opportunity to explore hidden corners of the former industrial space the organisation has taken over. One thing that hasn’t changed is the way this locally-cultivated organisation responds to local contexts; a traditional feast of roasted pig marked an auspicious opening for the new site’s inaugural exhibition earlier this month.

But while the new location is exciting local arts enthusiasts, the people behind Para Site are philosophical. Executive director Cosmin Costinas points to the thinking behind Para Site’s name – para meaning ‘beside’ in Greek, which refers to the state of being ‘outside of space’. “Space is less important to Para Site than one would think,” he says, recalling the exhibitions held at Spring Workshop and the University of Hong Kong last year during Para Site’s relocation. “Space can be dealt with and not be the one dictating [Para Site’s work].”

The new Para Site provides much more space - for provocative art. Photos by Chen Guang
The new Para Site provides much more space – for provocative art. Photos by Chen Guang

Nevertheless, Para Site’s new location offers the best of both worlds. “It is an industrial space in a non-industrial area,” Costinas explains. “We gain the benefits of an industrial space while remaining in the urban texture of Hong Kong.” Instead of considering the move a whole new chapter for Para Site, it is a reflection of the space’s continuous growth as it develops beyond the boundaries of a contemporary art centre.

And Costinas is determined to take Para Site to new heights. While Hong Kong’s art industry has a strong commercial element, he hopes to encourage more critical thinking in the city’s artistic community on matter such as the contemplation of art in Hong Kong compared to the broader context of Asia.  Para Site’s political consciousness shines through in the inaugural exhibition, 100 Years of Shame – Songs of Resistance and Scenarios for Chinese Nations. Featuring works by both veteran and emerging artists from Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan, these works come in various forms that stimulate visitors’ senses. The timespan discussed in the exhibition helps viewers trace the present state of Chinese contemporary art and the situation of China to its root. Historical events happening inside and outside China since the beginning of 20th cultural and political ideologies in China. When social concern causes artists to express themselves, their works exemplify a more direct need to communicate with century have shaped social, viewers.

Though political and social subject matter is common among contemporary Chinese artists, whose work can be found in other galleries and exhibition spaces, Para Site is in a unique position due to its independence and curatorial autonomy. These controversial and sensitive topics can be organised and studied comprehensively, and then presented to the public. Non-profit status also aids Para Site’s goal of stimulating conversations about art beyond the artistic circle. “[Art] isn’t about being in an ivory tower,” says Costinas, smiling, “but to be out there in the public sphere.”

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