The management of the International Commerce Centre (ICC) has distanced itself from a large-scale public artwork aimed at urging Hongkongers to think about the city’s future whilst Chinese state leader Zhang Dejiang visited Hong Kong.

The “Countdown Machine” began on Tuesday evening – the day Zhang, China’s No. 3 official, arrived in the city. For one minute every night, the facade of the tallest building in Hong Kong transforms into a giant digital timer. The digits count down to to July 1, 2047 – the date marking the official end of Hong Kong’s One Country, Two Systems agreement, which guarantees its autonomy. The date is symbolic of the uncertainties facing the city’s future, the artists say.

ICC ‘not involved’

The building’s management, however, has distanced itself from the artwork.

“International Commerce Centre clarifies that the Fifth Large-Scale Public Media Art Exhibition now being shown on the facades of ICC is organised by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) while ICC is just one of the three venue partners that include the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and K11,” Clayton, a spokesperson for the ICC, told HKFP in an email.

“ICC was not involved in the process of selection or curation of the artworks, which was done by HKADC. The ICC Light and Music Show has been running since 2013 and ICC has provided its facade as venue for display of lighting art shows organised by other organisations in the past.”

The ICC did not respond to HKFP’s follow-up questions as to whether the building’s management had any policies regarding political works, nor did it give an answer as to whether it would suspend the work or let it continue.

‘Censorship’ concerns

Add Oil Team’s Sampson Wong, however, shed light on how they avoided having the project shut down before it was realised.

“Actually, I understand that the ICC has emailed all media telling them that it was not in charge of the exhibition… [or] selecting the work – in my understanding that is accurate,” Wong told HKFP. He added that he understood that there were “clear guidelines saying that no message with political elements could be shown on the ICC.”

Sampson Wong. Photo: HKFP.

The project was originally pitched as an apolitical animation to encourage people “to have impromptu interactions with each other.”

Screenshot of the website showing the original pitch.

“We don’t know the internal mechanism – the ICC management always collaborate with different art organisations to organise exhibitions. When they’re working with other units, I think it’s common sense that [the decision-making] takes place at different levels.”

“So I don’t know in this case at which level artworks might be censored,” Wong told HKFP, adding that the display went on as usual on Wednesday evening, and that he had yet to receive any news saying that it would be suspended.

“It is fair and accurate of [the ICC] to say that it did not directly select the artwork, and we know that it is generally not allowed. We understand that it is the convention, because in other competitions [held at the ICC] these guidelines apply as well… We were told that if something is explicitly political or has any political elements, it would not be shown, so we tried to do it in a subtle way without telling anyone how to interpret it until it happened.”

The ICC said they had “no further comment to add”.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.