The Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) has put an early end to a large-scale public artwork which was aimed at urging Hongkongers to think about the city’s future whilst Chinese state leader Zhang Dejiang visited the city.

The Countdown Machine was unveiled last Tuesday evening – the day Zhang, China’s No. 3 official, arrived in Hong Kong. The facade of the tallest building in Hong Kong was transformed into a giant digital timer for one minute every night. The digits count down to July 1, 2047 – the date marking the official end of Hong Kong’s One Country, Two Systems agreement, which guarantees its autonomy. The installation – by artists Sampson Wong and Jason Lam of the Add Oil team – was due to continue until June 22.

ICC protest building
Photo: Add Oil team screenshot.

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

In a joint statement issued on May 22, the Chairman of the HKADC’s Film and Media Art Group Ellen Pau and curator for the exhibition Caroline Ha Thuc announced that the work would no longer be part of the exhibition.

The statement said that following the opening ceremony on May 18, the title and statement of the work – originally entitled “Our 60-second friendship begins now” – was changed without consulting the curator or HKADC.

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“Carrying out an exhibition, or a festival, is a teamwork based on confidence between the artists, the curator, the institutions and partners who are supporting the project,” the statement said. “We trust there exists a mutual respect between HKADC, the curator, artists and collaboration partners, and such respect is coupled with professional practice. We do believe in the freedom of artist expression, and do support our artists.”

“Yet, the disrespect demonstrated by Mr Sampson Wong and Mr Jason Lam against the original agreement and understanding made with the curator and HKADC is jeopardizing our profession and put at risk any future possibility to work further in public space,” it said.

HKADC statement
Statement issued by the HKADC and curator of the exhibition. Photo provided by Sampson Wong.

Wong posted the statement onto his Facebook in the early hours of Monday morning, saying: “We would put out an official response soon, but other Hongkongers concerned about art and the future of the city would surely also comment. We need to think about the fact that our city has become this way, and even though we’ve known it for a while, we need to let it sink in. For the past couple of days, thank you to some of you – we’ve caused trouble for you. Who’s really harming the industry? Everyone knows, and history will show.”

icc building
The original proposal.

Earlier, the ICC management has also distanced itself from the artwork, saying that it was “not involved in the process of selection or curation of the artworks”.

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.