Monday 22 January 2018

My visit to Body Fest, Hong Kong’s first nude art festival by Koel Chu

Under dim lights, I pushed the door-close button before the elevator slowly ascended through the bowels of Foo Tak building. With a jolt, the door opened to reveal a pink and white space, much like an enlarged womb. I stepped inside and gazed around until my eyes met something hanging from the ceiling: a giant red vagina.

I’m supposed to put my head into the installation to listen to conversations about sex.

Welcome to the exhibition of 體祭 Body Fest 2018, Hong Kong’s first-ever nude art festival. Here, you can inspect your own body in front of an oversized kaleidoscope, watch a demonstration of life drawing, or join a conversation about bodies and sexual experiences.

Central to Body Fest is the idea of bodily autonomy. Event organisers Siu Ding and Jing Pang ask: why is nudity considered indecent or obscene in today’s world? For them, no matter how much flesh you bare—and whether or not you put on makeup—your body is a unique landscape that should never be confined by social standards of beauty.

Life drawings by watercolour painter Fung Kin-fan. Koel Chu, Still / Loud
Siu Ding’s name may be familiar to some, as she appeared in songwriter Ah P’s music video《聖誕半裸派對》“Christmas Half-Nude Party” back in 2008. When the video was uploaded to the internet, the artist-slash-book-designer unwittingly attracted media attention for her naked hillside performance—some even called her a flasher. But now, having spent more than 10 years life modelling, Siu Ding has no regrets; she feels that “nudity is not a statement, but only a choice in life.”

Jing Pang, too, is a nude life model. A visual arts graduate, she used to spend hours in front of easels and canvases, watching models strike poses. Two years ago, Pang ventured into the field with one goal: to know how it feels to be the muse herself. Since then, she has organised six life drawing sessions. Her exhibited work (which took a year and a half to complete) shows an eclectic landscape filled by life-size nude figures, twisting and turning, anonymous yet familiar.

The duo is part of a growing community in Hong Kong that seeks ways to celebrate the body. They are also the founders of Life Model Club 體模社, and for Body Fest’s opening party, they invited artist Kobe Ko and Albert Cheung, the director of Dirty Press, to give a talk. It was met with a full house.

Koel Chu, Still / Loud
Sitting in a corner of the exhibition is a pyramid of mirrors, with small cameras attached. The cameras capture your movements and project them on the wall behind: stand in front of the installation and you’ll find yourself lost in trippy and seemingly endless reflections. Initially, the organisers wanted a room of mirrors, so visitors could take off their clothes and inspect their naked bodies. But limited budget and space, as well as safety concerns, gave rise to the idea of a kaleidoscope instead.

“This is not the best, but it’s an experiment nonetheless,” Siu Ding says.

Another of the organisers’ favourites is a series of mesmerising photographs taken by Hong Kong-based photographer Simon C. The work, titled The Earth, was originally submitted to the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale in Japan. Printed on overlapping pieces of fabric, it presents a group of people, their backs towards the camera, standing peacefully in a serene forest and running through a field. As Jing Pang recalls, many of the subjects were modelling for the first time.

Body Fest is not a large exhibition, and once a suitable venue was found, the team spent only five days setting it up. But the process leading up to it took almost a year.

The Earth by Simon C. Koel Chu, Still / Loud
In 2016, Siu Ding held a photography exhibition at kubrick bookstore, titled The Theory of Absence; however, kubrick raised concerns over nudity and she had to amend her work. This time, she applied for a space at Foo Tak Building run by the non-profit Arts and Culture Outreach (ACO)—but a recent exhibition at Foo Tak also received complaints about nudity in photographs, which led to visits from government authorities.

This is why, while body festivals in other parts of the world usually include nude outdoor activities, Hong Kong’s Body Fest 2018 remains a private event. To quote the organisers’ remark on Facebook: “Dress code: sexy welcome, must wear something.”

After the closing party, Siu Ding and Jing Pang will head straight to Taichung, where independent bookshop 佔空間 Artqpie will host this exhibition in April. They also hope to publish the third and fourth issues of their collaborative photography book SP in the near future—as they might say, it’s always a good time for more exposure.

Body Fest 2018 is currently at 11/F Foo Tak Building and will run until February 4. Entrance is by reservation, and only for those aged 18 or above. Editing by Still / Loud’s Holmes Chan.