'A poignant memory': Artist pays tribute to Hong Kong's old airport with new Vancouver installation

·3 min read
A new art installation at the Vancouver Art Gallery's Offsite location on West Georgia Street pays tribute to Hong Kong's old Kai Tak Airport, which was dismantled after the city's handover to the People's Republic of China (PRC). (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)
A new art installation at the Vancouver Art Gallery's Offsite location on West Georgia Street pays tribute to Hong Kong's old Kai Tak Airport, which was dismantled after the city's handover to the People's Republic of China (PRC). (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)

The artist behind a new installation in downtown Vancouver says he hopes the piece evokes nostalgia for those who emigrated from Hong Kong to Vancouver in the 1990s, ahead of the city's handover to the People's Republic of China (PRC).

July 1 marks 25 years since the United Kingdom handed the governance of Hong Kong over to the PRC in 1997 in what became known as the Hong Kong Handover.

Hong Kong-based artist Christopher K. Ho's CX 889 — named after the flight code for Cathay Pacific's Vancouver-Hong Kong route — pays tribute to the city's old Kai Tak Airport, which was dismantled one year after the handover.

"So it's, I think, a very poignant memory for people who have been going back and forth between Vancouver and Hong Kong," said Ho.

Ho says he created the piece not only to elicit memories of the airport, where planes famously took off and landed close to apartment buildings in the city centre, but also to recognize how cities transform following significant historical events.

Justine Boulin/CBC
Justine Boulin/CBC

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hong Kong was the largest source of overseas immigrants to B.C.

At its peak in 1994, 48,000 people moved to Canada, with 16,000 choosing to settle in B.C.

The piece is located at a public outdoor art space on West Georgia Street, between Thurlow and Bute Streets — the Vancouver Art Gallery's Offsite location.

The installation replicates the two ramps passengers would use to exit the airport, where they would be greeted by a sea of people and welcomed home by loved ones, says Ho.

There are also large 'no re-entry' signs above the ramps and a replica of a Bulova clock that stood in the airport. Ho says the hands display the time as a few seconds before midnight on July 1, 1997, to mark the handover of the city.

'Art fights amnesia and erasure'

Helena Wu, assistant professor of Hong Kong Studies at the University of British Columbia, says it's important to document historical events through art to show the cultural shifts that take place after a region experiences changes.

Wu says the interpretation of art encourages multiple ways of seeing an event and allows different voices to be heard.

"Art fights amnesia and erasure," said Wu. "It allows events to be remembered."

Kimimasa Mayama/AFP via Getty Images
Kimimasa Mayama/AFP via Getty Images

Wu says Hong Kong's international airport, which opened in 1998, has become a symbol of movement and change, as more people have fled the city again within the last few years following Beijing's passing of the national security law, which allows authorities to crack down on subversive and secessionist activity in the city.

Ho says the piece took around three years to put together with Vancouver Art Gallery guest curator Godfre Leung.

He says the inspiration for this installation came from a previous one he did in 2018 named CX 888 — also the code of a Cathay Pacific flight — and replicates the inside of a plane making its way from Hong Kong to Vancouver.

The installation will be on display until Oct. 16.

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