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About ReNew Vision

The Role of the Arts in a Pandemic

In 2020, when simply making a living poses challenges to huge numbers of people, is there still a need for the arts? The answer is a definitive “yes”. Hard times are exactly the reason we need their vision and understanding. For the arts help us fathom, in an aesthetically resonant way, that eternal truth: loss and gain are two sides of the same coin.

As such, while our scheduled New Vision Arts Festival programmes have had to be postponed due to COVID-19, instead we have had the chance to launch “ReNew Vision”. This online arts platform brings together Hong Kong and overseas artists in an innovative collection of cyber shows, both supporting the local arts scene in challenging times and enabling artists and audiences to explore the novel realms opened up by the effects of the coronavirus. At the same time, it serves as a memorable prelude to the creative perspicacity of next year’s full-scale New Vision Arts Festival.

Seeing less, seeing more

Given the fast-evolving situation in Hong Kong and elsewhere, our 2020 opening programme, Invisible Cities, produced by Manchester International Festival, Rambert, 59 Productions and Karl Sydow, will now appear in our 2021 festival. Yet these developments again brought fresh opportunities this year. As a result, we were able to commission the key talents behind the award-winning UK production to work with local artists – including new media art specialist Professor Jeffrey Shaw and students from the School of Creative Media at City University of Hong Kong, as well as dancers Joseph Lee and Alice Ma – to realise an online virtual-reality Invisible Cities spinoff.

The outcome of their dynamic collaboration is Stones of Venice. Here, the two teams overcome geographical and social distancing through real-time video communication and motion capture technology to film the two dancers in Hong Kong, providing an unexpected and exciting avenue for local artists to participate in a world-class production. In this re-telling of the story of 13th-century Yuan Dynasty founder Kublai Khan and Italian explorer Marco Polo, the ruler is not only transported to the exotic cities of his vast empire through the colourful tales spun by the traveller. He is also guided to look beneath their physical form as they deconstruct and reconstruct to reveal the laws of geometry, physics, and nature that connect up and drive the material world.

The production is a super-imaginative way to demonstrate how we can still travel to different terrains, despite virus-related restrictions, as well as increase our awareness of the often-hidden connections that bind a city – indeed, the entire planet – together.

Building understanding through music

As Stones of Venice reminds us, the atmosphere of a city is actually defined by its inhabitants rather than its buildings. And a willingness to help others is the keystone to the creation of such community spirit. Established music-makers Chiu Tsang-hei and Kung Chi-shing are two notable role models for such spirit in Hong Kong, generously sharing their knowledge and experience over the years to assist others to realise their dreams.

In 2016, composer and producer Chiu initiated the “My Main Stage” Music Production Pilot Programme to give aspiring young musicians more insight into composition and what is needed to succeed in the music industry. The programme, run on a voluntary basis at the outset, has additionally put participants in touch with their inner feelings through music. Some 40 Hong Kong young people have benefited to date. Now, through “ReNew Vision”, a much larger number can see and hear about the successful venture in My Main Stage Online. The series features a new breed of singer-songwriter-producers, along with heart-to-heart conversations with Chiu, original music videos, and contributions from showbusiness celebrities.

Meanwhile, experimental musician Kung Chi-shing introduces five fellow musical pioneers in E(ar)-Storm. Given the nature of their work, these avant-garde artists often face difficulties at the best of times. Thus, they are well attuned to maintaining creative momentum in challenging circumstances, such as the pandemic. Their music also serves as an apt reflection of the uncertainties it has brought. “Just as the lives of experimental musicians are often in crisis, likewise experimental music puts our ears in crisis,” Kung said. Time to test your own adaptability and resilience by extending your sonic horizons with E(ar)-Storm.

Taking moments to reflect, making a fresh start

Reflections inspired by “ReNew Vision” further encompass the upending of Hong Kong’s famous fast pace of life by COVID-19 and how slow living no longer appears such a distant dream. For new media artist Hung Keung, It All Begins with a Word. The work is his fascinating new showcase for urbanites to re-experience the rhythms and insights of the literary arts. Drawing on Hong Kong writers from the 1960s to 1990s, moving image and dance, online audiences have the chance to re-enter the world of words as well as experience Hong Kong down the decades as the work – like a novel – gradually unfolds. Interactive online games seek to transform viewers into creators by providing a taste of the joys of writing and choreography while a real-world installation will follow next year.

At the same time, the global impact of the coronavirus has delivered a wake-up call that the future of human civilisation is one shared with all life on earth and the crucial nature of empathy to people’s – and the planet’s – survival. In Aria, the innovative setting of Hong Kong Park greenhouse is used as a performance venue in a visionary exploration of the air and the impact of environmental pollution. Composer Dr Eugene Birman, Assistant Professor, Department of Music, Hong Kong Baptist University, integrates the findings of big data analyses on scientific and popular views on air pollution into original music and lyrics, while media artist Kingsley Ng heightens the vitalising experience through evocative lighting and multimedia installations. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning Theatre of Voices, a Danish vocal group, will take part via hologram in yet another ground-breaking highlight, accompanied by the Hong Kong Children’s Choir. This extraordinary encounter will be filmed by 360-degree camera and shared worldwide through online streaming.

Moving beyond

The arts are powered by unconventional vision of people, places, issues, and reflections on daily life that allow us to see deeper, think wider, and draw on differences in order to examine and recombine contrasting elements into an original new form. Gain comes with loss and risk with opportunity. As well as enjoying our programmes, we hope that everyone can (re)new their vision of themselves, others, the community, the world – and the essential role of the arts.