The Origins and Meanings of Canton Express

Hou Hanru

Canton Express originated from a chance encounter in Glasgow, Britain in 1992 that inspired a series of contemporary art projects exploring the transformative effects of globalisation on Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau and the Pearl River Delta, as well as China and Asia as a whole. (Please refer to the mind map of the Pearl River Delta Art).

Canton Express and its related projects are both the product of the local cultural ecology and a sign of its future direction. They touch on the common reality faced by everyone in our society: an ideological homogeneity in the name of globalisation and modernisation, and its omnipresent political, social, and cultural influence. In response to this trend, what strategies should the arts scene (artists, curators, cultural institutions) adopt to maintain individuality and freedom of lifestyle and expression, while at the same time developing the vision of multiculturalism?

The special history and reality of the Pearl River Delta, and the dynamic relationship of its integration with and differentiation from China and the rest of the world, have fostered a series of experimental social and cultural development case studies that are richly inspirational, complex, contradictory and boldly adventurous. The fundamental source is grassroots creativity. Canton Express and its related projects are the most pioneering of the case studies on contemporary art and the process of constructing public space.

Grassroots, street life, marginality, autonomy, hybridity, self-initiated organisations, informal townships, the masses, city-states … these are the core elements of the rich cultural diversity and vitality of the Pearl River Delta today; they are also the core elements of what constitutes ‘global significance’.

Sustainable promotion of the cultural diversity of grassroots society through different institutions and public discussions, not only helps to realise the social significance of the artistic creations, but also to relate it to the construction of a local, Chinese, Asian and global cultural landscape. ‘Modernity’ and ‘Contemporaneity’ should be about the coexistence, mutual impact of, and dialogue between diverse cultures. A needs-must form of creativity is what enables ‘ordinary people’ and the ‘masses’ to survive. From Canton Express and the many possibilities it inspired, we can find specific, general and useful paths to help us explore the future.

In view of the above, how do institutions such as the Libreria Borges Institute for Contemporary Art , the Guangdong Times Museum, Videotage, Para Site, Asia Art Archive, the Guangdong Museum of Art and M+ choose their identities, and what is the social significance of their choices?

Asymmetrical Symbiosis: How the Local and the Regional Co-Evolve?

Chan Koonchung

The ideal form of regional development is not merging, but symbiosis. Only through the symbiosis of different subjectivities can optimisation and co-evolution take place. But the symbiosis between regions is not on an equal footing, mainly due to the imbalance of power. The present core narratives on the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area are confined by ideologies that are one-tracked and one-dimensional, and that show a clear lack of consideration for spatial justice. The stakeholders should consider more of what we call a phronesis-based approach, rather than a one-dimensional approach informed by ideologies. This talk will present a controversial and ambitious detailed vision to show whether a phronesis-based approach would be more effective in enhancing the spatial justice of regional symbiosis and co-evolution.