To Build a Creative City with Vigor Experiment To Build a Creative City with Vigor Experiment To Build a Creative City with Vigor Experiment
To Build a Creative City with Vigor Experiment
Extracted and edited from an interview with Danny Yung by Our Hong Kong Foundation, April 2020.
Technology pushes beyond boundaries
Q: How does Zuni view the integration of art and technology? What do you think is the future?
A: Technology can be creative, art can be creative too, of course. But we should ask first: what is creativity? Creativity is to explore with boldness, and then to experiment with boldness. Zuni has always been interested in theatre technology and we have always been experimenting with it. So there are many opportunities for us to explore the boundaries and how to go beyond them. Exploration and experimentation are very important steps.
Q: How to push beyond boundaries with technology? Can you give some examples in theatre?
A: Let’s start with policy-making. As the government is a key advocate, it has to understand that dividing into different departments and sectors will not be possible. A comprehensive and integrated policy is important. Not only does it concern the technology sector and the art sector, but also education and international relations. Many sectors are related to building a creative environment in the future.
Experimentation is not about functionalities, but for the sake of trying, in hopes of making Hong Kong a creative city. A creative city needs creative people; creative people need a creative leader. How to work across bureaucratic departments? It takes a daring leading body.
"Experimentation is not about functionalities, but for the sake of trying, in hopes of making Hong Kong a creative city", says Danny.
So the policies concerning creativity are of utmost importance. Policies on creativity are not only about science and technology but also social sciences, arts, humanities and education. Education, in particular, involves both elementary and higher levels, as well as policy research. If there is no policy research, how do we move forward? Besides effective policy research, the most important thing is that the key advocate has to come up with a vision. What is the vision of Hong Kong? It takes a creative one that can handle restrictions with boldness.
Theatre today is hugely different from that of 500 years ago: the architecture, the lighting, the sound technology. A theatre 500 years ago usually ran plays in the daytime. When we enter a theatre now, we will ask: what was the lighting like in the past? How did the acoustic work? How did the space work? What was the relationship between the audience and performers? These are all the questions that we always ask, and these are all part of the themes of the play. If these are part of the themes, we will research them and envision the future of theatre.
Zuni has been experimenting various kinds of stage technology. The Trial (1994) attempted to turn the arena stage layout of the Studio Theatre of Hong Kong Cultural Centre into a four-wall mirror-clad performing space.
Hong Kong Belt-Road: One Table Two Chairs - The Trial (2017) was a perfect demonstration of the latest GiantMirror technology to set up the stage with seamless mirror walls.
Art challenges technology
Q: Is technology greatly helpful to your creativity?
A: What I just mentioned is largely related to technology: sound, light, architectural material, space…all are related to technology. I think there are areas where technological development and artistic development interact. In the beginning, it was a critical dialogue when we first interacted with technology. We would ask tech people: why are you doing this? Why are you not doing this? We were challenged. But then they started to think: why are you asking so many questions? The advance of technological and artistic development is not the only goal, but more questions need to be asked. Art can provide direction and drive. At this stage, we are not able to express everything with technology yet. The dialogue between us and technology is important.
Q: Some artists tend to be more resistant to technology; some think that putting technological elements in a piece of art is only a fashion where they prefer keeping the tradition. What do you think?
A: I think the art sector can be diverse. If some artists continue to create in a closed manner, they can. However, if there is more and more discussion about it, maybe they can open up eventually. This is also a matter of whether our universities and research institutes can inspire the art sector to reflect on what we are doing and what we are not. Unfortunately, it is missing in Hong Kong. Our higher education institutes are not willing to take the step. Sometimes I think Hong Kong’s universities, especially those related to performing arts, may as well hand themselves over to TV stations to manage, if it seems to be what they aim at. A genuine organization that practices the purest form of art should always be challenging the establishment, the limitations and the boundaries.
Q: Will technology and Artificial Intelligence take over artistic heritage?
A: I don’t think it is a replacement. I don’t think technology can override artistic activities. This is because technological development is also an artistic one. When we are talking with tech people, we realize they are enthusiastic about exploring their boundaries and how to come across them. The role of artists is to stimulate their way of thinking so as to push them further. In my opinion, technological experts and scientists are very creative people. Establishing a platform to gather all the creative minds is the biggest challenge in our current situation.
Experiment is long term investment
ZHdK x Zuni Z/Z Twin Lab (2018)
Artistic Directors, Directors and Designers: Danny Yung, Mathias Woo
Live Streaming Telematic performance in Zurich and Hong Kong
Q: What is the background of Z/Z Twin Lab, the collaboration between Zuni and Zurich University of the Arts? What is the significance of the project, in terms of the integration of art and technology?
A: I collaborated with Zurich University of the Arts on Z/Z Twin Lab in 2018. For such kinds of cross-over projects, I couldn’t find any partnering organizations in Hong Kong. So I started looking worldwide and it happened that Zurich University of the Arts was interested. We didn’t merely work on the integration of art and technology, cultures and regions were also our focus. European culture and Asia culture are widely different. At that stage, we were primarily exploring how to build an ideal Tech Lab. So the performance was not the most important, but rather the cooperation process. During such a process, we asked: where are their boundaries? Where are ours?
Their Tech Lab in some ways is more advanced than Hong Kong, due to technological aspects and also intelligence. Sometimes, technicality overrides creativity. Hong Kong’s strength is our flexibility, that we can work inside out or outside in when handling technology. Perhaps it helps to recognize the boundaries of technology too?
Japan, Boston, Manchester, Melbourne and many cities are all participating in Art Tech research. Long term support on research is crucial. In Hong Kong, there isn’t any. In many cases, you were only to produce a show, but never a 5-year plan on Art Tech development. A long-term plan is important. Tech doesn’t come in a click. It takes patience.
To be honest, Zuni has achieved quite something. We were already way ahead many years ago. At first, we were just working at the boundaries of technology. Technology is more than using it. And I don’t think technology is decorative either. Let’s think about what can’t technology do. Then when we talk with tech people, they will be inspired by the question and be willing to develop a long-term collaboration. Can a Tech Lab in Hong Kong, the Science Park for example, establish a platform for some visionary experiments? Experimentation takes a long time. We cannot leave after one test.
To prepare for Z/Z Twin Lab, technicians from the University of Zurich captures the motions of the Peking opera artitst Zhang Yuqiao.
Technology facilitates cross-cultural exchange
Q: How does technology perform cultural exchange?
A: Any kind of collaboration involves elements of culture. We used English when I had discussions with the Zurich University of the Arts. However, their mother tongue is either French or German. How do we genuinely understand each other? This is an important step forward. Everyone was motivated to look for a way. How much did we notice the boundaries? So that can we break through it to go further? Tech Lab does not only challenge the boundaries of technology, but also that of technological management?
This experiment let us think: how shall we proceed if ever there is a Tech Lab to be established in Hong Kong? I am reserved, because of the limitations of the current cultural institutes. Most of them are sponsored by the government, and the government don’t understand the relationship between Tech and Art. So they would only sponsor productions and never making a strong statement like “OK! We will support a 10-year development blueprint”. They will never say that.
Q: Should this Tech Lab be linked to higher education?
A: This is very true. But why was I collaborating with the Zurich University of the Arts instead of Hong Kong’s higher education institutions? This is because such institutions in Hong Kong are bureaucratic, thus lacking motivation to research. 20 years later, how does Hong Kong manage creative industries and creative technologies? How to run a creative city, its creative people and a creative government?