Simon Birch – HK’s Prodigious Son Iconic Artist on Generalisations & Nachos


Hong Kong loves Simon Birch. When his shows open they draw big crowds and a massive media flurry in a city derided for its cultural naïveté. We sat down with HK's favorite artistic son to find out what he thinks of the scene and what he likes to eat.

What annoys you most about art in Hong Kong?

There’s a tendency to devalue creativity in Hong Kong, at least in the cultural arena, which makes no sense because creativity is the engine that drives every vibrant society. Besides, there’s no lack of talent here.


Do you think the art scene in Hong Kong will always be stunted by the city’s lack of sub-culture?

I don’t think it’s helpful to generalize, but I do think there are entrenched myths about Hong Kong that need debunking. I guess, in part, it’s because of Hong Kong’s history as an entrepôt that many people continue to think of Hong Kong as a financial service hub and a place of consumption rather than a place of cultural production. Which, of course, is a mistake.


So you’re positive about Hong Kong’s artistic future?

There are thriving art scenes here and a lot of Hong Kong artists are making cool stuff, even if they lack support and find it difficult to show. If you’re passionate enough you find a way. But I think we’re on the cusp of change, and I’ve always had the opinion: we make our own destiny.


What have you been working on?

I’m spending more time actually painting these days while the organisation I established in 2011, Future Industries, basically manages my creative projects. I’m working in New York in December but we’ve got two big projects lined up for 2012. The first is an exhibition with over 30 artists from around the world which’ll be mixed media - paintings, sculptures, film, photography and so on. The second is a film and sculptural installation project unlike anything HK has ever seen before. We’re going to build a temporary installation in which films will be played on different screens. It’s really exciting. We already have over 100 different contributors from more than 20 different countries.


How do you see your work developing over the next few years? What areas/mediums do you want to explore?

After working in 3D and holograms most recently I look forward to embracing whatever mediums are invented next. More film for sure. Generally these tools come to me organically, opportunities appear and the mediums often inspire the production as much as finding a medium to realise the concept.


What is your favourite:

•    Film? Blade Runner (pictured above). Ridley Scott drew on Hong Kong and then blew it into NYC and LA. So in a way we're living the inspiration.
•    Drive? Driving is usually just practical, I'm so familiar with the roads here that they're no longer inspiring but I just drove the coastal road from LA to San Diego, that was pretty nice. Stopped at a dozen beaches and surfed them all.
•    News source? BBC online I guess but infrequently, I'm more a fan of information on design, art and culture from sources like The Cool Hunter, This Isn't Happiness and Like Cool.
•    Comfort Food? Mexican. I can whip up a pretty mean pile of nachos.

If you could have dinner with anyone throughout history, who would it be and why?

I'm not sure I would want my ideas about historical figures corrupted by actually meeting them. Alexander the Great could be an asshole in reality. Maybe I’d go for someone we have little real information on to find out the truth about their activities. Jesus Christ would be good.

What product can you not do without?

Paint. No surprises there.

If you could pass on one characteristic to your children that you think you have, what would it be?

Kindness. Good for you, good for everyone else.

What of your values has changed the most during your life?

Thinking it was all about me when now I see it's all about everyone and everything.

Aside from pollution, what would you most like to change about Hong Kong?


What's your favourite hidden spot in Hong Kong for a drink?

Lilly in LKF hotel which ain't so secret but otherwise I'm quite happy having a beer outside 7-11.

Most surprising night out ever in Hong Kong?

There have been too many nights that started as grabbing a quick beer and then turned into a 48 hour rollercoaster of adventure. HK is like that, it can snowball so randomly in weird and wonderful ways.

If you can take visitors to just one place in Hong Kong, where would it be?

To the airport, there's too many people here already.


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