Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Horror Vacui in Hong Kong

HORROR VACUI (fear of emptiness in Latin), combined with a penchant for all things cute and pink, glossy surfaces, black leather sofas, neoclassical sculptures, gold paint and huge TV screens are de rigueur in HK. Unfortunately government officials have decided that the "kindergarten meets Las Vegas casino" aesthetics should not be limited to the interior of flats, residential blocks, office desks, shopping malls in the New Territories, etc. They want every corner of the city, including country parks and beaches, to be "beautified" in accordance to the dominant taste.

Thus unobtrusive railings are painted pink and white, the Leisure, Culture and Sports Department logo is repeated ad nauseam, stainless steel notice boards are erected even in the tiniest park, so that people can be reminded to 'wash their hands', huge vinyl banners in primary colours promote even the most obscure event organised by this or that department, or simply scream 'Drugs kill'.

Every public space must be packed with ads and warning signs, every festival becomes an excuse to 'decorate' the city with giant pink figurines, garish lights, flower pots etc. The shopping mall has become the golden standard for public spaces. Whereas in shopping malls brands have to pay to advertise their goods, government departments can freely promote themselves and their ill-conceived campaigns.

Let's just take one of these campaigns as an example. "Get Moving. Clean Hong Kong" reads one huge banner featuring three young people posing with a broom. Is this a contest? Or a new form of exercise involving broom sticks? Are we encouraged to become street sweepers because of the recession? After counting hundreds of these banners, i still don't know what the message is. Certainly taxpayers money would be better spent in increasing cleaners wages rather than producing these banners.

In parks and beaches more activities are banned than permitted. And of course huge signs and banners are there to remind us that we shouldn't skate, play with balls, burn wax, fly kites, lie on benches, walk dogs, listen to music, cycle, smoke, etc. As i look at this garish clutter of signs, my head starts spinning, i feel nauseous. Is throwing up permitted??
I don't see any sign mentioning vomit, but plenty of signs warn me to watch my property, lock doors and windows before leaving home, prevent gum disease by brushing my teeth (!) and even advise me to love my family members. WTF??

One wonders how we managed to safely use these places for decades before government departments started shouting their DO's and DON'Ts.

Officials who suffer from HORROR VACUI syndrome believe that streets and parks are too empty. They must have more banners, signs, public art or distinctive street furniture. Trees are too empty. They must be hung with Christmas lights or signs identifying their species. And let's not forget that trees are 'dangerous', they must be secured to the ground with ropes and cables, or enclosed in metal cages.

The horror...the horror!

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