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Be Water by Hong Kongers

Dedicated to the Hong Kong protesters by Eric Siu & Joel Kwong

Background

In 2020, “Be Water by Hong Kongers” received the Golden Nica prize from Prix Ars Electronica. Awarded for Digital Communities, this was the first time in history the prize had been given anonymously to a city of people, in this case the Hong Kong protesters. The two artists who submitted the nomination, Eric Siu and Joel Kwong, have described themselves as messengers bringing Hong Kongers’ digital excellence to the global creative community.

Exhibition

Prize money was awarded to the entry submitters to produce an exhibit for CyberArts during the Ars Electronica Festival, as well as to fund other future projects. In light of COVID-19, Ars has reimagined the 2020 festival as a hybrid global physical/online “journey” called Kepler’s Gardens. Be Water will hold a physical exhibition during September 9th-13th as part of the Ars festival at OK Center, Linz, Austria. This website is the online version for people who cannot attend the physical exhibition. We also hope to bring the exhibition to different countries in the near future.

The Golden Nica

As the award does not belong to any one individual, the team decided to showcase the Golden Nica as part of the exhibition in Linz, with plans to tour it later. Nevertheless, because the award is shared by all Hong Kong protesters, Ars Electronica has kindly open-sourced the Golden Nica as a 3D model and invited Hong Kong protesters to download it for free and print their own version. To do so, please download it from this link on the Ars Electronica Page. Please note, however, that this 3D data is licensed under Creative Commons - commercial use is not allowed.

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Statement

“Be Water” is a famous saying of martial arts star Bruce Lee: to be shapeless, formless and able to adapt to any situation. This philosophy has recently been embraced by the protest movement in Hong Kong. The latest wave of protests began in 2019 in response to an extradition bill that threatened the territory’s judicial independence. The protests have now become a case study in the use of digital activism to safeguard democratic freedoms.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to mainland China in 1997. Since then, Hong Kong has been governed by the constitutional principle of “One Country, Two Systems”. Under this principle, Hong Kong continued to have its own governmental systems and legal, economic and financial affairs, including trade relations with other countries, all of which are independent from those of mainland China. However, the interpretation of this principle has occasionally caused tensions to erupt.

In the summer of 2019, 22 years after the handover, a tremendous political movement emerged to protest an extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China under certain circumstances. Dissenting voices claimed this would risk exposing citizens to unfair trials and treatment, further eroding political freedoms in Hong Kong. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers (as they now refer to themselves) took to the streets, and weeks of protests and civil disobedience followed, which helped to bring the movement to global attention. While the controversial bill was withdrawn in September 2019, the movement doesn’t stop but continues with a broader set of demands, including a full inquiry into alleged police brutality.

Digital technology plays a key role in the whole movement, and the use of technology is creative, innovative and pervasive. Digital community functions range from front-line support and crowdsourcing campaigns to protest art, social media (fact-checking and reporting), online petitions, political education, and so on. Protesters use multiple platforms including live-streaming, forums and apps, e-commerce, websites, music, and whatever else seems appropriate in the moment, a perfect expression of the “Be Water” philosophy. The protest movement is leaderless, and this decentralization results in massive online and organic tactics using platforms like LIHKG – a local, lo-fi version of Reddit where users can communicate and vote on posts – or AirDrop to share campaign messages. The protests have unleashed a wave of digital activism in which everything is new and creative.

Hong Kongers have set new standards of digital activism, the lessons of which must be shared with other groups worldwide. “Be Water” is their guiding philosophy, just as in the Chinese classical text “Tao Te Ching” by Lao Tzu, the highest good is like water. We are merely two messengers who document the past and present, credit the Hong Kong protesters, and hope to bring Hong Kongers to the center of art, technology and society and provoke a much-needed dialogue about how digital culture shapes our practice of civic responsibility now and in the future.

Credits

All Hong Kong protesters involved in the struggle to safeguard democracy

Facebook Page

https://www.facebook.com/bewaterbyhkers