Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Some of you may have heard about a little festival called Liberatum that took place a couple of weeks ago, intended to bring creative minds together for talks that would spur inspiration in the local creative scene. Great contemporary innovators, from Pharrell to VS Naipaul, Mike Figgis to Terence Koh, were meant to come together in a forum celebrating music, film, literature, art and more. A series of talks was arranged at Lane Crawford's home store in Wong Chuk Hang, with a surrounding set of events to take place in honour of the visiting luminaries. The talks were said to be free and open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis, though the official twitter account advised us to book ahead for tickets. I won't talk of the difficulties that resulted from the disorganization of the committee in charge. I won't talk about the many, many cooks in the kitchen, none of whom seemed to have any idea what was going on.

I will talk about the one talk I attended, by VS Naipaul, titled His Master's Voice. I didn't know what the talk was going to be about, but given the notoriety of the Nobel Prize-winning author, I was interested to see what he might ramble on about. He had taught a course at my university, in which he ran class like a dinner party, telling anecdotes about his life in the limelight, and then decided to fail the entire class in a fit or on a whim, who knows. He was not invited to return, as I understand.

First off, the point of a talk, on a very basic level, is for the audience to hear. Nobody could hear shit. Nobody knew that Naipaul was doing a reading, or what he was saying. And no one on staff made any attempt, as far as I can tell, to remedy the volume issues. The person I went with didn't even know what happened when, partway through the reading, the author became choked with tears and emotion. The moderator had clearly received no direction, or perhaps strange direction, because he travelled down a strange path asking questions about Naipaul's opinion on China, and his desire to visit the country (Naipaul, with typically haughty humour, declared he had no interest in the subject. The man's works concentrate chiefly on issues of home and belonging among the diaspora, not Politics and the Chinese Language).

What was most appalling, to me, is the fact that the organizers of the event (including a certain platinum-blonde chieftain) spent the entire time texting, talking on the phone, taking group self-portraits and generally ignoring the speaker. Which honestly made me wonder -- if you guys don't care, and it's your event, then why should we?

Early on, when I expressed to someone that I was excited to see the shape that Liberatum would take, a person marginally involved with the event declared it all a bunch of bullshit -- rich and well-connected people digging into their phone books to bring in big shots in the name of creative revolution. I suggested that, perhaps, revolution wasn't necessary. That simply having such an event would spur something by example.

What it did spur is probably best exemplified in the "Camera Shyness Therapy" hosted by photographers Earl Wan, Wing Shya and Mike Figgis. It was intended as an installation activity in which members of the public could be shot by so-called famous photographers. A perfectly valid idea in theory, except branded as some sort of antidote to a condition of suffering. Let's call a spade a spade. It's a forum for us to look cool, it's Glamour Shots but BETTER.

Next year, if Liberatum returns, let's not pretend it's a hotbed of originals pushing forward new agendas. It's a chance for a bunch of hipsters to get together in our fashion best, see some famous people up close and personal, and to pretend we're part of that culture. There's nothing wrong with that, I do it every day as a job. But I don't call myself a revolutionary -- I call myself a journalist.

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  1. Wow what an interesting blog. I am from UK and stumbled across this and glad I did as I find it interesting. There is a site you may be interested in you can see the work at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgZitDnC7EM

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  2. You only attended one talk. I find it interesting that you were so scathing. If you had of attended a few lectures, then I would understand, but this is clearly personal and in my opinion, unprofessional... then again, you are a 'journalist'... and you give us other 'journalists' a bad name...

  3. Hm, forgot to reply this. I did only attend the one talk but I watched another from the canteen, and furthermore dealt with people on various levels who worked for or with the organizers. I'd love to say this was personal, but I can't say I have a vendetta against anyone involved. I'd say that I was a victim of high expectations, to which Liberatum clearly did not live up. And if it were simply poorly put together, I wouldn't fault that. But the least the public deserves is a team that cares enough to try.