Subversive light show on Hong Kong's tallest skyscraper scrapped

Elaine Yu, CNNUpdated 23rd May 2016
Artist Sampson Wong called the authorities' premature termination of their light-show an "attack."
(CNN) — Hong Kong has pulled the plug on a subversive art installation that graced the city's tallest skyscraper -- the International Commerce Center.
The nine-minute light-show that had appeared nightly on the facade of the 118-story building since May 17 contained an animated, nine-digit number.
The artists later revealed the digits represented a clock counting down by the second to July 1, 2047. That's when Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" arrangement with Beijing -- which gives the semi-autonomous city freedoms unseen on the mainland -- is set to expire.
The Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC), which commissioned the piece, said Sunday the artists changed the title and statement of their work "without consulting the curator nor HKADC."
"The disrespect demonstrated by Mr. Sampson Wong and Mr. Jason Lam against the original agreement and understanding made with the curator and HKADC is jeopardizing our profession and put at risk any future possibility to work further in the public space," the statement added.
Before the countdown appeared, the light-show featured phrases such as "I will remember this minute," which were taken from a Wong Kar-wai film.
Before the countdown appeared, the light-show featured phrases such as "I will remember this minute," which were taken from a Wong Kar-wai film.
Elaine Yu/CNN
Wong and Lam denied the HKADC's claims in a statement, saying the nine-minute installation, officially called "Our 60-second friendship begins now," was never renamed or altered.
According to the artists' statement, only the interpretation of the animated number, embedded in the last minute of the show, has changed. The countdown to 2047, later dubbed the "Countdown Machine," exists as a separate artwork made up of a website and an online clip.
"The reason to remove the artwork is ungrounded. Attempts at banning interpretation limit freedom of expression," Wong and Lam said.
"ADC's unjustified and arbitrary removal of artworks endangers the arts sector."
The artists told CNN last week they had wanted to express Hong Kong's anxiety over its fate on the city's most prominent platform. The show was originally scheduled to run every night until June 22.
Though they said it wasn't timed deliberately, the light-show's opening coincided with the visit of Zhang Dejiang, Chairman of the Standing Committee of National People's Congress.
The countdown would likely have been in the full view of the high-ranking Communist Party official, who was staying in the Grand Hyatt hotel in the neighborhood of Wan Chai.
The Hong Kong Arts Development Council had at first tolerated the hidden message, saying on May 19, it "echoes director Wong Kar-wai's acclaimed film 'Days of Being Wild,' and reminded people to treasure every moment by showing countdown numbers.
"If there is any hidden message behind, it is solely the personal idea of the creators," the first statement said.
Erected by Sun Hung Kai Properties, the 118-story skyscraper is a frequent host of light installations including New Year's Eve countdowns and Lunar New Year-themed light shows.