Nobel Laureates Take Hong Kong

What do you get when you put a Nobel Prize-winning author, a rapper, an eccentric Spanish actress and a slew of artists, music moguls and filmmakers in the same room? 28-year-old Pablo Ganguli’s Liberatum Hong Kong, of course. Needless to say, the three days that the likes of Pharrell Williams, Rossy de Palma, Nobel laureate Sir V S Naipaul and co. spent in the city made for a wild ride. The free, public cultural festival, which has previously been hosted in Turkey, Morocco, Russia and beyond, was quite the treat for Hong Kong natives who, according to Vogue China editor-in-chief Angelica Cheung, are rarely privy to such art-fueled forums. “This is one of the very very few cultural events open to the public that’s happening these days in this part of the world,” she said at a Ferragamo-hosted dinner on Saturday night. “[Ganguli]’s a very young guy who had a great idea and he’s really succeeded with it.”

Pharrell Williams, the Liberatum headliner who opened the festival (which ran Apr. 27–29) with a talk between himself, producer William Orbit, and Hong Kong-based singer-songwriter Khalil Fong, concurred. “When I got the call [about participating] it just made sense, you know? Great things come from melting pots. Great things come from bringing different people of different disciplines together,” said the rapper. Williams spoke to Interview about his next art project, a sculpture inspired by the earth’s opposing poles (skeptical?) as well as how famed gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin, who gave a talk with architect Andre Fu about designing spaces specifically for art in Hong Kong, was his mentor and artistic guide (ok, less skeptical). “I don’t want to say too much because someone will probably do it better than me before I make it,” laughed Williams. He also used the festival as a platform to reveal the concept behind his latest sound technology project, Live Audio, which he hopes will give listeners a concert experience at home (he proposed that it’s the audio equivalent of James Cameron’s groundbreaking 3-D camera), and mentioned that astronaut Buzz Aldrin will be a part of his upcoming book, Pharrell: Places and Spaces I’ve Been, which is set to hit the shelves this October. “He’s a buddy!” professed the multi-talented Williams when asked about his relationship with the astronaut.

Other festival highlights included a chat between Mike Figgis, Paul Schroder, and Chinese filmmakers Daniel Wu and Nansun Shi about the future of cinema in our increasingly online world, Stephen Webster’s lecture about the art of making rockstar-ready gems and Nobel laureate Sir V.S. Naipaul’s reading of his 2010 book, The Masque of Africa, during which he broke down in tears.

Over in the Lane Crawford showcase (the prestigious Chinese retailer hosted Liberatum’s lectures and installations at its Hong Kong offices), renowned cellist Gerald Peregrine played while locked in a cage and an installation of rare Guy Bourdin films were set to the music of the festival’s co-curator and accomplished pianist, Rosey Chan. New York-based architect-cum-artist Peter Macapia’s ink-blot canvas sculpture, as well as his master class, during which he interviewed a building (literally) took center stage. “I wanted to do something that would take us out of our normal relationships with things,” said Macapia about his class, which featured him yelling questions up at the Lane Crawford offices. “There’s not much happening here with art at the street level. There are galleries, but it has to start on the ground. It has to open up with people just wanting to do stuff in the city. When you stand outside a building and you look up and you start talking to it, it’s absurd. But at the same time, that’s what you’re doing when you do art installations. You’re asking questions about space, about how people relate, and about how you relate to each other through the space.”

Emerging fashion designer Six Lee’s installation of grey wool apocalyptic menswear was also a strong point—as Angelica Cheung observed, a new generation of European-trained Chinese designers (Lee studied at Antwerp’s Royal Academy) is on the rise. On the other hand, Lee—whose hyper-tailored looks were arranged like an ominous army in a blackened room, his film depicting a man’s journey to find his true love as the world comes to an end projected against the wall—noted that the Chinese government’s lack of support for young designers makes it difficult to build one’s business. But, judging by his high-concept designs, and the fact that his clothes are sold internationally in stores like RA, it would seem that Lee is well on his way.

What happened behind closed doors at the festival’s numerous champagne-fueled dinners produced Liberatum’s most memorable moments. Friday evening, guests flocked to Sevva, a restaurant known for its unparalleled terrace views of Hong Kong’s cityscape (the buildings of which, it should be noted, Mr. Orbit aptly likened to something out of the Jetsons.) Unfortunately, due to the unrelenting black rain, those views were obstructed. But Rossy de Palma didn’t care. In fact, she liked it. “This place is so beautiful. And the rain is romantic, no?” quipped the animated actress, explaining that it was her first time in Hong Kong. The Spanish icon, famed for her striking Picassoian looks, treated guests to a titillating burlesque performance at Kee Club the following night, which featured her shimmying in a see-through ensemble while fluttering two giant ostrich feather fans and professing her love for Hong Kong via an improvised musical number.

Later that evening, everyone (and we mean everyone, Nobel laureate included) pushed through the buzzy streets of Hong Kong’s Soho district, filled with inebriated Westerners and revelers wearing neon light-up glasses, to Volar Club, where the likes of Stephen Webster, Rossy De Palma, Paul Schrader and William Orbit crowded around back tables sipping bottles of glowing vodka with Chinese dragons sculpted inside. That is, until the police raid, which put an unsettling pause to the merrymaking as officers snooped around Liberatum’s VIP section. Naturally, no one was locked up for their party tricks. But for Macapia, even this run-in could be looked at with an inquisitive, artistic eye. “I actually really liked the raid. But I wanted to explore it a bit more. It doesn’t happen in New York because the police are always present in an obvious way. When they’re not present and they just kind of appear, that’s scary. Your awareness of the environment totally changes.” And while the guests’ level of awareness at that point of the night was questionable, it was indeed an experience they won’t soon forget.

The festival came to a close the following evening with a performance by Terence Koh, during which he laid on a pier, motionless, while onlookers took camera video and snapshots. Before jumping on their respective flights to all four corners of the earth, the Liberatum crew gathered at Hong Kong hotel The Upper House to say goodbye. “Come on, baby. Let’s go!” said De Palma, tossing her head as she exited the hotel garden. But it may not be goodbye for long, as Ganguli hinted that there might be another Liberatum festival in Hong Kong’s future. The only question is, can they handle it?