The minibus pulls to a halt in a junction between Hung Hom and To Kwa Wan. The district is scattered with dated industrial buildings. After passing through a few automobile repair shops, I approach the beige-colored On Lok Industrial Building. Completed in 1964, the building has retained its four blocks connected by four elevators. To this day, an operator controls the escalator. With the rising escalator, one could glimpse, through the gaps of its gate, the floors falling, and feel a cool breeze passing through. The elevators could only reach the 9th floor. One must climb one flight of stairs to reach Wheel Thing Makers, a local organisation that makes and promotes bike art.
Why Bike Art?
The first person I see, working profusely on a low chair, is “bike madman” Gary Chan Pui-gay. Gary, had worked in the printing business, car repair business, and even helped with welding in industrial buildings. Eight years ago, Gary inadvertently scraped away the paint of a white bike, and was yelled at by its owner. This episode inspired Gary to explore the world of bike art. Combing scrap metal with his own imagination and life ingredients, Gary completed eight artworks, including the Harly-Davidson inspired “Harley’s Bike”, “Rowing Bike. “Drift Bike”, “Stepping Bike”, “Laid-back Bike”, “Healthy Twister Bike”, “Left or Right Bike”, and “Solar-powered Tricycle”. Innovative and environmental, some of Gary’s works were awarded patent rights. As Gary explains, the government has been promoting creative industries. Gary was inspired but didn’t know where to start. Back then Gary worked in the industrial area of Kwun Tong, where spare parts and components were easy to come by. Bike art soon became his prized new discovery.
Blessing in Disguise
In the summer of 2014, during the trial run of his solar-powered bike, Gary was seized and questioned by 14 policemen. He was charged with unlicensed biking; without a 3rd party insurance, or a registration from the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, his license was suspended for a year with a penalty of $1,000. While Gary felt discouraged and lost, the incident led to increased exposure for his eight artworks, which attracted designers and art organisations alike. A firm soon offered Gary to be their exhibition consultant. With the invitation, Gary instilled innovative elements to the firm’s installation art. Subsequently, Gary also held a solo exhibition in Oil Street. The arrest became a crossroads of sorts: either continue full-time work, or focus on making and exploring art. Gary soon met Paddy Ng, another enthusiast of bike art. Oftentimes, Gary’s wife and children would join his workshops. He once hand-made a bike for his eldest daughter, only to break it down again for its components . . . the nickname “bike madman” does not come by easily.
Reunion of High School Friends
When Paddy Ng Pak-fung read about Gary’s arrest, he felt outraged by the incident. In 2015, Paddy reunited with Gary in the 25th anniversary exhibition of the Jockey Club Ti-I College. The two alumni founded Wheel Thing Makers that same year. With his background in social policy, Paddy was interested in social research and urban planning. He hoped to connect the community through bikes, and helped to integrate handicraft and creativity into education. Half a year after its founding, Gary and Paddy decided to devote their full-time attention to Wheel Thing Makers. A new working place was opened in May 2016. “We rented a larger space to create more possibility. With a clearer set of goals, we plan to branch out further, for example offer workshops. The new working space is co-rented with our fellow artists, including carpenters, documentary filmmakers, and pottery makers,” Paddy explains.
Give and Take from the Community
With the government’s emphasis in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, Paddy hopes to ride the tide and promote creativity, so that students could craft their own work from ground zero. Paddy once cooperated with a secondary school, where he asked Form 5 visual art students to collect litter on the streets and remold them into individual pieces of work. As Paddy explains, he chose To Kwa Wan to make good use of the wood, tyres and components in this diverse community. Wheel Thing Makers also cooperates with NGOs to create flower pots out of wheels. The flower pots are then scattered all over the community to promote green-conscious creation.
The Legacy and Creation of Wheels
With the recent closure of Chiu Kee, the retired Mackey Li has donated his drilling machine, rolling mill, and lathe to Wheel Thing Makers. It was only last year that Paddy knew about Chiu Kee’s imminent closure. The artist is a big fan of Chiu Kee’s finely-crafted and tailor-made handcarts. Paddy visited Mackey’s shop that borders Tung Street and Upper Lascar Row, Sheung Wan, and found a treasure trove of useful hardware. Apart from generously donating his hardware, Mackey also imparted his unique skills to Paddy. Indeed, Mackey even agreed to give away the copper sign of “Chiu Kee”.
Handcarts and bikes are similar in that both rely on wheels. The replacement of handicraft by large-scale production has led to the dwindling of traditional shops. With its combination of creativity and a green consciousness, Wheel Thing Makers hopes to change the perception and action of the Hong Kong people.
Cooperation and Change
Gary and Paddy respectively excelled in sports and arts back in secondary school. Seeing their different interests and physiques, I ask how they got along. In fact, Paddy sees Gary as the practical type, always absorbed in his own handicraft. With his background in stage design, Paddy is the one who comes up with the ideas. Just like the notable band Tat Ming Pair, the two members of Wheel Thing Makers cooperate in seamless fashion.
Paddy describes their relationship as cooperation and change. Both are the forerunners of green-conscious creation in the community. This reminds me or an earlier work by Wheel Thing Makers – the double-headed bike. Facing two directions, the bike must be operated by two bikers sitting back-to-back. Despite its design, the double-headed bike goes in one single direction – just like Paddy and Gary, two different individuals who have joined hands for a common cause.
As Paddy explains, the heavy machinery will be placed in the four corners of the new working space. The empty space in the middle will be used to hold workshops. Interested readers should join and enjoy the fun of making your own artwork out of wheels. On my way out of the industrial building, I caught sight of a wheel-shaped vase in a neighboring care repair shop. A small bud is planted in the community – Wheel Thing Makers will continue to spread its small but profound idea of green-conscious creativity in the community.
Address of Wheel Thing Markers:
10D2, On Lok Factory Builing Factory, 92-95 ha Heung Road, To Kwa Wan