Sunday, December 27, 2009


the financial/employment malaise made life much LESS FUN during the first half of the year. things became DEAD SERIOUS, LIFE OR DEATH rather than OPTIONAL or GRATUITOUS or ENTERTANING. putting one's head down for 6 months is really no fun, not even when you're blessed with copious doses of inborn prozac like me...
the financial meltdown continued to be a serious tailwind on the asian art business. considering that our eponymous operation,, specializes in cutting edge avant-garde works, it made the customary uphill battle (inculcate THEN sell) twice as steep.
i attended civic exchange's "The air we breathe" conference in January, which inspired me to found a new ngo about air pollution. but i soon found myself coopted into the "clean air coalition" by christine loh in february. and, thank god, because christine's oorganization already had the backing of hk's leading environmentalists. clean air coalition is now Clean Air Network ( of more below…
in april of this year, i was on a roadshow in europe to launch Filligent's revolutionary anti-microbial BioMask, when swine flu broke out. it's the first time in my life i thought my blackberry would actually explode. the second day of the outbreak, we distributed a press release over pr newswire, which resulted in my personal filligent email address receiving over 3000 emails in the course of that week. swine flu made the BioMask the world's hottest product. the month of may 2009 was probably the busiest month of my entire life, bar none, due to the confluence of swine flu, the launch of the BioMask and the hong kong art fair. for the same reason, it was probably one of the most memorable, hard to believe periods of my life. the timing of events was uncannily serendipitous and unforgettable. but also a massively nervewracking emotional drain. frankly, i hope to never undergo such an experience (2-3 months in all) again.
the hard work continued through the summer of 2009. but, in late june, christine loh asked me to head up clean air network and i agreed. the board (of which I was a member) had begun to discuss how we needed a CEO in may 09. in my heart of hearts, i really wanted to do it, then, but i couldn't imagine leaving my well-paid private sector job to head up CAN, let alone during a period of such intense work demands from filligent (during swine flu). in the end, though, my heart won out. or, rather, i rationalized the massive salary cut to myself, so that i could accept the ngo post. in july, i decided to take the leap and agreed to head up CAN full-time on 1 October, while winding down my full-time post at filligent. (I remain a consultant to filligent.)
the transition was a full-throttle commitment, requiring me to do two full-time jobs during the months of august and september. filligent was inking distribution agreements around the world, while the HK Government announced its new proposed air quality management strategy at the end of July. As with most things in my life, time was of the essence. But in this case, charged with the responsibility of mobilizing public opinion to pressure the govt to enact much stricter air quality standards for hk, i felt the time pressure much more keenly than ever before in my life. The government will amend hk’s standards at the end of 2010 giving me approximately 1 year to get the issue of air pollution on to the radar of the hk people. And, so I have thrown myself into my new job with the full quantum of my life force. I don’t make such statements but rarely, so, believe it when I say that I feel the pressure and overhang of responsibility above my head like a sword of Damocles every day.
To date, we (CAN) have a following of approximately 15,000 people – no small feat, since that stacks up quite impressively next to all the other environmental ngos which have existed for more than 10 years in hk. but the real challenge is creating a genuine movement by building a genuine social media marketing platform. It’s easy enough to talk about “community” “viral content” “blogging”, etc, but to do it is a sustained promethean effort which no other organization, private or public, has EVER done properly in hk. there IS no silver bullet OBVIOUSLY. It takes really hard work and continuous monitoring of data flows and generation of content. WRITING content EVERY DAY becomes paramount. For that matter, it will take at least 6 months to create a genuinely strong and durable following which acknowledges the value of the content we are creating every day. Let me just confess squarely that I’m totally unaccustomed to waiting THAT long for my efforts to bear fruit in any industry. It is in fact the ultimate irony that social media, an instantaneous medium, is forcing me to be more patient and persistent than I have ever been in my professional life. Luckily, though, the newfound vocation of writer/blogger/content generator fits like a happy glove. I’m happy to report that I’ve never been happier in my life. At the same time, I’ve never tackled anything as daunting and monumental as public policy. I am learning to navigate the world of hk politics too, a murky and laborious task, which, considering the countless face to face meetings, seems a thankless and distinctly stone age project. The word “leverage” has no application in this world where there is no substitute for one-on-one meetings and handshakes. Nevertheless, I’m heartened at the size of our following and the response from huge blue chip corporations but I know that my work is cut out for me the next year. There’s not a minute for delusion or waste.
Other front s:
John and I are in a perpetual state of “about to get married”…. I’ll leave it at that and just say that we continue to be incredibly happy and settled together.
Sam is at a critical point in his education: it is no longer realistic to expect him to be able to get on top of his Chinese schoolwork – even with massive amounts of additional home study. So, gus and I are thinking of when and to what school he should matriculate. We find all the international schools deficient and posh, an obviously terrible combination. On the other hand, the local schools are too regimented and traditional in their approaches. It all leads to the resounding conclusion that bringing up a child’s MIND in hk is a very difficult task; and that I need to get more involved in sam’s education, if he is to think more creatively and independently. I’m happy to report that now that I’m the boss, it’s much more feasible to spend quality creative educational time with him. Now, if only I could think of what to do! He’s now sitting next to me (in our villa in koh samui) helping me rewrite storylines for our CAN’s kid’s storybook, I’m happy to report : )
My brother and his wife had a son only about a month ago – Oscar. I hope to take sam for a visit in april. more than ever, family is important to me, something I’m now prepared to make time for, even if it does seem more difficult than ever to stay connected. One is nowadays more – and less – connected…. I suppose that that's the raison d'etre of THIS blog entry today.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


1. How can governments nurture a spirit of innovation?
Governments need to provide cheap space and resources in order for artists to pursue their vocation full time. Art and creativity require a high degree of risk-taking and trailblazing. Recognition and reward are never overnight. For example, rents in Hong Kong severely penalize commercial uncertainty, making it very difficult for would-be artists to hang out their shingle and do something unprecedented and daring.
2. What do you appreciate most about Hong Kong?
No doubt about it: I love the efficiency and can-do attitude of Hong Kong and its people. Besides that, though, it's generally a cultural desert, where you live in an artistic-creative-intellectual terrarium of your own making. If you don't possess the capacity for self-nurturing, intellectually, HK is a tough place.
3. What is Hong Kong’s position on the global creative map?
Hong Kong is well-known to be devoid of cultural leadership or even inspiration. This is a place where commercial ambition takes pride of place in society, unfortunately. Hong Kong is better known as a crossroads of finance and trade, rather than for any artistic achievements or destinations.
4. What should the world know about your work (e.g. values, successes, creative process)?
Whatever I'm doing, I seek to influence minds, whatever the substance of the message. Despite the seeming zigzag of my career from design to biotech to environmentalism, the entire thing is underpinned by my desire to engineer perceptual shifts in consumption and culture. Whether I have been even partially successful is a totally different question! I choose new topics and challenges which force me to confront my total ignorance and attain mastery of totally new areas of knowledge and thinking.

these answers were written for a "book project on the subject of Creative Industries, that will be published in April 2010 by the Creative Industries Office of Austrian Trade and Folio Publishers in Vienna....the book reflects on recent developments in Creative Industries hubs such as London, Hong Kong, New York, Shanghai and Tokyo.... we [have] invite[d] four personalities from each city who either live or work there or know it very well to answer four questions, especially related to their area of work. Amongst others, designers Alberto Alessi (Italy) and Alfredo Häberli (Switzerland), artist/architect Vito Acconci (USA), author Tom Lanoye (Belgium), and architect Ben van Berkel (the Netherlands) have already sent us their answers to these questions.