11/07/2014 03:18 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2015

Art in Small Doses: Video Art in Hong Kong Subway Stations

Commuters in Hong Kong might notice something unusual on their route through the subways this month. In between the barrage of commercial advertisements directed at them (not to mention the throngs of other commuters), they might catch a glimpse of art.

Part of the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway's (MTR) "Living Art" initiative, in collaboration with JC Decaux and the APT Institute (a non-profit organization operated by the Artist Pension Trust), On Track is the first exhibition of new media artworks presented within MTR subway stations. Taking place throughout the network of JC Decaux-owned Digital Panels, works by artists Wang Yahui of Taiwan and Junebum Park of Korea will momentarily interrupt the flow of advertisements usually broadcast on the screens.

The works will be shown on 60 pairs of screens across 10 MTR stations in Hong Kong, including some of the city's busiest stations like Central, Admiralty, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok, as well as the subway station servicing the heart of Hong Kong's art scene, Wan Chai.

The artworks--Wang Yahui's Two Billion Light Years of Solitude (2009) and Junebum Park's Making an Apartment (2005)--should be quite relatable to the inhabitants of one of the world's most vertical cities. Both videos address the theme of urbanization, specifically through the aesthetics of tall apartment blocks.

Wang Yahui, Clip from Two Billion Light Years of Solitude, 2009.

In Two Billion Light Years of Solitude, one sees five apartment buildings from a distance in the dark, lights from their windows appearing like stars in the night sky. Lines connecting the windows like constellations complete the metaphor. As certain windows darken and others light up, the constellations shift, creating new connections and implying the changing of narratives. As with constellations, nothing can be gleaned from the lines themselves, rather they serve as placeholders for a deeper story, which the viewer here is invited to invent.

Junebum Park, Making an Apartment, 2005.

Junebum Park's Making an Apartment also focuses on the urban landscape, yet his video forms what seems to be a critical comment on rapid urbanization. In the video, the artist is shown "building" an apartment building by hand, floor by floor, among a block of identical towers.

The two videos (both of which last about two minutes in their full forms) will be presented in 10-second clips, adhering to the standard format of the ads that are usually shown on the Digital Panels. The potential audience is vast--over 4 million riders use the MTR each day--yet catching their attention will be a challenge. As the organizer of the exhibition Alison Hung explained, "As you can imagine, the passengers walk quickly pass these screens, so attention span could be mere seconds." Translating the artworks to HD formats and fitting them to the vertically oriented panels also posed logistical and technological challenges. In the MTR stations, viewers will see the videos along with short texts providing context and a link to more information.

It's difficult to call something so dispersed and fragmentary an "exhibition." On Track seems more like some sort of "intervention"--art intervening into daily life.  While MTR customers may encounter other public artworks in the stations, like sculptures or scheduled performances, this is the first time that artworks have usurped an apparatus that normally conveys only commercial information. APT Institute Director David A. Ross described it as "a breather for the commuters with the romantic notion that art can be taken in small doses."