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Political message on Hong Kong’s tallest tower pulled from exhibition

The message included a countdown to the expiration date of a political agreement between China and Hong Kong

Officials in Hong Kong removed a work of art from public display on the side of the city's tallest building, the International Commerce Centre, after the artists revealed it was loaded with a political message about China-Hong Kong relations.

The work, Our 60-second friendship begins now (2016) by Sampson Wong and Jason Lam, was part of the exhibition Human Vibrations, which was organised by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC). The light display included a countdown to 1 July 2047, when the "One Country, Two Systems" agreement, which governs relations between China and Hong Kong, is meant to expire, implying a hope that Hong Kong would then be entirely autonomous.

The meaning behind the countdown, which was presented in seconds, would likely have gone unnoticed had the artists not drawn attention to its meaning just before it was presented.

Caroline Ha Thuc, the show's curator, and Ellen Pau, the chairman of HKADC's film and media art group, had the piece removed and issued a statement saying that changes were made to the work after its content and title had been agreed upon.

Wong and Lam dispute this claim. In a joint release, they said: “To remove an artwork from an exhibition, falsely supposing that the artwork’s title and concept have been changed, is a gesture that violates professional ethics. This gesture not only discredits the artist, but produces an impression that it was decided upon political considerations.”

A spokesperson for the HKADC told The Art Newspaper via email: “The decision [to pull the work] is solely based on the consideration of trust, respect and professional practice. It is not related to politics.”