At Fringe in Central – Demystifying Hong Kong Fringe Club

When we think about the heart of Hong Kong, Central immediately comes to our minds. DJs playing their tricks with electro-techno music while boozes consumed on the dance floors at LKF nightclubs; chefs preparing a wide variety of international cuisines while friends chatting over Mimosas and Daiquiris at SoHo restaurants; and bankers in suits disappearing into and emerging out of skyscraper gates while shoppers trying on designer shoes in front of the mirrors at luxury fashion stores – all of which constitute the world-famous masterpiece depicting modern-day urban bustle called Central, Hong Kong.

But do you know right in the middle of all these hectic-ness and commercialization in Central sits a silently refined place in dual celebration of local history and contemporary arts with the name Fringe Club?

the facade of Fringe Club (photo taken by Lexie Ma Xiaochi)

I’m sure you’ve all passed by this red-and-white striped building residing at the corner that leads right up to the lively LKF district once or twice and wondered what kind of weird name Fringe Club is. If you happen to have taken several peeps into its interior, you’ve probably been a bit thrown off by its vintage deco and artsy-fartsy vibes. Well, guess what? First impressions oftentimes grant revision, but they will stick with you until you break them by truly getting to know the subject.

That’s why Fringe Club with the support of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust is rolling out a series of events under the Cultural Heritage Leadership Project, under which the Learn · Play · Lead Fringe Tour has been designed to introduce Fringe Club as both a historical site and a contemporary arts space to the general public. So let’s take a look inside and listen to some of the stories that it’s been eager to tell!

a family of three as Fringe Tour participants with the docent (photo taken by Fringe Club)

Fringe Club is named after Edinburgh Festival Fringe and housed in a Grade-I heritage building originally constructed as the old Dairy Farm cold storage depot in 1982 in a late Victorian architectural style. The building was later abandoned after the company moved in 1970s and was subsequently acquired by Fringe Club in 1984.

Over the years, the building has undergone metamorphic renovations to eventually flourish as a vibrant rendezvous for contemporary arts lovers, but its old flavors have been preserved with due diligence all along – creaking wooden windowsills, frayed porcelain walls and the aged chimney on the rooftop. With its in-house gallery, theater, restaurant, café and bar, here, you can always appreciate the artworks with a satisfied stomach, watch plays with an aromatic brew coffee in your hand or enjoy musical performances before pouring yourself a glass of Chardonnay.

the Fringe Club main stairs (photo taken by Lexie Ma Xiaochi)

In the spirit of open access, Fringe Club has recruited a range of arts lovers to perform as docents and Cultural Ambassadors to lead multiple Fringe Tours for participants who have signed up online or just for random wanderers around Central. These volunteers guide visitors through the diverse venues present within the building and offer delightful and informative anecdotes to trace their historical roots as well as explain their contemporary uses.

Hui Ching Yee Jade, a Fringe Club docent and HKU senior majoring in comparative literature and philosophy used to be one of those random wanderers who had walked by the building countless times without ever entering it because she always felt a teensy intimidated by its upscale facade. “I always thought that this was some high-end club exclusive to rich people,” recalled Hui. “I mean, look at the extravagant architecture here!” After finally setting foot in Fringe Club for a poem sharing event and getting much hearteningly positive feedback on her works from a bunch of primarily international artists, Hui told me that she just had to grasp this opportunity to work for Fringe Club when the Cultural Heritage Leadership Project was announced.

a Fringe Tour docent introducing the upstairs studio to the visitors (photo taken by Lexie Ma Xiaochi)

Apart from channeling the vigor of young blood like Hui, Fringe Club has also embraced the idea of a tour on demand and developed a digital feature via which visitors can freely scan the QR codes pasted on the walls of different venues and be directed to short and sweet text intros and video clips sharing some of Fringe Club’s “secrets”.

When asked about what inspires the incorporation of this digital feature for Fringe Tours, Huang Yuqing Sunny, Project Coordinator of Fringe Club explained that the idea occurred to her when she tried to figure out a way for the tours to progress smoothly in the physical absence of guiding personnel. “So even if there is no docent at that venue, you can just explore it by yourself.”

a visitor scanning the QR code to find out Fringe Club “secrets”(photo taken by Lexie Ma Xiaochi)

According to Huang, Fringe Tour participants have so far been rather diverse, especially since walk-ins are welcomed as well. Many local residents and international tourists who just find themselves in the neighborhood on the days of the tours are in for a rare treat. Peter Youngblood, a US native and CUHK PhD student majoring in religious studies had a blast chatting with the Cultural Ambassador, and the chemistry between him and Fringe Club was sparked by pure chance when he was just killing some time in the area and got approached by the volunteers.

“I like the theater space here because it’s sort of like a black box and it’s very intimate,” said Youngblood. The fusion between an old-timey warehouse and a contemporary arts space was particularly intriguing to him as its repurposing managed to turn something commercial into something cultural. “I think it’s especially important in Hong Kong where a lot of the old industries are moving out of the city, so what are you going to do with the old buildings? Well, you honor its historical importance, but at the same time you give it some new significance as a cultural center of sorts.”

Leung Sai-poon Kenny’s Hong Kong Trilogy exhibition in the gallery (photo taken by Lexie Ma Xiaochi)

I do hope that by now, I have done a decent job demystifying Fringe Club, this seemingly somewhat erratic but in fact endearing presence in downtown Central for you. If you are also an arts and culture fanatic looking for some city adventures, Fringe Tours will continue to take place every Saturday afternoon throughout this April! For more information on the tours, you can check out the Fringe Tour schedule. To learn more about Fringe Club and the upcoming events it will host, please visit the Fringe Club official website. And for more information on the Cultural Heritage Leadership Project and a virtual Fringe Tour, just go to the Jockey Club Cultural Heritage Leadership Project official website where textual and visual resources abound.

 

Writer: Lexie Ma Xiaochi

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