Woofer Ten, the alternative space run by local artists, is perhaps most famous for its "cycling petition" held every June 4 since 2010. But its core member, Lee Chun-fung, reveals he'd been indifferent to social issues before he graduated from the Chinese University's fine arts department in 2007.
"And not until very lately did I get June 4 and the Nanking massacre sorted out," he says. "I was totally ridiculous!"
But thanks to his first job as programme officer at Artist Commune, a former art space at the Cattle Depot Artist Village, he has learned to be more socially aware.
Today, Lee, 28, has developed his artistic concern to bring people together through his work. Artist Commune closed down in 2009, and Lee, along with nine like-minded art practitioners, formed Woofer Ten (its Chinese name being "revitalisation office") .
Funded by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, the non-profit organisation promotes contemporary art as a way to engage the community. "It's all about generating dialogue and making friends," Lee says.
And those friends are not limited to the arts circle. One of them is Yau Ma Tei old-timer Cheng Kai-fong, who's exhibiting his bygone vinyl records at the art space on Shanghai Street.
"It's neither a grand collection nor is it unique in the world," Lee says with a laugh. "It's ordinary in a way. But it has social value." This solo show, the artist adds, magnifies the daily rhythms of the locale.
While Cheng drops by Woofer Ten every day to chat with his visitors, Wong Lai-chung - a fifty-something master of flower plaques who's also known for being one of the last to move out from the Sham Shui Po redevelopment area in 2009 - has been using the space as his workshop. As a long-term "resident artist", Wong will represent Woofer Ten in an exchange exhibition in Taipei on June 29, introducing his craft - unique to Guangdong - to a wider audience.
Cultural exchange has been a focus of Lee and his organisation. On June 21, Beijing art duo HomeShop will complete their four-month residency at Woofer Ten with an outdoor screening in the neighbourhood, showing their documentary on art activism around Yau Ma Tei and social movements in Hong Kong. The next day, the local independent outfit will present its second "East Asia Multitude Meeting" at Hidden Agenda, with alternative art spaces and artists-activists from the region talking about their observations and practices.
The Woofer Ten representative says it's hard for artist-run alternative spaces such as his to survive in this town, with the art market and institutional systems steering the scene these days.
"If you're not attached to those systems, no one seems to recognise you. It's sad," Lee says, adding that now is only a transitional period.
"Once the West Kowloon [Cultural District] is built and the factories in Kwun Tong are revitalised into another Central, space for independent, non-mainstream practices will be even more limited."