In the early phase of the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong people often overreacted to the real scale of the danger, and retreated behind masks. Most forms of voluntary social interaction were curtailed, and even in relatively low-risk situations people seemed to be wary of each other, treating strangers as a potential source of infection. During that time, when Hong Kong people and people from other places in Asia that were hit by SARS traveled overseas they were often treated with suspicion as potential disease carriers, and made to feel unwelcome. This artwork consists of a supply of buttons which play with this fear of social interaction, which has taken on new dimensions in our increasingly globalized world where both people and contagious diseases are more mobile than ever before. It hopes to serve as a reminder that other people are the source of most that is good about life. Our skins connect us to the world, rather than isolating us from it.
The piece consists of a supply of label buttons printed with either one of two phrases (equal quantities of each to be made): ‘Potential source of infection’ or ‘Potential source of affection’. The typeface and other elements of the design are the same for both buttons, except that one button has a light yellow background and the other a white one (words are in black). If this piece is accepted then the venue would bear the costs of making the buttons locally according to my design, in a quantity they saw fit. The buttons could either be sold at the venue during the exhibition, and after it closes too if supplies remain (with all monies going to the venue itself), or given away at the opening or during the course of the exhibition as the curator sees fit. If sold, this should be in pairs so that the purchaser gets one of each type. If given away then some randomized method of distribution is preferred.
An earlier version of this work (using stickers rather than buttons) was presented in a SARS-themed exhibition which took place just as the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong was ending: A Time Like This… , co-organized by Hong Kong Arts Centre, Goethe-Institut Hong Kong, Para/Site Art Space, and Art in Hospital [work exhibited at Pao Galleries, H.K. Arts Centre], 20 May – 2 June 2003. This work was also reproduced in He Zhijun (ed.), Shashi Qishelu – Xianggang Shehuide Feidianxing Shenshi [Sars Apocalypse], Hong Kong, Step Forward Multimedia, 2003, pp. 134-5.