The Wrap-up: Consciousness Festival

Having just wrapped up the first-ever three-month Consciousness Festival, Eaton HK’s Pillars team gathered to reflect on the challenging but rewarding process of creating and curating a cultural festival from scratch. The festival featured five wellness sessions, five workshops, four performances, five screenings, seven talks, three exhibitions, and one party, curated in collaboration with over 50 artists, therapists, writers and scientists, spanning from November 2023 to January of this year.

What is consciousness? How does consciousness relate to our sense of self and personal identity? Is consciousness unique to humans? Are there different states of consciousness, such as altered states during sleep, meditation, or under the influence of substances? What is the relationship between consciousness and subjective experience? How can we cultivate a collective consciousness that values cooperation, social justice, and environmental sustainability? How can a deeper understanding of consciousness make a positive impact on the world?

Eaton HK’s Consciousness Festival was conceived and developed in the slightly chaotic and somewhat artistically cluttered office of Eaton HK’s Pillars and Design team. The aim of the festival was to delve into the complexities of consciousness and explore the topics of mind-body well-being, neurodiversity, altered brain states, and mortality. The idea was that by embracing and nurturing our individual consciousness, we would be better equipped to create meaningful, positive change in the world.

"The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means. [...] Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it has evolved."

The seed of Consciousness Festival was first planted as a festival loosely surrounding wellness. This time, the Pillars team wanted to create a festival that was more broad and accessible to a wider audience, as opposed to one that was celebrated a specific group or was catered to an audience with a niche interest. At Eaton, wellness is inspired by new-age practices and experiential learning traditions that embody a holistic approach focused on mind-body connection, and spiritual expansion.

Unsurprisingly, it was challenging to integrate and incorporate all of our team members’ ideas surrounding consciousness, which were often abstract, obscurely defined, and distinct to their own experiences. After all, consciousness is subjective; it can encompass everything and anything.

“To me, consciousness is a manifestation of self. That could mean, my self, or the self of, for example, a stone,” Senior Culture Coordinator Kelvin Yiu reflected. “When your external existence in the world becomes too repetitive, you have to look within for meaning. That leads to a lot of questioning and reflection. That idea of having an interior life, thinking and feeling—to me, that is consciousness.”

Pillars Lead/Director of Music & Radio James Acey shared, “For me, consciousness is about individual and shared realities. I always think it somewhat of a miracle that humans and modern society are able to operate on a relatively high level of collaboration and order. I suppose that came out of centuries of trial and error, but I think that we can have all of our individual realities that more or less overlap with communal and global realities is almost like some kind of magic.

 

Artist Chan Ting leading a breathing exercise in "A Trance Journey: Travel without Traveling" at a field nearby her art space/studio in Lam Tsuen, Tai Po.

“This three-month festival launched while I was on a three-week vacation. My reality of self on the day-to-day wasn’t based in Hong Kong, which I felt in some ways expanded my consciousness of the world around me: by nature of encountering new people, new languages, new foods and experiences. Coming back to Hong Kong and to work felt like coming back to a consciousness that I had hibernated from—it’s a consciousness that we as a team are so steeped in, that at moments it actually made me question whether the trip I had just been on really happened.” This fluid approach to consciousness shows that  it can expand and contract based on where and for how long you place yourself.

“In the beginning of planning, I felt that most of the team were more interested in more practical wellness workshops or experiences that would enhance our physical and mental health,” Director of Culture Joseph Chen said. “But I wanted the festival to be bolder—to reflect on our subjective experiences and existences via more philosophical, artistic or scientific lenses—as it is rare in our society to discuss these topics other than in an academic setting. I wanted to explore the similarities and differences between our cognitive and emotional processes. In the end, we came up with four themes that summarized different events in our festival: mind-body wellbeing, altered states of consciousness, neurodiversity and mortality.”

Artist Angela Su and Lau Jan from punk band David Boring shares about their practice and insight on horror and fear in "Sublime Discomforts: Body, Horror, and the Aesthetics of Transgressions" Talk

Artist/Musician MC Yan and On Ying from local brand Yat Pit share insights on reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, discussing idea of spirituality, creation and life

The festival was created with hard work and a lot of love by different members of the team, who each brought in their own angles and inspirations. The spirit of the festival was foundationally inspired by the friendship of Kelvin, graphic designer Ho Yuet-Dong and photographer Au Tze-long.

“In 2023, Kelvin, Dong and I established a really important and precious friendship. We started becoming closer by sharing music—we have a playlist which we named “Hearing Is The Last To Go When We Die”—going to raves and live shows together. We support each other in our creative projects and aspirations, as well as in life,” said Tze Long. “When we get out of school and enter society as a young adult, it’s easy to step into the world passively and let the world shape you without reflecting deeply on who you are and what you stand for. Through my friendship with Kelvin and Dong, I feel like I rediscovered parts of myself that I hid over time, and discovered new parts of myself too.

“The name of my photography exhibition is 《上山落山 Baby》 (translation: Uphill Downhill, Baby). I was reading Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra at the time, and thought a lot about self-actualization. Whether your ego or consciousness or mental state is going “uphill” to achieve what you desire, whether it’s a momentary feeling of euphoria, or permanent enlightenment, it’s important to come back down the hill to reality, and it’s important to have friends you trust to hold your hand, to guide you along the way. It’s important to come back down so that we can live out our epiphanies and reflections in the real world. To me, Consciousness Festival was in a way about our subconscious, it was curated so we can take a closer look, with the gentle guidance of each other, at what we hide within ourselves, in our daily lives.”

A few months before the festival, Dong had the idea for the key visual to be photo-centric. He enlisted Tze-long to execute a photoshoot, and on a warm November morning, they set off to Lo Fu Tau in Lantau for the project, with the theme of “上山落山” in mind.

“The hill we chose to shoot the photos is a place that is very significant to me. I frequently went there alone when I was 23 years old. We didn’t prepare any references for the photoshoot or the graphic design; I just trusted Tze-long, and she trusted me too,” Dong shared. “On the day, Kelvin led us to play some games that required good mind-body connection, like the Human Knot game. We moved freely with our bodies in the color-coordinated outfits we chose and walked whatever paths we felt like exploring, while Tze-long experimented freely with different angles and compositions.  It was a day of improvisation. After the photos came out, I tried a couple of different layouts. I designed 3D bubble typography that twirled around each other—just like our bodies did on the day of the shoot—that resembled nerves in a human body, which was a nod to one of the major themes of the festival. The text on top of the photography was designed to symbolize the connections within us as humans, as well as between us as friends.”

“When we shared our experience and the photographs with the rest of our team, our colleague Ceci remarked that in that state, we all seemed very authentically ourselves, without the constraints of social norms or societal expectations dictating how our bodies and minds should be,” Kelvin added.

 

 

The “self-care” movement has flourished in the pandemic, but has become commodified and coopted by capitalism to market more products. In a way, Consciousness Festival was a response to that; by taking participants out of their routinely daily lives in Hong Kong and creating safe spaces, scenarios and contexts for them to reconnect with themselves, with each other, and with nature, the team wanted to encourage everyone to take care of themselves, then of each other.

“I am interested to see the concept of self-care expand from a personal lifestyle into a more holistic, inclusive and collective form of wellbeing that begins from within and has a positive impact on our community,” Joseph adds. “I hope that participants were inspired to practice more empathy and compassion towards themselves and others. Just like my favorite Drag Queen RuPaul said, ‘If you can’t love yourself, how can you love somebody else?’”

Local artist collective HASS Lab and MOViE MOViE cohost a screening session of 'Little Prince' for neurodivergent kids

Having wrapped up our first rendition of the festival, the team gathered to reflect on the challenging but rewarding process of creating and curating a cultural festival from scratch, as well as their personal takeaways and highlights.

“When I worked on curating festivals in the past, my body would always send me stress and anxiety signals through stomachaches and migraines. I would go to the doctor, but they would only prescribe painkillers to alleviate the pain, which helped with the symptoms but did not address the root cause of my symptoms. When we were in the planning stage, I tried to meditate. At the beginning, I saw it more as a temporary way to relax the mind, but after longer periods of meditation, it helped me become more aware of the connection between my body and my mind. I realized that mental health was very much inseparable from one’s physical state. This was a key takeaway for me,” said Joseph.

 

Dance artists and musicians improvising in FightClub, a performative series created by Consciousness Festival residency artist July Weber

“The aim is always to curate a program that is all-encompassing and appeals to multiple demographics while still having depth and substance,” says James. “I think with something like the nature of consciousness, there are multiple entry points in that some of us are further along than others in even giving time and space to these ideas. It’s a luxury to be able to be in a comfortable enough place in this existence to ruminate on such things as perception and self-actualization. I think a relatively easy entry point that almost feels cliché yet accessible and effective is closing one’s eyes and really focusing on breathing. I think this is a very powerful exercise that can be calming, centring and is free to do.”

Led by rope artist Aka Chow, "Untie the Knot" workshop participants explore the ideas of trust, boundaries and inner security through bind/unbinding exercises

Other than collaborating on the festival’s key visuals for the first time, graphic designer Dong played his first show as a DJ at the Altered Spirits Party on Christmas Eve, Kelvin also organized his first event, Sunrise Nada Sound Bath Meditation 我們相約一起在這裡看日出:音域藥浴清晨冥想, which was held in collaboration with healer Peng Peng Temple at Yau Ma Tei Service Reservoir Rest Garden.

 

“Peng Peng Temple and I went back and forth many times over the span of a few months to brainstorm ideas for a sound bath event—it was our first time collaborating with each other. Why don’t we do something outdoors? Why don’t we do something in the early morning? Why don’t we do something on the first day of the new year?,” said Kelvin. “We wanted to organize something weird, and so it was great to work with Peng Peng because his sound bath practice incorporated unusual instruments. He also incorporated Cantonese readings of poetry. The event went smoothly and it was really moving to see everyone gathered together at 5AM. I’m grateful that Eaton HK is located in such a beautiful neighborhood.”

Group of 30 gather on Yau Ma Tei Service Reserviour Rest Garden to welcome the first sunrise of year 2024 in Sunrise Nada Soundbath Meditation

For next year’s Consciousness Festival, Joseph wants to add more programs that address challenges faced by middle-aged and senior individuals, including cognitive conditions like dementia, neurological disorders, social isolation and more. “Our first Consciousness Festival attracted a lot of new participants who have never attended our cultural events before. Our events usually attract mostly millennials and Gen Zs, so I’d like for us to expand and be more inclusive of different age groups. How can we cultivate a society that understands and respects the individual differences in our minds, all while upholding our dignity as we age?”

We are moved and grateful for everyone’s presence and engagement at Eaton HK’s first Consciousness Festival this year, and look forward to building upon this foundation to create even more enriching and transformative experiences in the years to come.

Cheryl Chow

Published:

08 Mar 2024

Cheryl Chow

Published:

08 Mar 2024