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The Hong Kong Agent Project

The Hong Kong Agent is a Hybrid Documentary, a cross-media multi-platform art project about China’s special administrative region (SAR) Hong Kong. It can be experienced as an 80 minute feature film, gallery installation, radio program, online interactive & locative media. At the heart of the project are eighteen audio-visual episodes that follow the adventures of an enigmatic protagonist, simply referred to as The Agent. The Agent’s poetic renderings of what he experiences, and the stories and dialogues of numerous characters he encounters reveal the richly layered complex world of Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Agent is an experiment in transmedia art practice. The narrative is vertical rather than horizontal – like the structure of the city which the denizens of Hong Kong inhabit – the journey is into, rather than along the narrative – Vertical Narratives. The work aims to enhance and expand a person’s experience by presenting its content in a variety of forms and contexts. For example, the locative media version allows people to actually experience the work from the inside, so to speak. Using their mobile phone or hand-held device they assume the role of the agent, physically visiting the location of a specific scene presented in the narrative. The interactive version allows people via a website to download raw content from the work in order to create their own narratives. For the less adventurous there are short and long form video formats, gallery installations, and audio (radio) versions.

Creating a time based art work that can retain its integrity across a number of platforms is an ambitious brief to fulfill and presents an interesting challenge when dealing with rules of engagement and storytelling. The modular nature of the narrative renders ordering of episodes arbitrary, as each episode is a self-contained, finely wrought audio visual set-piece. The Hong Kong Agent does not follow a linear narrative, the story is directed by the protagonist’s experiences and descriptions of events. It is the information embedded in these events that is compelling, not how they came to be.

roberto iolini 2008

s y n o p s i s

A mysterious agent arrives in Hong Kong on an unspecified mission. Without a map and relying solely on his intuition – the agent drifts. His encounters with activists, sidewalk shamans, a feng shui master, teenage hopefuls, artists, shopping arcades, ghost buses and psychedelic trains become intriguing clues with which to decode the city and its inhabitants. Throughout the work The Agent gives first person narration in the form of ‘poeticised’ reports. His interpretation of the events he witnesses and participates in, provides an idiosyncratic yet insightful reading of life in Hong Kong. Local perceptions are explored in scripted scenes in which characters relate personal experiences and engage in compelling dialogues on subjects ranging from Chinese government rule to shamanic healing.

f i l m · s e r i e s

The Hong Kong Agent feature film consists of 18 short films, shot on location in Hong Kong 2007. Visually the work is a blend of documentary footage and scripted set-pieces. Locations range from Japanese style teenage/kidult micro malls, public housing estates, and subterranean transport hubs to elaborate religious festivals. The soundtrack is a provocative mix of field recordings & interviews, and features the music of local Hong Kong independent artists. The entire cast and crew are from Hong Kong. The work can be exhibited as both single and multi channel video in a variety of formats. 

The Hong Kong Agent films can be exhibited as standalone works or as compilations. Currently there are two ‘single channel’ compilations available. 

#1: The Hong Kong Agent 18 short films about Hong Kong – 80’00”

#2: Vertical Narratives 24’00”




Hallucinatory Hereafter – M+ Mediatheque. Kowloon, Hong Kong
01 /05/2022-31/08/2022 The Hong Kong Agent: 18 short films about Hong Kong. (EDIT: The film was banned by Hong Kong Board of Review (Film Censorship)


Reload_HK Project at Cattle Depot Artist Village – Kowloon, Hong Kong
30/6/2017-29/7/2017 Hong Kong: Vertical Narratives


La Rada Space for Contemporary Art A side event of the 66th Festival del film Locarno, Switzerland. 07 ~ 17 August 2013. Presented by Videotage & Fair-Play Hong Kong: Vertical Narratives

TEMP Art Space – Living As Form (Wikitopia Version). NEW YORK. 01 December 2012 ~ 31 January 2013. Presented by Videotage and ICI’s Curatorial Hub Hong Kong: Vertical Narratives


Microwave Festival 2012 – Living As Form (Wikitopia Version). Hong Kong. 03 ~ 18 November 2012 info Hong Kong: Vertical Narratives


VAFA – Video Art For All. Macau. 12 Nov-03 Dec 2010 VAFA website The Hong Hong Agent – DAIMARU GHOST BUS – 05″14″ + ROUTINE DUET – 08’27” + SPECTRAL TIMES – 05’47”   

23rd Festival Les Instants Vidéo in partnership with Anemic Festival Prague. Czech Republic. 4-16 November 2010 Hong Kong: Vertical Narratives

20th Seoul International New Media Festival 2010. Korea. 12-13 August 2010 and pdf Hong Kong: Vertical Narratives


group show 21 November – 17 January 2009 HOME


solo show 14 June – 26 July 2008 NIGHTVISION SERIES

group show 3 – 29 August 2008 30th ANNIVERSARY EXHIBITION


Written and Directed by Robert Iolini

Written and Directed by Robert Iolini
Genre: Drama, Documentary, Experimental, Fiction
Original Format: 16.9 HDV Colour + B/W
Sound: Stereo
Duration: 80 Minutes
Language: English/Cantonese
Pre Production: Hong Kong SAR China
Post Production: Byron Bay Australia June 2008
Post Produced by Frank Haines Films
Music by SNOBLIND, Dickson Dee, stealstealground, Robert Iolini

f u l l · s c r i p t

Full English Transcript
By Robert Iolini

The Arrival

Onscreen Text
January 1st 2007, Mountain of Great Peace “Tai Ping Shan,”
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China
My transfer is uneventful. A gentle wind from the direction of the west bodes well. I stop at a mechanical water display and attempt a decode. Satisfied, I move on to infiltrate the local inhabitants – participating in their viewing ritual.
From here it’s bird’s – eye perspective of Hong Kong and Kowloon harbour cities.
The Luxury space cruiser hovers alongside, reluctant to leave.
Interstellar dwellers desiring terra connectivity gather on the outdoor observation deck, some even mimic the camera posings of the locals below.
Others simply gaze off into the distance neither at the city below nor at us.
MUSIC CUE: Stealstealground
Where am I going without you?
Where am I going without you?
I am the swimming bird
hoping to drown
I am the flying fish
Willing to crash
After a few moments I turn for a final look at these beings aboard their spectacular craft, then turn my back on them and head down into the fecund city below.
MUSIC CUE: Stealstealground
Pouring rain from the underground
You turn me upside down

Read more

art · i n s t a l l a t i o n

The Hong Kong Agent is a multimedia art installation. It has been exhibited at the following galleries:

solo show 14 June – 26 July 2008 NIGHTVISION SERIES

group show 3 – 29 August 2008 30th ANNIVERSARY EXHIBITION

group show 21 November – 17 January 2009 HOME

l o c a t i v e · m e d i a

The Hong Kong agent is an ongoing locative media art work. it is a series of short audio/visual episodes created for mobile devices. you can download the 3gp and mp3 clips below and install them onto your mobile device for free. if you’re in Hong Kong, go to the locations on the maps provided for a special experience:-) these mobile versions were originally part of the Hong Kong agent: installation version, exhibited at the Hong Kong Art Centre throughout August 2008. 

For the people of Hong Kong, space is a rare commodity; the handheld device has become an effective means for the individual to personalise almost any public space. The Hong Kong agent mobile version plays with this phenomenon by presenting its own highly personalised content on ostensibly private hand-held devices in a public space for individual use. The novel context(s) and content of the installation allows the user to reflect on their use of personal and public space, technology, and on the nature of the place and time they inhabit.

Robert Iolini 2008

r a d i o · p r o g r a m s

The Hong Kong Agent is a 90 minute radio program commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for their popular experimental radio show The Night Air. 

There is also a 10 minute radio version of the Hong Kong Agent entitled worm swallows tiger commissioned by All Day Everyday, a series broadcast on Resonance 104.4 fm – London’s arts radio station.

o n l i n e · i n t e r a c t i v e

The Hong Kong Agent online interactive remix website. A collaboration between Robert Iolini and pool – an open-source online project developed by Australian broadcasting corporation radio national. The Hong Kong Agent was the ABC’s Pool’s inaugural project. It’s a place to share your creative work – upload music, photos, videos, documentaries, interviews, animations and more. It’s a collaborative space where audiences become makers. 

a r t i s t ‘ s · s t a t e m e n t

The Hong Kong Agent project was originally conceived by anthropologist Dr Phillip Mar and myself. Inspired by the success of our Prize Winning 1997 sound art work Hong Kong: City in Between, we decided to revisit the city on the 10 year anniversary of its so called reunification with China. In 2007 I spent seven months living on Hong Kong Island. I was the fortunate recipient of two artist residencies (Australia-China council & Asialink). My mission? Apply my skills as a media artist and producer to create a multi form art work that could reflect and perhaps even provide insights into Hong Kong society ten years after its reunification with China.

Assuming the role of a poet – anthropologist – flaneur, I set out to experience the city. To my surprise I found myself profoundly affected by my encounters with its people and spaces. even though I was constantly exhilarated by the pervasive vitality of the place – at least once a day a seemingly banal situation would trigger in me an inexplicable sense of melancholy. These two elements imbue the work.

While in Hong Kong I met and worked with many local artists, scholars, writers and activists. I gave seminars about my works at several universities and was provided with a student intern to help realise my project. I like to work directly with material i collect in the field. however in this project i also created ‘set-pieces’ in which I manufactured an alternative hybrid version of actual events, using professional or non-professional actors. I even managed to insert myself into the work. So the work is simultaneously autobiography, documentary and fiction.

a r t i c l e s · r e v i e w s

From Ghost in the Shell to Hong Kong Express
By Edith Chiu

Robert lolini has made a profound connection with Hong Kong dating back to his collaboration with Dr. Phillip Mar to produce a sound work Hong Kong: City in Between in 1997 by mixing sound, conversation, commercials and Cantonese opera. Although lolini had not yet been to Hong Kong then, the use of sound montage created a soundscape blending reality and fiction with a fantastic and alienated atmosphere encapsulated in a ghost like city. As a flaneur of great intellect and sentiment, Iolini came to Hong Kong for the tenth anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover exploring sound and images in early 2007. He made acquaintances and conducted interviews with numerous Hong Kong people to get a thorough understanding of the city, resulting in the production of 18 shorts, collectively entitled The Hong Kong Agent, with corresponding and contrasting styes. The sound and visual montages expand a multi-dimensional space, interpreting the customs, politics, culture and history of Hong Kong and generate exuberant energy with a sense of sadness. It also tells touching stories with a tremendous amount of humanity. This multi-platform project uses a Bluetooth component through which visitors can download ten micro-sodes of The Hong Kong Agent to their mobile phones, MP3 payers and other handheld devices. By enjoying the micro-sodes with these devices at the HKAC and other specific locations, the individual may personalise any public space, thus enriching the art appreciation process with a completely new meaning and experience.

In the context of the HKAC 30th Anniversary Exhibition Robert Iolini, a “flaneur” in Hong kong, has produced in his work The Hong Kong Agent, the most reflective on local life and political atmosphere.” Excerpt from full review in Chinese

Hong Kong Economic Journal P33 | 文化 | 觀自在 | By 劉建華 2008-09-01

Iolini Coming to a Phone Near You
Robert Iolini has become one of the first in Australia to offer video art by mobile phone download. Visitors to Sydney’s Gallery 4A are now able to download 10 micro-sodes from his work titled The Hong Kong Agent to their mobile or iPod, and ‘mash’ them to their heart’s content. If you’d prefer to leave the mashing alone, you’ll still be able to see the whole work in the gallery’s front window from sunrise to sunset until 26 July.

Art Collector Magazine | 24 June, 2008


Pool blog

GRETCHEN: Hi Robert, I really enjoyed the three episodes on Pool from your Hong Kong Agent project. Their sense of mystery ‘works’ and is quite compelling. I particularly liked Daimaru Ghost Bus… leaving from who knows where, to a place that no longer has the point of reference after which it is named – funny how we associate that idea with places of antiquity, or at least distant history – not shopping centres! Can I ask you a couple of questions about your process… As a composer, someone who’s worked mainly in sound, when did you start using video? Do you find your sound experience gives you a ‘different’ approach?
ROBERT: Hi Gretchen, Thanks for your comments and questions. Apologies for the delay. Your questions are important and require lengthy discussion. However I’ll do my best to answer them in an economical way:-) I began seriously working with images and sound in a non linear computer environment around 2001. During my artist residency at the ABC’s Listening Room in 2002 – 2003 I shot a lot of video and worked with sound archives and scripted text. I actually produced a 40 minute film, however I wasn’t satisfied with the result so I never released it. I was however, satisfied with the sound component which exists as a radiophonic piece, ‘The Sound of Forgetting’. My research during the ABC residency was invaluable and paved the way for this latest work The Hong Kong Agent. All my work is influenced by my studies in music composition. My approach to creativity has always been inclusive. Even when I was working strictly with music I was always thinking of narratives and images. When I began producing pieces for The Listening Room (ABC Classic FM) back in 1994, I was introduced to a new way of working with sound. I learnt how to apply music composition processes to spoken word, archival material, environmental sounds etc. It was a liberating experience. At that time I was influenced by film directors such as Jean Luc Godard and Peter Greenaway as much as by composers like Luciano Berio and Holger Czukay. When it became affordable to edit high quality video on a generic consumer computer I was able to experiment with images and sound simultaneously. To this day I approach editing video as if I’m composing a piece of music.
GRETCHEN: Practically, I know these projects have limited budgets – so with Daimaru Ghost Bus, did you set up the video yourself… and hope for the best?! or did you have help?
ROBERT: In this particular scene on the mini bus I had a volunteer assistant camera person Beatrix Pang. Beatrix is a Hong Kong visual artist working in the Arts Culture Outreach artist residency studio where I was staying in Wan Chai. During this project I was fortunate to have the support of various universities and orgs. For example the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong organised an intern to work with me named Ting Chan. He ended up ‘acting’ in various episodes eg, Daimaru Ghost Bus, and conversations we had we’re consequently incorporated into scripted dialogues. He also shot the PAYG Shamanic Mobile Service Centre episode. I was also offered ‘in kind’ support from the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre. They kindly gave me ‘visiting scholar’ status which meant I could access technical equipment and research facilities.
GRETCHEN: Did you write the script for the young man based on his history, or did you use an actor to read something that is entirely fictional?
ROBERT: The script is a mixture of Ting’s real family history, plus themes relating to Japanese cultural influences and social research around memory and place, plus my own highly subjective experiences ‘drifting’ through Mong Kok.
GRETCHEN: Did you know the effect you wanted beforehand, or did you decide what to do with it post-recording? These may be secrets that create the mystery and that you don’t want to reveal of course – but they’re also interesting approaches for Pool members to understand and learn from, if you don’t mind sharing your process as well as your content!
ROBERT: I had an idea of the visual effect of the mini bus scene beforehand. The vox treatment came later. We overdubbed all the vox in post. The other visual material was collected knowing it would be used somewhere. All the elements came together quickly once I started editing each episode. If I needed something extra I’d just go out and shoot it. Seven months on location allowed time to collect enough material:-)

a c k n o w l e d g e m e n t s

Supported by

Thanks to: Chan Tsz Ting, City University School of Creative Media, Beatrix Pang, Oscar Ho, Professor David Clarke, Anson Mak, May Fung, White Noise Records, Chris Lau – Emergency Lab, Ellen Pau, Dr Linda Lai, Alex Hui, Cally Yu, Yang Yeung, Habitus, Pocky + Donald Chan, Inmedia, Videopower, Professor Meaghan Morris, The Deyin Qin Society, Professor Hing-yan Chan, Giorgio Biancorosso, Steven Pang, Eno Yim, Nicolas Sauret, Helen Grace, Dr Katrien Jacobs, Andrew Guthrie, Wesley Tang, Ma Kak, Karin Leung, Professor Joseph Bosco, Professor Tai Lok, Dr Lai Chi-Tim, Feng Shui Master – Alex Yu, Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Special thanks to: SNOWBLIND, DICKSON DEE and STEALSTEALGROUND for permission to use their wonderful music throughout this work. Extra special thanks to anthropologist Dr Phillip Mar for his enduring support, exhaustive research and for instilling in me an ethical and scientific approach to field work. Between January 1 – July 31, 2007 Robert was Artist in Residence in Hong Kong. @ Robert Black College HKU – Residency supported by Australia-China Council. @ ACO (arts & culture outreach) Foo Tak Building Wan Chai – Residency supported by Asialink (funded by the Australia Council, the Federal Government’s arts funding and advisory body)

Robert was also Visiting Scholar/Professional @ Journalism & Media Studies Centre The University of Hong Kong Post production funded by Screen Australia formerly AFC – Australian Film Commission Experimental Digital Media Production Fund Strand X

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