Art Radar Asia

Contemporary art trends and news from Asia and beyond

  • Photobucket
  • About Art Radar Asia

    Art Radar Asia News conducts original research and scans global news sources to bring you selected topical stories about the taste-changing, news-making and the up and coming in Asian contemporary art.

Posts Tagged ‘water in art’

Sound art, trickery and time – interview Hong Kong new media artist Chilai Howard Cheng

Posted by artradar on November 12, 2009


HONG KONG ART

A portrait of the young artist Chilai Howard.

A portrait of the young artist Chilai Howard.

Chilai Howard Cheng, an ambitious young artist in his early twenties, draws attention to his video exhibition Stiffen Water at Para/Site Central, Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong (5 Sep – 30 Oct). A fresh graduate of School of Creative Media and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, also formerly educated in UK, Chilai is finding the limelight in international art shows – Barcelona, Seoul, Hamburg, and more – using innovative new media.

Just arriving from his part-time job in graphic design, Chilai loosens up in an interview with Art Radar. He talks about his deliberate manipulation of human perceptions with the sound of water dripping from five different sources, and more importantly, his mission to turn more people in Hong Kong from blind buyers into educated art admirers.

Q: Where were you born and educated and how did that influence your art?

I was born in HK. I went to high school in the UK and studied art there for 6 years. For university, I went to HKUST  (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) – creative communications design, and later CityU School of Creative Media. A tutor named Adrian Cooper, whom I met in high school, was very encouraging and recommended some artists such as Alberto Giacometti, a painter and sculptor. This influenced me to start doing some paintings and installations in his style. It’s hard to do installations in Hong Kong though – you need storage and a big studio. Video is easier to manage, so I chose that to begin with.

Q: When did you know you were an artist?

I don’t think I’m an artist. To me, artists no longer exist. R Picasso, Dali were artists because they invented and revolutionized styles and trends. Nowadays, most videos are imitations of the early cinema. At the moment, I call myself an art worker, hopefully an artist after 30 years. I believe that true artists are inventors, such as  Jeffrey Shaw , a media artist as well as the Dean of Creative Media who shaped media art. 

Q: Where did you get your inspirations for Stiffen Water?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stiffen Water by Chilai Howard, video, 2009.

Stiffen Water by Chilai Howard, video, 2009.

 

It’s actually a continuous work of final year project. I calculated the water drops from the beginning to the end of the five-day exhibition. In video-making, we take a micro-narrative approach. Since I want the audience to take a closer look at the water they drink, I decided to play with audience’s conscious and unconscious minds. Even though the video appears to freeze at times,  there is actually still motion in it.  Playing with the same concept, I once made an 18-minute video with scenes from Hong Kong in the sixties, yet in the end the characters revealed that it was in fact the year 2007, so I tricked the audience into identifying the time frame as the sixties.

Q: Why “stiffen”? Not “stiff”?

DSC_0035

Part of the installation work by Chilai Howard

I don’t have an answer because neither do I care much about the title of an artwork, nor do I find it an indispensable element. As a matter of fact, I believe a title ruins all the hidden surprises. I prefer to have my audience guess the subject of my artwork in the way they perceive it. If I were to give my artwork a random title, I would be inviting criticism. It should be the audience, not me, who should name it.

Q: What difficulties lie in the manipulation of the kinetics and sound of water (and to make sure that effects are suitable for the image)?

I had to make sure that the sound and image are synchronized. Basically, I mixed five different sources of water – toilet, shower, pipe, pissing, and water dripping into a tank, with one bass sound. The frequency and the pitches of all five sources are very different, and I had to decide where to place the high-pitch sound.

Q: What aspects of life are you trying to question through Stiffen Water?

Instead of appreciating water, we take it for granted since it’s always been with us. I have a preference for natural elements, such as wood, leaf, plant, trees, for my installations. In the UK, I once shot a bunch of leaves for many days to observe the changes in motion and light. 

Q: How does it differ from other video works of yours, such as Doors? Any particular favorite?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Doors by Chilai Howard, video, 2009

The Doors by Chilai Howard, video, 2009

 

While Stiffen Water is about the natural life, Doors focuses on a social issue. With a plethora of historical buildings under destruction, it’s important to know that ancient is not synonymous with obsolete. As I spent three days taking photos of the same image, I found the patterns of door’s opening and closing fascinating. China attempted to cut off everything from the UK when it took over Hong Kong, so I wanted to shed light on the significance of Star Ferry Pier to our country.

On the other hand, Body Gender is more of a balanced statement inspired by some of my female Hong Kong friends who believe that they’re not treated fairly in Hong Kong – although I think there is equal treatment for all.  By showing only body parts instead of its entirety,  I wished to create the illusion that “he” might be a “she”, or vice versa. 

Q: Next stop for the exhibition? How do reactions to Doors differ between Hong Kong, Barcelona, Seoul and Hamburg ?

The video will travel to Berlin and Taiwan. Right now Doors is in Hamburg. I wanted to go, but I stayed for this exhibition. I also carry a part-time graphic design job, but only for the money. The design industry is far too commercial and practical in Hong Kong, thus not conceptual enough as it is in UK. It’s hard unless you’re a famous designer. 

Q: Obstacles in your art career?

One advantage that Hong Kong has is its small size, which means a smaller art society than that in other countries. So it makes easier to expose your art in Hong Kong. The problem is that people here are not interested in art or art exhibitions. Instead of appreciating art and the history behind it, some buyers use it as pure decoration. Another obstacle is that it’s hard to expose Hong Kong art to the world. There are very few internationally renowned artists from Hong Kong compared with, say, Canada, so we don’t attract as many people to our overseas exhibitions. Due to political reasons, Chinese artists are not that exposed to the world either until recently the government relaxed its policies on art. The West loves traditional Chinese art and calligraphy, but some treat it as no more than decorations, too. 

Q: What key message do you want to convey through your art?

No fixed message, but I pay attention to political or social issues. For instance, the financial markets are Hong Kong’s main asset, but as companies begin to move their headquarters to Shanghai, what else will be left in Hong Kong then? We used to have factories, but they all moved to mainland. Even yuan is more valuable than Hong Kong dollars now. 

Q: Future endeavors?

I might go back to UK to study. But I will return to Hong Kong. This is my dream to expose Hong Kong art to the world. That’s why I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, to educate young kids. The art education here needs a lot of improvement. I have to be famous to acquire the credibility to convince people and change how they perceive art. 

Q: What are other graduates of your class doing? 

Not everyone wanted to be an artist. Some preferred to work nine-to-five shifts. Some became art administrators for organizing shows, while others entered the field of business, marketing, or advertising.  Everyone’s dream is different.

Q: Did you imagine yourself to be successful at a young age? Future exhibitions?

IMG_8900

Timeless by Chilai Howard Cheng, 2009.

I don’t consider myself successful, but I’m honored to be included in the exhibition. Success is when I can influence more people to appreciate art. That’s my dream. 

My new video Timeless will be exhibiting in October Contemporary. This time I will shoot a curtain to illustrate the patterns of light’s coming in and out, which reflects how time flies, and how both light and time are untouchable, abstract systems. In fact, I almost had the opportunity to exhibit my first installation there, but I missed the invitation email sent by Input Output. 

Q: You were accepted at Goldsmith College, University of London, Central St. Martins College of Art and Design. Why did you return to Hong Kong?

My art was rather renowned where I went to school in UK.  However, it’s common for westerners to like Chinese art because they find the integration of the west and east exotic. So I was dubious of my talent. I was confused about whether I were really good at art, or did they simply like my work due to the incorporation of oriental elements. To prove to myself that my artwork is worthy, I came back to Hong Kong and began everything from zero. I don’t regret the decision, especially now that I’ve started to hold exhibitions, an opportunity that would be hard to obtain in a much larger art society in UK.

WM/KCE

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more interviews on emerging Hong Kong artists

Posted in Asian, Chilai Howard Cheng, Chinese, Doors, Gallery shows, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Artists, Installation, Interviews, Light, New Media, Photography, Political, Slow/fast art, Social, Sound, Sound art, Time, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Renowned Japanese artist Hiroshi Senju chooses Hong Kong for his solo debut – interview

Posted by artradar on October 2, 2009


JAPANESE ART

Hiroshi Senju

It was the biggest night of the year at one of the most prominent art galleries in Asia. Hiroshi Senju’s opening of Out of Nature: Cliffs and Falling Water at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in Central, Hong Kong has been planned for 2 years, and the gallery was naturally delighted to be selected by the renowned Senju to display his artworks. The gallery was so pleased because Hiroshi Senju is among an elite few of international artists who can have their pick of any gallery in the world to showcase their work, and it is notable that he chose Sundaram Tagore. However, more importantly, he also chose Hong Kong.

Senju’s Sundaram debut marks his first solo show in Hong Kong, which introduces the first 4 paintings in his highly anticipated Rocks and Cliffs series. Throughout the opening event, gallery staff nervously guarded Senju’s 16 signature waterfall paintings and 4 new cliff-themed works, as cheery guests sauntered dangerously close to the  $200,000+ (USD) paintings while sipping glasses of champagne.

For those who don’t know, Hiroshi Senju is an important player in the art world, and would be at the top of a hypothetical who’s-who among Asian artists, or all international artists for that matter. He was thrust into art stardom in 1995 when he became the first Asian artist to receive an award at the Venice Biennale while representing Japan, and he is now among the most celebrated contemporary artists in Asia. In 2003 he became the Director of the Kyoto University of Art and Design, where he also currently teaches art. He now splits his time between Japan and New York, spending about 8 months of the year in NYC working out of his intriguing converted-power-plant art studio.

In an exclusive interview, Hiroshi Senju discusses his career and inspiration with Art Radar. Read on to discover why he chose Hong Kong for his new series debut, why he doesn’t consider himself a Japanese artist or even particularly connected to Japanese culture, and what he believes is the greater purpose of contemporary art.

Hiroshi Senju, Waterfall, 2009, Natural pigments on Japanese mulberry paper, 90.9 x 116.7 cm

Hiroshi Senju, Waterfall, 2009, Natural pigments on Japanese mulberry paper, 90.9 x 116.7 cm. Image courtesy of the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Where did you grow up, and where were you educated? Were there any major influences or people in your life pushing you toward the arts?

I’ve lived in Tokyo since kindergarten, all the way to my graduate school. So, I’ve lived in Tokyo for a long time, and now I’m living in New York. I lived in a quiet suburban neighborhood, but my elementary school was far away, so I had to take trains and buses to go to school. My parents discouraged me from art. Since elementary school I went to a competitive private school, where there was no test to get into college. The university that I went to was very competitive, the children of politicians and business owners graduated from there, many who became politicians and doctors. My father was a famous economist and my grandfather was a famous medical doctor. My parents encouraged me to become a scholar or foreign diplomat. So, since elementary school I studied very hard to become that, and it was a surprise to them when I wanted to become an artist.

When did you know you were an artist?

I liked art since I was a child. My artwork was represented in my primary school every year, which was unusual, so since then I knew that I had some talent for art, but I never thought I would become an artist. When I started thinking about going to art school I was in high school, but there were so many choices, graphic arts, architect, product designer, so I had a hard time deciding what to become in the field of art. But when I was in high school one of the art teachers suggested I go to a certain exhibition. That exhibition was all done in the style of painting that I do now, which is ‘Nihonga’ style. So as a high school student I was very impressed with the pigments, and I decided I wanted to make art with these kinds of pigments.

In which countries and cities do you spend most of your time?

I probably spend the most of my time in an airplane, that means I travel a lot! But really, I spend about 2/3 of the year in New York in the studio, and 100 days in Kyoto where I am the president of the art university. Other than that I am traveling around the world looking for motifs, especially to Brazil and Argentina.

Do you have a deep connection to any other places or cultures other than Japan?

I don’t necessarily feel connected to Japan. I do not follow any certain culture, but a modern culture. We eat Indian, Chinese, and French food, we drink wines and sake. And sushi. This is what modern people are all about. I want to speak as a cosmopolitan, so therefore I do not necessarily want the audience to feel ‘oh, this is Japanese, or this is Chinese’. There may be some connections to German works of art as well. I try to keep an equal distance from all cultures. But, at the same time, I explained that I love the pigments and that’s why I started this kind of painting. I would like to connect to before the ages when all the people were divided, before the races were divided into east and west, before the culture was divided into east and west.

Which cultures and art scenes do you follow the most?

One thing I really like is 11th century Chinese art. So when I created this new series of work called The Cliff, I could have shown anywhere in the world, but I chose Hong Kong. I felt that the Hong Kong audience will be the most critical audience, since they have the traditions of the work that I love, 11th century Chinese art.

Which artists do you admire?

I admire Claude Monet, Max Ernst, Andy Warhol. All these masters created art and art history. I respect this and all the arts. If I had to choose one, which is very hard, I would choose the Italian Renaissance. Those people have left a big footprint in art history.

Which contemporary artists are you most interested in?

Since I am an artist I am most interested in myself.

What things inspire you?

The inspiration I value the most are the emotions that all humans feel. I value this not as an artist, but as a human being. Also, I like to read Haruki Murakami.

What are your favorite things to do when you are not making art?

I play with my kids, my 3 sons. They are 16, 15, and 12. They are in New York.

Why did you first start painting in the ancient style?

As I have studied oil and acrylic painting, I found this style had the most potential. The pigments themselves are extraordinary and paper is very attractive and has many possibilities. Mulberry paper is very strong, even if you tried to rip it you can’t. This paper has a long history in Japan. I didn’t choose this because it is Japanese, but having equal distance from all techniques, I chose this because it had the most potential.

How did you first begin marketing your work?

It was very difficult. Probably every artist remembers the first piece that was sold. When you think of creating a work to sell, it won’t sell. When you first creating a work that you don’t want to let go, that’s when people start buying.

Who are your major collectors?

Of course many buyers are in the Japan and U.S. Many entrepreneurs. I shouldn’t mention names.

How long does it take to produce an artwork?

Since I’m 51 years old, I can say that the work all took 51 years to create. What it means is that since I’ve lived 51 years, and it took this long for me to decide to use these pigments and find motifs to create the work. That is the most accurate. However, if you mean how long I actually spend creating a single painting, each one takes about a month.

Tell me about how you work? A typical piece?

When you start painting you should not spend too much time wondering. You have decided you are creating, and you put on your best efforts to create. I do not look at the cliff and say, oh, that is such a beautiful cliff, I want to paint now. It is different from that. I have emotions I want to express, and creating a cliff would exactly show what I want to say. That’s how I create them. First emotions, then the image comes. When I first look at the cliff there is an emotion I had, and with this cliff I can express my emotion. But that’s only 5% of the work. The other 95% of the work is communication between myself and the canvas.

There is a sculptor who sculpts from stone, and he says that all he does is get the art out of the stone. What he is going to create is sitting inside the stone, and all he does is get it out. When I create the work, the painting tells me what it wants me to do. I listen to the voice of the painting. It is nothing spiritual and isn’t an Asian concept– but most artists, I think this is how they create work.

What kind of space do you work in?

I use my studio, which previously was an electrical factory, or a power plant. It is so large there that my assistants carry the phones around so they can get to it in time when it rings. Previously I used the university’s art studio as a student. It is important to remember the humbling feeling of using the universitys art studio as a student. Students work out of pure love and joy for creation. It is important to keep that.

Where were you inspired to make this current Rock and Cliff series?

These cliff pieces are the first 4 in this series that I have created. I found these cliffs in my dreams, although I did sketch places in Argentina. I went to paint in Argentina during the summer to look for motifs like waterfalls.

What are your next projects?

I’m planning on making a national guest house, working with Mr. Tadao Ando, an architect. There are many more projects, for example an airport project, train stations, and a building in Singapore. I’m very happy and lucky that I have such exciting projects.

Is there a piece in the show especially meaningful to you?

These paintings are like my children, therefore I cannot differentiate one f’rom the other. I like each one of them, and that is my truth.

Hiroshi Senju, Waterfall 2009, Natural pigments on Japanese mulberry paper,  90.0 x 116.7 cm

Hiroshi Senju, Waterfall 2009, Natural pigments on Japanese mulberry paper, 90.0 x 116.7 cm. Image courtesy of the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Advice for Young Artists

Was it hard starting out? What advice would you give young artists and aspiring art directors?

First is confidence, second is courage, third is talent. Being confident and able to encourage yourself is more important than talent, because everyone has a talent. As long as you believe in yourself and encourage yourself, it will come through. I encourage everyone to pursue their dreams.

What mistakes do you think artists make most in terms of developing their careers? What should they be doing?

Artists can over value their work too much or think of their work too highly. However, at the same time you cannot undervalue it either. You must become objective.

How has the contemporary art scene changed since you began working with it?

The contemporary art situation changes depending on the economic situations in the world. Luckily I have been unaffected, but it is unfortunate the economy dictates the art scene. Since  I am connected to someone with great respect in the art world, I can stick to what I want to create. It is important to be connected to a good gallery.

Which Japanese institutions and galleries do you admire and recommend to art lovers?

First, Tokyo National Museum, and also the Kyoto University of Art. I am the president there, but I do not recommend it because I am the president- I took the job because I had so much respect for the institution.

How would you recommend artists approach galleries for representation and what advice would you give about having a good relationship with a gallery?

Be honest. Gallerists have known of many incoming artists to exaggerate or lie. So be honest and have good quality work. At the same time, you can’t sell rock music to an opera fan. You have to find the right dealer.

What problems do you see for young artists today? In what ways are young artists today fortunate?

The economic situation is a problem for young artists. Also, there is too much information. I think too many people are tied to the trends, and trends are created by someone else. As a young artist, you must find what you have and work with what you’ve got. But, being in the information age is an advantage, because you are able to show your work over the internet. A while ago you had to be in New York. When I was young I had to show something in New York, or else no one would see the work. Now you can create a homepage of your own, and you can submit your ideas through the internet to anywhere in the world.

Hiroshi Senju, Waterfall 2009, Natural pigments on Japanese mulberry paper,   90.0 x 116.7 cm

Hiroshi Senju, Waterfall 2009, Natural pigments on Japanese mulberry paper, 90.0 x 116.7 cm. Image courtesy of the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Contemporary Art: Why Is It Important?

What role do you think contemporary art plays in society?

To bring back memories of things you have forgotten, problems of ecology, the earth’s environmental issues, lack of communications, peace, this is the role of contemporary art. For example, my pieces are made out of all natural ingredients, the paper and pigments are natural, the glue is also natural. By using these natural materials I want people to see the powers of nature. Looking at the painting of the waterfall, I want people to appreciate the falling water as a beauty in itself. When I created the cliff I applied the pigment with a scrunched up paper. The scrunched paper is a fault to most people. However, I do not consider the imperfection a problem, but rather I find beauty in it. It’s about recycling, and bringing back the things that might have been scarred. I believe these concepts are very important for the 21st century. Do not throw out the paper because it is scrunched, but find beauty in its shapes.

What is your philosophy as an artist?  Why create art?

I find it a peace-making process. Like singers sing songs, it is a way of communication. When an artist shows work it is all about communicating. Art is all about communicating with everybody beyond religions and sexes. Therefore it is the peace-making process. I think that is the wonderful part of making art. There is a wisdom within it.

What do you think is the greater purpose of contemporary art?

It helps us understand that everyone has very different ideas, but we are all human beings. I believe that what I think is beautiful, you will think is beautiful also.

What are you trying to achieve or communicate through your art?

I want everyone to remember the concept of beauty, and it is sublime. In beauty I believe there’s a lot of power, which gives people encouragement and energy to live.

How do you want people to feel and think when viewing your works?

I want everyone to think like myself! I want everyone to think like how I feel about beauty.

Does water and the waterfall have a special significance to you?

For all human beings, the most important element is water. Deep inside, that’s why I wanted to create water.

What has been your biggest challenge in art?

My challenge is in creating and successfully showing every work. Now is the most important time for me. Every day is a challenge.

Skira, the leading Italian publisher, will release a monograph on Hiroshi Senju for worldwide distribution in fall 2009.

-contributed by Erin Wooters

Related Posts

Subscribe to Art Radar for artist interviews and latest news
Bookmark and Share

Posted in Gallery shows, Hong Kong, Japanese, Painting | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »