Recently I am working towards my solo exhibition in October, at the same time reflecting on what and how I create. Looking back at my past, I saw that my mind and body were often stiff and the techniques formulaic. Having taken some advice from my mentors at school, I began taking Chinese painting and classical drawing and painting lessons to solidify my skills.
The transformation took place slowly and quietly. Without setting rigid rules for my works, I feel much more at ease and fluid with my current piece. I am excited to have my first drawing/painting solo exhibition in Hong Kong. I am much more excited about the evolution I’m going through.
At the same time, I wonder where do I fit in the art ecology. I’ve largely shown with commercial galleries. The commercial art market and the experimental and avant-garde world want very different things. 2D decorative paintings are still the most popular in the art market, whereas the avant-garde are constantly asking for boundary-pushers. Gimme something I haven’t seen.
I keep asking myself. why do I make art? Am I feeding the consumerist cycle, producing products for a privileged class to consume? Do I want to do good with my art? Do I want to change the world?
Not sure if I can come up with an answer today. Back to drawing.
The second trimester is finally over. It was frustrating, challenging and a steep growing curve.
Coming out of it, I feel like I have a clearer idea of my practice. I am uninterested in moving away from drawing and painting, so I would like to stay with a drawing and painting-based practice. What does that mean? I am still exploring.
We did many in-class exercises to sharpen our thinking and sensitivity. It took me a while to warm up to them but some really helped free me from my self-made boundaries. My favourite was the drink exercise. (To make a drink representing your identity to share with the class.) I dripped my tears, sweats and blood into a hand-painted wine glass of water. After I took a sip, I passed the glass around the classroom and invited my classmates to take a sip. (Two people did.) At the end of the round, I would take another sip. (See page 8 of source book for more information.)
We were asked to compile all the exercise documentation into a source book. The source book not only serves as a record of this trimester, but also as a logbook of our practice.
Since the term raised so many questions for me, I decided to conduct an interview in my head and made my source book into a magazine. I enjoy having gallery shows yet I hope the new works will be more than commodities. I recognize this is not the only outlet for my creativity. I have learnt to be more open-minded.
The past two months have seen a lot of developments in my art, or rather my thinking.
I have always been excited about selling my art. Would it be an exaggeration to say that it is the end goal of my practice? Why am I creating art? To feed the fuel of consumerism and capitalism?
Nothing seemed wrong until I enrolled in the current Master of Visual Arts programme. I am incresingly aware of the pitfalls and limitations of the gallery system. Hypothetically, if I am to escape the gallery system (am I?), where to? It is of course not to say that the gallery system is evil. The galleries offer plenty of opportunities to artists both financially and professionally. However, one also detects tension between the gallery and the artist when the gallery wants to hold onto a popular (lucrative) style, or when the artist wants to venture into the arena of experimentation.
Then what is the alternative? Do artists step outside the system to sell works? Like Damien Hirst (Once you are a star, you can pretty do anything?) or Christo (Pretty clever I must say.)
Would the museum system be the solution? Museums are much more willing to take non-object artworks, yet their pockets are also much shallower than private or corporate collectors. Then what do artists live on? Do artists have dual careers, creating commercial and “serious” works concurrently? Do they resort to a comfortable and stable art school salary? Get a day job! Or is it easier to sell their souls?
I am reading intensely in hope of arriving at an answer. My ideas seem to change weekly. In May 2014, there will be our first exhibition at school. I am rather excited to see what comes out.
A few weeks ago, Alice Liu who runs Listhus Art Space in Iceland (where I spent the past July) came for a studio visit. Over dinner, we were conversing about art and life.
I still can’t forget what she said, “Art-making is a very naked activity–it sells feelings and emotions. If the artist is too detached from the artwork, then the artwork is commercial.”
Over the past few months, I have contemplated intensively about my practice and art in general. I look back at my old works and am embarrassed. I look at the future and am scared. I look around me and realized that I was not a prodigy child. I am a late bloomer. I wasted a lot of time. But I am beginning to understand a few things.
1. There will always be opposing voices to any decision I make. Be aware of the constructive criticism but also hear the supportive voices and my own inner voice.
2. Trends come and go. Hold dear to what you feel strongly about.
3. Learn to be vulnerable. It will make your art stronger.
4. I will never stop doubting myself. I have however always gotten up in the morning and gone back to the studio. I probably will tomorrow.