Kacey Wong – Detect, Don’t Detach

Kacey Wong, Drift city series, 2000-2017. Documenta, Kassel, Germany, 2017
View of door of Kacey Wong’s studio
Kacey Wong, Drift city series, 2000-2017. Documenta, Kassel, Germany, 2017
Kacey Wong, I have no enemies, 2017. Steel, 54cm x 55cm x 107cm
Kacey Wong, Everything is Fine, November 3, 2016
Kacey Wong, Wandering Space – Eggette Bar, 2016
Kacey Wong, Sleepwalker, 2011. Metal Bunk Bed, Metal Wire, Tricycle, Paint 192cm x 80cm x 190cm.
Kacey Wong, The Real Cultural Bureau, July 1, 2012
Kacey Wong, Paddling Home, 2009. Wood, Ceramic Tiles, Aluminium Windows, Stainless Steel Gate, Pipes, Plastic Barrels, 278cm x 220cm 8 x 290cm.
TOP
1613
46
0
 
15
Sep
15
Sep
CoBo Social Chinese Abstraction Series

Kacey Wong combines hard-hitting social and political commentary with humour; what he describes as “sugar-coated bitterness.” Witty and intellectual, his works are drawn from what he learns, reads and unearths of our contemporary reality. There is a sign on the door to his private office in his studio, which reads “Artiste Detective.” He is unafraid to tackle uncomfortable and controversial issues and present his view. As he told me, “What is art if you cannot say the truth? It’s just decoration… I care, that’s why I do what I do.” He is well known for addressing social issues in Hong Kong, as well as producing artworks annually for the July 1 protests. Passionate about having art accessible to the poor and underprivileged, many of the works crafted in his studio by him and his apprentice, Man, are mobile. He declares an artwork finished when aesthetics fuse with three layers of meaning; artworks which are “hard work on the brain and the hands.” In October, he will be showing Asteroids and Comets on the pavement next to the Ovolo Southside Hotel, 64 Wong Chuk Hang Road. We met him in early September at his studio in Ap Lei Chau.

TEXT: Nicholas Stephens
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist

View of door of Kacey Wong’s studio

 

Your work is deeply engaged with Hong Kong, but you travel the world. Your Drift City photo series shows you dressed as a skyscraper in front of landmarks. Recently, you were at Documenta. What does this series symbolize?

That piece is a global story. It’s a Utopia story. We are in search of it. We never find it. The series follows a fugitive figure… a 1920s Chicago-style building. I wanted to humanize architecture so that we could have a conversation with it. I pay tribute to the great architecture of the Chrysler building, but with a twist. The twist is: within the work, there is no time limit. The photos could be done yesterday or in the future. That’s the power of architecture.

 

Kacey Wong, Drift city series, 2000-2017. Documenta, Kassel, Germany, 2017

 

Your artworks tackle current issues head-on. You recently installed an artwork by the sea to commemorate the life of Liu Xiaobo. It’s a secret location….

It takes about 15 minutes from the road to the sea. On a scale of one to five, five being the most difficult to reach, it’s a three. Walking off the path is my cup of tea. I’m trying to build an off-the-beaten track sculpture trail. This one is the first. Right now, I’m interested in pushing the envelope of “earth art,” and blending it with political syrup. It tastes interesting.

Last time I went there, I saw a flower placed on the seat, all dried up. I was so touched. I take small groups there every Sunday morning – only people I trust.

 

Kacey Wong, I have no enemies, 2017. Steel, 54cm x 55cm x 107cm

 

In November last year, following the kidnapping of the booksellers and others from Hong Kong to China, you were tied to a lamp post on Hollywood Road, with your mouth taped shut, holding a sign saying “Everything is Fine.” What influence do you hope to have on people through these actions?

It’s a gentle reminder to people. Of course, it doesn’t lead to the immediate release of those scholars. But, I feel like I have a responsibility to voice out as an artist… There’s nothing wrong with enjoying good wine and art. But the world we are living in is not entirely that. So, it makes it interesting when people see what I do… People recover quickly, they laugh, and that’s the kind of ridiculousness I want to highlight. People read about the booksellers, they feel gloomy, but then they turn the page. Then there are some people who don’t even know the story at all. So, it helps to be reminded.

Kacey Wong, Everything is Fine, November 3, 2016

 

One of your earlier works, from 1998, is entitled: “Destroy Them!” Noting how as a schoolboy you saw evil through inhuman monsters in comic books, but that monsters from our daily reality as adults are far more horrible. How would you like Hong Kong citizens to respond to evil in their midst?

Reality is not like a script. If you study history, you know that it often takes a sudden wrong turn, unpredictably. What we can do is maintain a moral foundation, carry ourselves gracefully, with our principles. And say good-bye to our childhood way of seeing the world as evil people wearing Nazi uniforms. They don’t. They might be sitting next to you. Hong Kong is a super complicated story. It’s hard to see the layers.

 

Your works highlight troubles between different layers in society. One of your mobile works, Eggette Bar, shows solidarity with Hong Kong hawkers for whom paying HKD800,000 for a new food truck is out of reach. Is the imbalance between rich and poor a driving force for you?

No, it’s not the driving force. But, I was teaching as an assistant professor for many years. It always annoyed me to realize that art and design were often reserved for the rich or the higher class of society. It renders the poor and underprivileged helpless. That drives me. The emphasis on humanity. When I started to engage with art, I thought – what is there beyond art fairs and galleries? I don’t want to believe that art stops there. And if it doesn’t stop there, where does it go? So that inspires me to break away… and break out. My homeless project for example allows art to engage with the underprivileged in society.

I am a Hong Kong story. I didn’t realize this until I faced questions by reporters about why my art has wheels or goes on water. I realized that it is a reflection of my state as a Hong Kongese. Hong Kong people often move away. Even if we don’t move away but stay here, we feel in limbo in terms of identity. The Taiwanese look at you funny, so do the Mainland Chinese. You have a BNO but you’re not really British, a Chinese passport but you’re not really Chinese. We are adrift…

This Localism phenomenon didn’t used to be called Localism. When the British ran Hong Kong we had our own identity, our own currency. We didn’t have to prove our identity. The youngsters haven’t experienced this – they are in need of re-inventing this Utopia… like dressing in clothes from the 1920s.

 

Kacey Wong, Wandering Space – Eggette Bar, 2016

 

When you say Utopia, is that a place that never existed?

It never existed. I experienced the 1980s. It was unequal. My lips used to shake when I met white people like you. It’s a colonial disease. It’s in the air. You don’t even know it until you are old. Then you think back, and you realize that’s what it is.

When I was a teenager, looking at all the people in the high rank of the government, they were all white and they lived in a different place. It wasn’t fair and equal.

However, it was a more stable time compared to now. It’s all relative. You notice that those people who wave the Union Jack are mostly youngsters. They are imagining the time back then. Back then, Hong Kong was governed better, it was more sophisticated. Less chaos. You can’t blame the youth for being nostalgic.

 

Kacey Wong, Sleepwalker, 2011. Metal Bunk Bed, Metal Wire, Tricycle, Paint 192cm x 80cm x 190cm.

 

This is the first interview with Cobo since the sentencing of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow; how did you react to the decision to send them to jail?

As expected. Think for the best, plan for the worst. We should be glad they weren’t sent to jail in Mainland China. The positive side is: good, now we are not afraid of going to jail… When they come out, it will be a new campaign. This shows the foolish way the government runs the city.

 

You see this as a political rather than a legal decision?

Of course, this is a political decision. There is a difference between rule of law and rule by law. This is neither. It’s rule by decree. A lot of people don’t see that, but I do. Just like a storm though, the clouds will pass.

 

Did you create an artwork for this year’s July 1 protest?

If you look at the majority of my protest art, like the pink tank. That cannot be done now. This year, Long Hair tried to bring out his coffin prop, and 20 triad members were waiting downstairs and beat hell out of the prop. Violence, gangsters, government, police. That’s what’s happening. Times have changed.

I am a theory guy. If the theory of large scale props cannot exist. What else can exist? So, I realized, I must create a piece of work that Mainland Chinese cannot decipher, but Hong Kong Chinese can read. I dressed in a white shirt, a face mask, sunglasses, red cap, looking like a paid and hired gangster. I had a flag in English, red background and white words: Holy Xi… Piece of Xi, Eat Xi. Hong Kong people saw it and cracked up. I passed Communist supporters. I waved at them and they waved back! They didn’t get the joke. The police didn’t know how to deal with me… At least, we got a laugh, and it was art… It was hysterical, because at that time Hong Kong was going Xi Jinping crazy, all kow-towing, like beggars. That ugliness gave me inspiration.

 

Kacey Wong, The Real Cultural Bureau, July 1, 2012

 

In 2010 for the video of the ADC Awards, you said that “the most important thing is to enjoy yourself.” Is that still true – has your mood darkened since then?

When I do war games, sometimes we are victorious, sometimes I watch my comrades die one by one. I enjoy that too. You have to. Otherwise, you will shoot yourself… It can be painful to endure if you are the last man standing. But if you push on through, you can win. When I say “enjoy,” I mean enjoy the best of times and the worst of times. If I tell people that I enjoy the time we live in now, people look at me like I’m crazy. But I do enjoy it. If the world hadn’t gone mad, I couldn’t have created all these works. I create the works in the spirit of the times with a bitter smile. Because I have no choice.

Every artist reflects the spirit of the time. If they don’t, what are they doing? Are they making art? I reflect on this question all the time… Even seemingly abstract work… like Henry Moore, just after World War II – perhaps it’s the Utopia that every artist is searching for, an inner peace away from the pain and suffering.

 

Kacey Wong, Paddling Home, 2009. Wood, Ceramic Tiles, Aluminium Windows, Stainless Steel Gate, Pipes, Plastic Barrels, 278cm x 220cm 8 x 290cm.

 

 


 

Nicholas Stephens is from London and has lived in Hong Kong for the last nine years, where he works for a leading Hong Kong gallery, specializing in contemporary ink. His articles on diverse aspects of the Hong Kong arts scene have been published in “Art Hong Kong”. A graduate in Modern Languages (European ones unfortunately!), Nicholas has authored translations of novels and plays by writers including Stefan Zweig and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

 

 

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply