HONG KONG: Among millennial heads perpetually bent over mobile devices, Red Hong Yi’s noggin frequently bobs up for an inquisitive scan of her environs, her milieu and beyond. (Not one to walk into lampposts, Red).
It was while cooling her heels in Alaska last year, within frozen-spitting distance of the North Pole (one imagines her accidentally arriving there after zombie-walking while glued to her smartphone) that the 32-year-old celebrated Malaysian artist looked up – way up – and clapped eyes on the storied Aurora Borealis phenomenon. Enthralled that she was enjoying an LSD experience minus the seizures, Red said that she “felt a spiritual experience. I suddenly felt tiny and in awe of the universe.” A pinpoint of light for a nascent artwork was born.
Simultaneously scanning the skies was HONOR – the skyscrapingly-successful smartphone e-brand – which was on the prowl for an art world star it could collaborate with on an avant-garde art project. The BFF of digital natives worldwide, HONOR conjures up internet-optimised products aimed at fostering creativity, inspiring action and empowering youth, cheering millennials on to ‘be brave’ and ‘break social norms’.
Red appeared red-hot on HONOR’s radar – she was caught red-handed transforming quotidian, aesthetically-challenged materials into ravishing and thought-provoking installations. Eschewing paints and palettes for found objects like discarded chopsticks, teabags and drinking straws, the self-described ‘experimental’ artist with a Masters in Architecture has created a kaleidoscope of installations which challenge our notions of art. Red’s ‘experimental’ self-label, by the way, belies the agonising meticulousness required in the formulation of each of her thoroughly thought-out pieces – not to mention the elephantine dose of digital technology involved, as her works are painstakingly designed on computers.
“Although I work with recycled material, I use digital technology to create my artworks. I design my works on PCs – the angles, shapes and forms. Computers allow me to experiment faster and produce more quickly, and I can create art in very different ways,” she said.
It is also through digital technology that Red promotes her handiwork, her message and herself – specifically, via social media (Red all about it, folks!) Through Instagram, Twitter and word-of-mouth, the Sabahan – who, rather seditiously, admits to a weakness for KUCHING Laksa – began catching the eye of the art world, and she was soon laden with a backbreaking number of international exhibitions, awards and accolades.
All the while, Red had a meta-awareness that tech was what allowed her to tick. A keenness to express society’s use of – and usage by – digital technology began to percolate in her. That’s when HONOR, famed for its cutting-edge smartphones, gave her a ring.
Not so ironically, it was HONOR’s mobile communications hardware itself which got Red’s engines running. The groundbreaking rear housing of each HONOR phone is layered with 15 nano-scale membranes which reflect and refract light in a mesmerising manner. (Red’s artist-Spidey senses began tingling at the sight of the phones’ glowing derrieres, and she was transported back to Alaska, where she had visually feasted on the spectral Aurora Borealis). As a result, a sliver of the Northern Lights can now be seen in crystallised form at the Artology: Explore Art & Technology with You(th) exhibition in famously neon-lit Hong Kong.
Titled Aurora, Red’s installation, which hovers serenely above the ground floor of H Queens in Hong Kong Central, is at once celestial (a pregnant raincloud, perhaps); aquatic (a majestic jellyfish... or even a school of fish); reptilian (the scales of a chameleon, of course); and objet d’art (an ornate chandelier). Despite being a collection of 2,000 hard, metallic and sharp-angled recycled glass backs from HONOR’s purple and blue flagship collection, the piece is remarkably nebulous, fluid and dynamic, changing form and colour with even the slightest change of the viewer’s perspective. You will want to stay in one spot and take it all in, while also drift along its edges and explore the work’s crevices, like a fruit fly with a windfall of a large, ripe melon.
An up-close inspection unlocks further wonders (Red isn’t overly-precious about her opus, as she delights in viewers engaging with Aurora (JUST DON’T BREAK ANYTHING)). The phone backs really are marvels of dancing colour and reflected light (what kind of sorcery is this?!), with each panel expertly attached to the main metal structure at varying degrees of rotation. The reverse side of every phone back is a stainless steel mirror which not only adds a tasteful, silver bling-bling quality to the installation, but cleverly reflects the viewer’s face. Therein lies one of Aurora’s concepts.
“(One of the things) I want to express is how we are living in the digital era now. We’re so immersed in technology. The reflections of visitors appear as they look into the (reverse side) of the glass backs, which are polished stainless steel. (I want) to highlight tech-savvy millennials. That visitors (suddenly) become the model, the director and the publisher of the clearly-reflected image,” said Red.
While contemplating the “are we consumers or are we being consumed” subtext of Aurora, viewers are concurrently struck by the delicate balance of its many dualities – designed by high-technology, but manually assembled; a solid architectural work that is unmistakably contemporary art; hard and soft; light and shadow.
So – why do I get the feeling that millennials will henceforth be fixated on the BACKS of their phones, as much as they are on their fronts?
EVENT: Artology: Explore Art & Technology with You(th)
WHERE: H Queens, Hong Kong Central
WHEN: Now until Dec 23