Art Talk: Adrian Wong On Cultural Identity
Hong Kong-based artist and co-founder of Embassy Projects art studio Adrian Wong is presenting a new exhibition with the K11 Art Foundation. Unveiled at the beginning of Hong Kong art week, we catch up with Wong to chat about The Tiger Returns To The Mountain and his creative process.
Could you tell us about your concept for this site-specific installation?
The theme of The Tiger Returns to the Mountain is very much tied to my experiences in Hong Kong for the past decade, but it also taps into something less explicit: an engagement with the city as an abstract concept.
Tell us a bit about your partnership with the K11 Art Foundation?
The project emerged from conversations with Adrian Cheng and Carmen Ho spanning several years. When presented with the opportunity to transform chi art space, I was immediately excited by its potential.
I began to research over a year ago, in collaboration with David Chan, the curator of the show. I am deeply grateful for the support of the foundation for this opportunity they’ve provided to truly experiment—both with materials and ideas.
What kind of challenges did you encounter?
One of the challenges was bringing an outdoor space indoors. Man-made “outdoor spaces” are an attempt to create order out of the chaos found in nature. Situated in a place saturated with artifice, the garden that I will be presenting is a sort of negation of this, which brings us back to Tiger Balm Garden and its various functions over the course of its history.
Read more: 5 Minutes With Wing Shya On Sweet Sorrow
Why a tiger and the Tiger Balm Garden?
I’ve always been attracted to the garden: I only visited once in 1985, and it was gone by the time I moved here in 2005. I feel like I see echoes of it all around me, not only in Hong Kong but in Chinatowns, banquet halls, and cultural centres the world over. I wanted to explore that energy.
It symbolises a lot of things, but growing up as a member of the Chinese diaspora, the literal smell of Tiger Balm reminds me of the way my grandmother smelled, of curio shops in Chinatown, of the YMCA locker room in San Francisco. I like to think of it as the “smell of Hong Kong”: it was a sort of marker of identity.
What is one item that you can’t live without as an artist?
A Texas Instruments TI-85 graphing calculator. I’ve been using the same one since 1989.
In your view, what has been your best piece of work so far and why?
I think my best piece so far has been Wun Dun, the immersive artwork that I produced for the first edition of Art Basel Hong Kong—commissioned by the Absolut Art Bureau. It’s far and away the most engrossing and multi-sensorial project that I’ve ever worked on. It was a labour of love from beginning to end.
What do you want people to remember when they engage with a piece you created?
The best outcome for a piece that leaves my studio is for it to keep myself and others thinking about it for a while. It’s not so much remembering it but reconsidering it and thereby changing it long after it’s left my hands.
The Tiger Returns To The Mountain is on display until April 29 2017.
Chi Art Space, 8/F, New World Tower 2, 18 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong