Karena Lam Brings Japanese Artist Watanabe Mayumi's Magic To Hong Kong
Karena Lam is a well-known actress and singer in Hong Kong and recently, she's taken on a new role as art curator.
Having curated her first show for Japanese calligrapher Inoue Yuichi in 2016, Karena has put together her second art exhibition for one of her favourite Japanese artists, Watanabe Mayumi, from now until April 8. Titled Send In The Clowns, this marks Watanabe's debut solo exhibition in Hong Kong.
We sat down with the seemingly unlikely duo to find out how this collaboration came about, and the moment the Osaka-based artist knew her works had a special place in Karena's heart:
How did the two of you meet?
Karena: In 2015, I was in Tokyo and walked into a bookstore. At the back of the store was a room showcasing a mini-exhibition of Watanabe’s Monolog series and I was blown away. The lines of her paintings were so simple yet contrasted and each painting has its own narration. I remember walking around the exhibition and wanting every single piece in the room. In the end, I bought three of her pieces.
I went to her exhibitions in Japan a few times after that and decided I would like to bring her works to Hong Kong, so I approached her last February. She probably thought I was crazy, as she did not know anything about me at that point. During the whole process of working together, we relied on Google Translate due to our language barrier.
Watanabe, this is your Hong Kong solo debut. What is your impression of Hong Kong so far?
Watanabe: Before visiting, my impression of Hong Kong came from all the Hong Kong movies that I watched—skyscrapers, billboards, and colourful neon signs. After I came to Hong Kong, I realised it's such a big city and the fact that it’s so crowded and loud can be intimidating.
I went to Sham Shui Po and some old neighbourhoods because I love traditional visual elements. I also went to Lamma Island on my own and realised how great Hong Kong is for nature lovers because it is full of mountains and beaches.
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Why did you choose a circus theme for the exhibition?
Karena: Because Watanabe thinks everything has two sides, she went on to produce a series of works that show the glamorous side as well as darkness and emptiness of the circus world. Also, she believed a circus theme could serve as a common language, as many people already have an idea of what a circus looks like.
Watanabe: Circuses always represent laughter, mind-blowing experiences and joy. But when I think about the inhumane training circus performers and animals have to go through, I want to use my own works to present both sides of the story.
Is there anything viewers should know before they check out the exhibition?
Karena: When they come in, I want them to be greeted by Watanabe’s world. Hong Kong is a fast-paced city, and I want to create this respite with Watanabe’s artworks “floating” everywhere so viewers can take their time and get lost in their own imagination.
For the exhibition, I also worked with New York-based dancer Abby Chan on a duo dance inspired by Watanabe’s paintings with the video directed by renowned advertising director Maisy Choi. I wanted to use a medium that I am familiar with—filming and performing—to collaborate with Watanabe.
See also: ON VIEW: HONG KONG—10 Dances Inspired By Our City
How did you find working with each other? Tell us about the experience...
Watanabe: Karena always came up with new ideas when we were working on this exhibition. This is how I realised she really liked my works and I feel that my works really have a place in Karena’s heart. Working with Karena was really easy for me as I could just sit back and worry about nothing (laughs), but she also inspires me to work harder.
Karena: Sometimes, I feel like I have given her too much pressure. I really wanted to bring all of her works to Hong Kong, including her sculptures and coloured-works, and I feel I've made her do one year’s worth of works during this one week she is in Hong Kong.
I remember watching her work the other day, she just had no idea what was going on around her once she started painting. I was impressed that she could get so into her own works that nothing else mattered, it’s just her and her works— this is how direct and pure she is.
Send In The Clowns runs from January 20 to April 8 at agnès b. GALERIE BOUTIQUE at K11 Art Mall, Tsim Sha Tsui.
See also: 10 Korean Sculpture Artists To Watch