Dom Chan from Start From Zero, the city’s original urban art collective, discusses street art and his passion for woodworking with UrbanDNA.
HONG KONG STREET ART
As trailblazers in Hong Kong’s street art and fashion scenes, Start From Zero is the city’s original old school urban art collective. Led by Dom Chan, this creative house embodies the fierce and adaptable spirit necessary for artists to survive and make art in the SAR. UrbanDNA catches up with Dom to discuss his street art works and current focus on woodworking, and he shares the technique for his early stencil works– PowerPoint! Dom will lead woodworking workshops with House of Vans on October 17 and 18– even the most novice woodcrafter can learn to create a handmade stool from Hong Kong’s urban art legend. Build your skills with Dom at House of Vans or the impressive, fully outfitted Start From Zero woodcrafting workshop in Kwun Tong.
:::::Dom Chan, founder of Start From Zero & UrbanDNA | Interview October 6th, 2015:::::
When was Start From Zero established? Can you tell me about the background of the collective?
Around sixteen years ago we started doing street art in Hong Kong. We did stickers, wheatpaste, stencil, paints, and posters in Hong Kong. Around 8 years later we started doing streetwear, and about four years ago we opened a shop… we closed the shop last year. The shop sold clothing and hosted underground artists’ exhibitions. We started doing woodwork about four years ago.
How many people are in Start From Zero?
In the beginning just me, and I have a partner called Katol… [He] knows how to draw the design and together we did the clothing. We also do woodworking together.
Does Start From Zero have a mission or philosophy?
For everyone to be happy and survive in Hong Kong. With graffiti and skating, it’s difficult to survive here… Don’t think too much, just start to do what you want and what you like.
How did you become interested in woodworking?
We were doing a lot of exhibitions but always [worked] on canvas, so boring! We got some wood and tried [working] on the wood. Because wood has different textures, each piece is different. We bought more machines, and I love woodworking because everyday I can build some installation.
We had an exhibition a few years ago, deTour, in the area of PMQ– at the time it was still the old police station heritage area in Central. We made a [mini] house, a table and chairs– and then lots of people found us to build houses. Then we started doing more woodwork and became professional.
What street art inspires you?
Shepard Fairey. When I was in school I saw a poster outside, and I didn’t know what it was about. It wasn’t a promotion, it wasn’t from the government– oh, it’s a street art stencil. I searched online and found ‘stencilworkshop.com’– this was a long time ago, it was Australian. They had a forum that taught how to [make] stencils. It’s very easy. The first stencil I did by PowerPoint. I just plugged a photo into PowerPoint and made it black and white, then printed it out and used the correct pen… And made the outline more sharp… Then photocopied and made it bigger… Then printed it out and cut it. Yea, my first big stencil was made from old school stuff!
… Shepard Fairey inspired me because he was arrested a lot but kept doing street art– and he does street clothing also. [I wondered] why Hong Kong doesn’t have any street clothing? Then, I tried to do. Now I know why– because Hong Kong is difficult.
Have you ever been arrested before while making street art?
Yea, in Taiwan and Shanghai. But not in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is very safe…
What are your feelings on the graffiti scene now in Hong Kong?
It is better than some time ago, there are more people doing it, but I don’t know how long they can do it, because it’s very difficult. But it’s better than a long time ago… It’s different… I don’t see it as street art or art, legal or illegal…
What can workshop participants with House of Vans expect at the woodworking workshop?
We built the skate wall, and will teach people to make a stool, and have silkscreening too– live printing. You can take a blank t-shirt, bring your own pieces or pick up a tote bag or anything and bring it to House of Vans– they’ll print the logo and event identity image onto your piece!
How often do you offer these workshops?
Three days a week we teach woodworking workshops [in the Kwun Tong studio]. For House of Vans we’ll also help with the silkscreen, because we used to do street wear and we always do silkscreening on wood. And we always wear Vans!
Agnès b. celebrates 20 years in Hong Kong with the ‘Far East Far West Graffiti Hub Exhibition’, which spills out into its surrounding neighborhood with the help of HKwalls.
Hong Kong Street Art
Street art has been having a moment for awhile in Hong Kong. With the takeoff of HKwalls, Hong Kong’s once fledgling street art scene has evolved to produce some world-class artists that can hang with the best of them. Meanwhile, the art world has slowly come to recognize the quality of Hong Kong’s homegrown talent in a handful of ‘street art’ themed exhibitions, although a guided outdoor component for newly created pieces has been regrettably missing. A public element undoubtedly helps a gallery offering of ‘street art’ work – otherwise, it risks stripping the art of its integral meaning as both visual signpost and indicator of placefulness. Therein lies the challenge– how can an upstanding gallery exhibit a broad selection of freshly created urban artworks in situ throughout the community, as they are meant to be seen? With the help of HKwalls, the brilliant not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing art to Hong Kong’s public spaces, Agnès b. has done just that.
Agnès b., grand dame of the French fashion world with an international network of self-named lifestyle boutiques, has long nurtured a special appreciation for street art. Agnès b. representative Marine Delveno shares, “She has always supported the graffiti scene. She started in the 80’s, when no one wanted to show this kind of art in a gallery. [It] makes sense to do a graffiti show to commemorate her 20th anniversary… It’s her thing and her main theme this year.” The design mastermind is also running two street art exhibitions concurrently in Paris through October, and opens the notable ‘Far East Far West’ Graffiti Hub Exhibition at the Agnès b. Librairie Galerie in Hong Kong on Friday, September 25th, 2015.
So what makes ‘Far East Far West’ in Hong Kong so special? Simply put, there has been a monumental effort (thanks, HKwalls!) to source outdoor spaces from private property owners to create an extension of the gallery into the local neighborhood. Although it might seem volunteering one’s property to an art show is a savvy community-oriented decision, there is a catch that gives pause many– creative control. Resolving the contradiction of the artist’s desire for creative freedom and the practical needs of many different business owners is no easy task, which is likely why it’s never before been done by a gallery in Hong Kong. It’s an exquisitely complicated show to do– yet undeterred, Agnès b. has turned Hong Kong’s Central streets into a curated selection of her personal vision, complete (of course) with a handy walking map.
Agnès, always the curator of the shows displayed in her gallery empire, personally selected the 8 exhibited artists for ‘Far East Far West’. Five are based in Hong Kong (SINIC, the Parent’s Parents collective, Barlo, Wais, and Caratoes) and 3 are overseas champions of their craft (Philippe Baudelocque and Lek & Sowat from France, and Cleon Peterson hailing from Los Angeles in the United States). Notably, this is the first time for each of the overseas artists to visit Hong Kong and have their work shown in Asia. What draws the artists together is a practice of nontraditional street art style– these are not painters of usual urban concepts, bubble letters, or reminiscing of hip hop. The works are figurative painterly and abstract graphic pieces that would normally be viewed on a canvas within a controlled setting, but are instead disorientingly on the side of a building. Rather than taking art from the streets and placing it in the gallery, art from the gallery has been set loose on the neighborhood.
There are natural complications with an art show that involves outside stakeholders– those whose property literally becomes the art. Agnès b. representative Marine Delveno explains:
“HKwalls got the authorizations, contacting many owners in the area. It’s been difficult because all the owners asked for sketches prior to the confirmation and the artists usually do not work this way. We tried not to offend anyone but it’s been a lot of back and forth emails to confirm the sketches since the owners asked to change the art most of the time, according to their own tastes and to what’s accepted or not by the society… For instance, violent content is prohibited kind of… Finally we got more walls once the artists arrived, because other owners saw them paint in the street and liked it, and it’s also easier when people really meet and talk. Then they can share, communicate and get along, that’s how more opportunities come up.”
With ‘violent content’ perceived as potentially taboo, the work of Cleon Peterson, which explores the dark side of human nature, conflict, and power relationships, presented a particular challenge in finding appropriate outdoor display space. However, property owners were eventually won over by his artistry despite heavier subject matter. Peterson says:
“Getting permission to paint the spaces has been difficult. I think people see graffiti as vandalism and not art. I hope that our work can change this perspective. That being said the people that did grant us spaces to paint in have been amazing and are really acting as cultural pioneers… I think when art is at its best it opens minds and lets people share and experience different perspectives of their worlds. Because we’re working with the city as our canvas it is in a way our partner in the art. It’s our culture mixing with Hong Kong’s culture. It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to see how people here live with the work.”
Perhaps an acceptance of more challenging content like Peterson’s in the public space is an indicator that Hong Kong has grown up a bit in its tastes. Life isn’t all cute rubber duckies, and the more sophisticated palette for contemporary art will reflect such a balanced outlook. Either way, it is a boon for Hong Kong to have such a well-organized showing of street art in the public space. Life goes on, and the love goes on.
You can check out the ‘Far East Far West’ Graffiti Hub Exhibition at the Agnès b. Librairie Galerie in Hong Kong and throughout the surrounding neighborhood.
Agnès b. Librairie Galerie 118 Hollywood Road, G/F
Central, Hong Kong
Opens Friday, September 25th, 7pm. On from September 26, 2015 – January 2, 2016
British artist J.Fishy shares his process for creating the surreal ‘Fruit and Veg On’ pasteup series in Hong Kong.
HONG KONG STREET ART
China’s bustling Southern harbor city has recently experienced a new artist-in-residence crafting surreal encounters in urban spaces. Walking down the street in Sai Ying Pun, a vibrant neighborhood enclave West of Central, one might come upon a young man with an eggplant on his head. Or, for that matter, you could pass a young lady carefully balancing an ear of corn atop her crown. Further in Pok Fu Lam, a child can be found wearing a sprig of spring onion, and a couple has appeared in Po Hing Fong steadily balancing oranges upon their heads. The observer of street art on Hong Kong Island would surely have seen such phenomena by now, as you’re practically bound to meet one of these figures around town. An unsigned enigma, one cannot help but wonder of the origins of this exceptionally prolific series.
Turns out, the images are part of a new photographic portraiture street art series entitled ‘Fruit and Veg On’ by a British artist who prefers to be called J.Fishy. Luckily, UrbanDNA was able to catch up with the artist just as he wraps up his 6 month stint in Hong Kong. He shares insight into his latest work that can be found throughout the city (no, the fruits and veggies are not photoshopped in!) and his inspiration. Funny enough, the series was sparked simply by the artist’s friend playfully placing a carrot on her head. Of this he says, “It was so simple yet had this beauty to it that I kind of became transfixed with.” Also, if you have been candidly asked on the street to pose with a piece of fruit on your head, you might just find yourself featured as a work of art!
Read on for the entire interview with the artist.
:::::INTERVIEW | J.Fishy & UrbanDNA:::::
Where are you from, and how has your background shaped your artistic practice?
J.Fishy: I’m from London but also had the pleasure of living in Bristol for a few years and have now been based in Hong Kong for the past 6 months. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel through quite a few other countries and getting to experience different environments and cultures has definitely influenced what I make.
Can you describe your creative training? What mediums are you drawn to?
J.Fishy: I studied art at university and was initially interested in sculpture and installation work. At that time I was casting bits of my body and growing plants out of them. I then increasingly became interested in people rather than objects as such. It was at this point I started primarily working with video and photography.
Have you always been interested in ‘street art’? When did you begin making public artworks?
J.Fishy: While most of what I’ve previously made hasn’t been ‘street art’, I have always liked encountering work outside and been interested in its accessibility to a wider audience than art shown in a gallery. While I’ve got a lot of love for art galleries, I think for many people they are this cultural entity that they feel disconnected from. Putting work outside removes this barrier between ‘the art world’ and the general public. I also think there becomes a more natural dialogue between what is made, the viewer and peoples environment. The first work I put outside was a series of text based pieces about 5 years ago… I initially started by getting pieces of wood out of skips and spraying onto them and leaving them in places.. I then moved on to getting ‘for-sale’ sign’s and old doors, giving them a bit of a makeover and then locking them to fences or street lamps. I found this way they stayed where I left them for much longer. I’ve only very recently begun wheat-pasting.
How would you describe your practice – primarily studio based?
J.Fishy: While some stuff is studio based, the majority of what I’ve produced over the past couple years has been created in public. There is an immediacy between myself, what is being made and other people that seems to keep driving me to work in this way.
Why did you choose Hong Kong for your most recent street art series, and how did you select specific site locations?
J.Fishy: Hong Kong is where I’ve been living for the past six months so that’s where I’ve been producing work. That said, quite a few of the pieces I’ve recently put up are from photos taken in other countries. As far as finding specific locations for each piece, I tend to travel on foot and keep my eyes peeled for good spots.
Can you describe your process for creating your Hong Kong series?
J.Fishy: The ‘Fruit & Veg On’ series started with a friend simply putting a carrot on her head. It was so simple yet had this beauty to it that I kind of became transfixed with. Two ordinary things (a carrot and someone’s head), took on this obscure relationship to one another through the simple action of putting one on top of the other. After this initial event of the carrot on the head, I decided to go buy some fruit and vegetables and walk around asking people to choose a piece to put on their head. While it takes me a while to ask the first person on any given day, once I start I’m hooked. I find the brief interactions with people somewhat therapeutic.
Are all the models posing with items on their heads, or is there any element of Photoshop involved?
J.Fishy: All the people are posing with the actual fruit or vegetables on their head. The only editing involved is blowing the images up and also slightly brightening them, as I generally choose to shoot slightly underexposed.
Do you know all the people who are subjects of your work? If not, how do you ask strangers to be photographed with fruits and vegetables on their heads? Have potential subjects ever refused your offer?
J.Fishy: Nearly all the photos are of just random people on the street. I simply approach them and ask if they’d mind putting a piece of fruit or veg on their head for a photo. Lots of people inevitably refuse but thankfully lots are happy to get involved.
What is the resolution of your images – do you shoot in raw?
J.Fishy: I have never shot in raw until about a month ago… I use photo zoom to blow the images up to get them nice and big and it was only once I started doing this that I started to realise the benefits of shooting in raw for what I do.. I generally choose to shoot slightly underexposed and raw images respond much better to being brightened than jpegs.
I notice you don’t sign your street art works with your name or pseudonym – any particularreason for this?
J.Fishy: I feel the works being signed would slightly detract from their obscurity. I prefer the idea of people encountering a lady with a bunch of bananas on her head with no explanation of it being owned by anyone, or necessarily even being a piece of art.
What type of printer do you use to create the Hong Kong paste-ups? Do you have access to this equipment in Hong Kong, or did you prepare your printed materials before leaving?
J.Fishy: The works I’ve pasted up so far have been made by splitting the images over lots of A3 pages and then printing them at a local printers in Sheung Wan. Each page is then cut out and stuck together before heading out to paste them up.
What is your overall impression of the Hong Kong street art scene?
J.Fishy: I think the scene here is at an interesting point. It is much younger than in London but feels like it’s definitely growing. There seems to be a real interest and desire for more of it from the local people.
Have you ever had any problems with authorities when installing your artworks?
J.Fishy: Thankfully not yet.
How long will you remain in the region? Will you be creating street art elsewhere in Asia?
J.Fishy: I leave in a weeks time and will be making a couple of other stops in Asia before heading back to the U.K.
What is inspiring you now, and how has your time in Hong Kong affected you creatively?
J.Fishy: The biggest source of inspiration is people I encounter on the street, MTR or wherever. I love the peculiarities of people and how they interact and operate with one another. Prior to coming here I was simply taking the photos and occasionally showing them at exhibitions… I’m now taking the pictures back out onto the streets to exhibit which seems to make far more sense.
What’s next for you – can we look forward to further showings in Asia?
J.Fishy: I’m preparing 20 new pieces at the moment that will be going up in the next week before I leave.. keep your eyes peeled.
Invader returns to the scene of last year’s infamously removed ‘invasion’ to present ‘Wipe Out’, offering exciting new LED light artworks.
HONG KONG STREET ART EXHIBITION
In a windfall for street art in Hong Kong, French graffiti mosaic artist ‘Invader’has ceremoniously returned to the scene of last year’s infamously removed ‘invasion’ to present ‘Wipe Out’, an exhibition exploring his work in the city and beyond. The non-profit show is the third project presented by HOCA, the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation, which launched in 2014. Curated by Lauren Every-Wortman, the event is held within the expansive Qube space at PMQ – a rare 600 square meter multi-function hall in the Central district of Hong Kong. Within this abundant space, Invader and Every-Wortman have constructed an engaging sensory experience that simultaneously educates and amuses whilst offering the artist’s exciting first foray into sculptural LED light art.
A walk-through of Wipe Out presents a series of different aspects of Invader’s creative work. In addition to the display of countless material examples of the artist’s mosaic artworks displayed in Hong Kong and on streets around the world, the show also conveys his conceptual work ‘gamifying’ the discovery of the works in urban spaces worldwide through his ‘Flash Invaders’ mobile application. Further, a thorough historical documentation is recounted of the artist’s Hong Kong invasions spanning from 2001-2014– including a full-scale reenactment of the artist’s street mosaic HK_58 (better known as ‘Hong Kong Phooey’) in its original in situ placement.
The center of the exhibition space also holds a must-see treat within the ‘Wipe Out Cinema’– a video documentary relating how the artist effectively ‘invaded’ his dream frontier– outer space. The improbable journey of Invader’s mosaic hitched upon a weather balloon is breathtaking, inspiring, and indeed a bit magical – audible gasps could be heard as the artist’s signature mosaic character floated away to reach the unthinkable and then survive falling from the top of the earth’s atmosphere. In the end, it is an elegant metaphor for the boundless capabilities of the persevering spirit facing insurmountable challenges; the documentary film footage capturing this unearthly journey was eventually retrieved from Florida swampland after the literal threat of poisonous snakes, insects, and (yes!) even an alligator. +10,000 points!!!
It was, however, the artist’s debut works of sculptural LED light art that stole the show. The medium translates perfectly to the artist’s nostalgia for early gaming technology, elevating his work to new frontiers of possibility. With a firm understanding of Invader’s past work challenging the boundaries of public expression worldwide, this new experimental use of sculpted, animated light proposes a future of dazzling possibility.
WIPE OUT: An ‘Explosition’ by Invader
Dates: May 2-17
Venue: The Qube, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong
In an exclusive interview, Invader shares his feelings on Hong Kong’s ‘Wipe Out’ and whether street art should be legal (spoiler: he says, “it has to stay illegal”).
HONG KONG STREET ARTIST INTERVIEW
It was only last year the Hong Kong government removed the most prolific public art project ever undertaken by the renowned French street artist ‘Invader’, which proved to be the catalyst for a series of unprecedented twists for the art world and the increasingly favorable position of street art. The removal of a popular, meticulously crafted mosaic by the artist of Pac-Man even inspired the local arts community to rise up and recreate the piece in posterity, although this effigy also eventually met its demise. Clearly the cheerful glimpses of video-game themed nostalgia had captured local hearts, but urban policy was more uncaring – in the eyes of the government, the rules are the rules, and who is to judge what is art?
Although administrators have been unwilling to discuss the artistic merits of unsanctioned public works, the commercial market happily weighed in. In January of this year, an ‘alias’ work (a studio-made reenactment of an illicitly created piece) removed by Hong Kong street cleaners from its original placement, sold on the Sotheby’s Hong Kong sales floor for just shy of HK$2 million – achieving US$252,000. Regarding the success of his work in this elite commercial space, the artist comments, “It is a step in my career and an evolution. Some people don’t look at me the same way now. I am taken more seriously which is actually a good thing. It is also a significant symbol that street art is gaining increased attention and credibility in the art world and that’s a good thing.”
In the wake of his successful exhibition ‘Wipe Out’ with HOCA, the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation, the artist describes himself as an ‘ULA’, or ‘unidentified living artist’– perhaps a new way to understand contemporary artists whose work relies upon anonymity? In an exclusive interview with Style by Asia, Invader shares his feelings on the legality of street art (spoiler: he says, “it has to stay illegal”). However, he also provokes the mindful reconsideration of urban policy, adding: “The people who have ordered my pieces to be removed should have asked themselves before if they were artworks or vandalism. A piece like the Kung Fu Dog in Happy Valley for example was obviously to me an artwork to be protected, not to be destroyed!”
Read on for the entire, uncut Style by Asia interview with Invader.
::::: INTERVIEW :::::
INVADER & UrbanDNA | May 2015
Where are you from, and how has your background shaped your artistic practice?
Invader: I define myself as an ULA, an unidentified living artist. I chose Invader as my pseudonym and I always appear behind a mask. As such, I can visit my own exhibitions without any visitors knowing who I really am even if I stand a few steps away from them. Since 1998, I have developed a large-scale project, code name: Space Invaders.
What brings you to Hong Kong? How many times have you visited and created work here?
Invader: This is my fifth time in Hong Kong since 2001, and up to now I have launched four waves of my “invasion”. My latest invasion wave of Hong Kong in 2014 was one of the biggest and the nicest I’ve ever made, even worldwide. The pieces were bigger and I really thought about their iconography. I spent 3 weeks on site just dedicated to this invasion!
Why is creating work in Hong Kong important to you? Does creating in Hong Kong offer any special opportunities or difficulties that aren’t found elsewhere?
Invader: Hong Kong is a nice playground for my street pieces as the architecture is very different from my home city. It’s also a great opportunity to take place in a dynamic city of the global art scene.
What is the message of your show with HOCA at PMQ?
Invader: The idea was to create something big after the wipe out of my work in Hong Kong by the government. The message could be that after the destruction of my work I am here again and still creating. Nothing can stop an artist from creating. I also wanted to offer a nice show for all the citizens who have defended my work and were saddened by the artworks’ removal.
What are your plans for Hong Kong this visit? Do you plan to create more public works? How might this ‘Invasion’ differ from previous times?
Invader: Yes, absolutely I already have put up 7 new pieces (with the one inside the show). It is a continuity of my previous work with new directions, new themes. For this 5th wave I have worked around the figures of Dragons and Ming vases.
Do you abide by any street art ‘code’ or etiquette? How do you select locations and evaluate a site’s propriety for displaying your work?
Invader: It is an essential part of the invasion and it is a very subjective decision. I need to identify the nerve center of the cities I visit. It takes a lot of time as it is a long scouting process. I often compare it to urban acupuncture. It takes a lot of scouting.
Do you install the works by yourself or ever have assistance? How long does it generally take to install a work?
Invader: I am surrounded by a small team and this is a very confidential operation. The time taken to install a work depends. I have developed several techniques that allow me to adapt myself to different situations such as the time and the place of the invasion, the size of the mosaic, the height of the wall…in order to be the quickest and the most discreet possible.
You had the honor to meet a revered Hong Kong street artist, the King of Kowloon, during a previous visit to Hong Kong – can you describe your exchange with him?
Invader: I remember him as a very nice and kind person. We spent some time together and he offered me several objects that he covered with his calligraphy. I also installed a space invader in his home!
You’ve created some ambitious pieces in Hong Kong, notably the Pac Man in Tin Hau and Hong Kong Phooey. Are these Hong Kong works at all unique from pieces created in other places? Do any pieces created for Hong Kong represent a new or special endeavor for you?
Invader: Each piece that I put in the street is unique. I never make the same piece twice. For Hong Kong, like for every city where I have worked, I try to adapt my work to the culture and the ‘colors’ of the city.
What is the most ambitious – or tricky – piece you’ve ever installed in any public space?
Invader: The one which was sent to the International Space Station a few month ago. You can learn more about it by the watching one of the films at the exhibition.
It has been well over a year since the January 2014 ‘Invasion’ of Hong Kong – how many pieces do you estimate still remain in situ, and does this number surprise you? How did you feel about the government’s campaign to remove your work?
Invader: Something like 5 of the 55 pieces I’ve installed in 2014 are left. I am surprised by the reaction of the government because most of them were so beautiful that I was sure that nobody would remove them… It is as if they have destroyed a gift I was offering to them. But it actually had a positive effect because that gave me the energy to set up “Wipe Out”, a big show about that destruction.
Your work became an accidental symbol for street art policy reform in Hong Kong after the ‘resurrection’ of Pac Man in Tin Hau. How did you feel about the Hong Kong local arts community rallying around this removed work, recreating the piece to protest its removal?
Invader: That really warmed my heart! It was nice to see that the local artists were sensitive to what happened and wanted to show that they were on my side. I even think that this was the case of a big part of the population.
What insight does your art offer a city like Hong Kong, which perceived your last large-scale ‘Invasion’ as a breach of policy? Do you see a need for technical street art policy reform or a stronger culture of tolerance for unsanctioned public art?
Invader: I think that street art is illegal and it has to stay illegal. I have played and I have lost! That said, the people who have ordered my pieces to be removed should have asked themselves before if they were artworks or vandalism. A piece like the Kung Fu Dog in Happy Valley for example was obviously to me an artwork to be protected, not to be destroyed!
What is your ‘dream canvas’ in Hong Kong? Are there any particular obstacles that complicate gaining access to that space?
Invader: Playing with the light of a huge building (like the ICC) but another artist has already done it!
Is the illicit nature important to the overall meaning of your public works? Have you ever installed work on the street with permission?
Invader: I like the illicit nature of street art, but I won’t miss the opportunity to make a nice piece because it is legal. I’ve for example just installed 2-pieces on the pillar of the PMQ with their permission.
Have you ever experienced legal issues for creating work without permission? How were these situations resolved?
Invader: I’ve been arrested a few times, but I’ve never been in real trouble. Because what I do is art and even if it is illegal, Art is a universal activity, and artists are generally respected.
Regarding your works available on the commercial market, how did you come up with your concept of creating an ‘alias’ of a publicly installed piece of street art? When did you begin this practice, and how do you determine which of your illicit works has a commercially viable alias?
Invader: I’ve always done this, from the beginning. I create one alias piece for each work I place on the street. I like the idea that the mosaics sold on the art market are linked with the ones in the streets. I think it is conceptually strong. But it took to me some years to find a perfect form for this. Now, my aliases are perfect. The mosaic is fixed on a black perspex panel which has a slot in which to place the ID card with all the information about the street piece.
You have indicated in past interviews that you are not interested in the ‘art establishment’ as an aim in itself, although your recent auction success in Hong Kong has set you firmly within the realm of ‘established’ contemporary artists and set new world records. What are your feelings on the success of your work in an elite commercial space?
Invader: It is a step in my career and an evolution. Some people don’t look at me the same way now. I am taken more seriously which is actually a good thing. It is also a significant symbol that street art is gaining increased attention and credibility in the art world and that’s a good thing.
How do you feel about your street installed pieces removed from in situ placement – are they still art? And how are such works kept from the commercial market – do you certify works similar to Banksy and Pest Control?
Invader: Once removed from their situ placement, my pieces become nothing–just some pieces of tiles that you could buy in Mong Kok for few dollars. I, myself, could not even authenticate a piece taken from the street because a tile looks like any other tile.
Do you sell your work in the gallery space – if so, where? And how might this work differ from your street work?
Invader: I now have an exclusive gallery that takes care of the all of my artworks. I want to stay focused on the art and of creating and let my gallery take care of the more commercial aspects. What I am doing is what you can see at my show: some mosaics pieces (alias) but also many other things and continually experimenting and innovating.
What’s next for you? What’s inspiring you now, and where are you working? When can we expect you back in Hong Kong?
Invader: I am still in Hong Kong and I am about to stay a bit more to install some new street pieces… After that I will have a rest because this show took me six months of hard work!
WIPE OUT: An ‘Explosition’ by Invader
Dates: May 2-17
Venue: The Qube, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong
The observant eye may have noticed a curious new addition upon the streets of Hong Kong lately. To the delight of art aficionados, Hong Kong is the scene of the latest ‘invasion’ by the French graffiti mosaic artist known simply as ‘Invader’, who has conducted similar illicit street art projects in over 40 cities on 6 continents. The installment features 48 of the artist’s signature whimsical tile mosaics of characters from the retro Space Invaders arcade game, which have popped up in unexpected corners throughout the city. The works are spread throughout Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and New Territories.
This is not the artist’s first visit to the fair harbor city, as Invader graced Hong Kong with at least 19 of his mosaic works in 2001– some of which still remain in place 13 years later. However, the new installations are larger and often more intricate; it seems Hong Kong is bestowed with some of the most ambitious works the artist has ever illicitly installed in any urban location.
An important element of Invader’s work is its illicit nature– meaning it is done without permission– so the piece is a surprise for all. However, lacking permission to modify a property technically qualifies this practice as illegal in Hong Kong, and indeed the artist did have a run-in with the Hong Kong police while installing a work upon Hollywood Road in Central. The artist recounted his experience to the South China Morning Post of being approached by a half dozen police officers, saying:
“I was frightened about what might happen.. So I told them, ‘I am an artist and I did not ask for permission, but what I am giving is a gift. If you don’t like it, you can take it off’. The police looked at my piece and said, ‘No, we like it, you can keep it’… But they said don’t put any up any more, so I went to Kowloon to continue.”
Invader’s experience brings to mind comparisons with another French graffiti artist, Zevs, who created an illicit work upon Central’s prominent Armani Building in 2009. Zevs, however, was immediately arrested and detained in Hong Kong for the act, and was granted a suspended sentence only after the French Culture and Communication Minister wrote a letter requesting leniency on the artist’s behalf.
Meanwhile, Invader’s illicit mosaics have insofar escaped legal concern, and are seemingly not construed as offensive or particularly damaging to property. While it may require a concerted effort to remove the artwork, their presence currently appears to be appreciated by amused onlookers. While graffiti may be illegal in Hong Kong, clearly the content and sensitivity of the location of a street art work determines its treatment in Hong Kong.
Invader’s 2014 inundation of Hong Kong differs in some interesting ways from recent projects in Europe and the United States– specifically, the artist hasn’t installed any works that can be accessed from the street level in awhile, probably due to their tendency of being stolen by savvy Western art collectors. However, Hong Kong is different, as awareness of street art practice amongst established artists is sorely lacking. Although Invader’s works would likely be pilfered if the public (and property owners) understood their monetary value, a level of sophistication when it comes to understanding the intrinsic value and cultural capital of street art simply doesn’t exist here– yet. However, with artists like Invader bombing the town with works that could fetch up to HK$3 million at auction (US$387,000) it is only a matter of time before the ever-practical and money-minded Hong Kong public tunes in. With the wave of arts related infrastructure set to increase in Hong Kong, perhaps tolerance of thoughtful, well-executed street art is a new trend to watch in China’s most dynamic autonomous city-state.
Nestled in a quiet corner of Pak Tsz Lane Park in Central, Hong Kong, a humble art exhibition has been underway for months, open to all curious passersby. Through depictions of his signature ‘Fatso’ character personality, urban artist and comic illustrator Johnny ‘Overloaddance’ has transformed the park’s forgotten blank and graffiti-tagged concrete walls into an art show – the ’13 Guy Exhibition’. It seems somehow fitting an impromptu street art exhibition can now be found in the same space that historically housed secret meetings of anti-Qing Dynasty revolutionists, as the spot famously offered a number of escape routes for fleeing 19th century rebels. Although the park’s political intrigue has long passed, such claiming of public space for independent art is a strong statement in itself.
Not your typical street writer, Johnny ‘Overloaddance’ is a bona fide homegrown Hong Kong artist and designer. After studying advertising, he further developed his artistic practice to include painting, sculpture, product design, and street art – all featuring his signature ‘OVERLOAD/DANCE’ character concept. The ’13 Guy’ Exhibition in Pak Tsz Park gives public life to these imaginative and emotive personalities. Perhaps most intriguingly, one prominent wall features a poem (apparently regarding the nature of chaos) written in an obscure antiquated style of Chinese calligraphy that can only be interpreted by few highly learned people. This style of Chinese calligraphy can be vaguely compared to Early Olde English, the style of medieval English in which the epic poem Beowulf was originally penned. It seems to be a late addition to the ‘show’ by an anonymous calligrapher. The presentation of this archaic style of Chinese calligraphy juxtaposed against the contemporary urban figures reveals a collaborative collage of street artwork with fascinating depth and cultural complexity– and quintessentially ‘Hong Kong’.
Street art and graffiti is highly ephemeral, so while in Central, urban art lovers are advised to wander to this quiet corner of Pak Tsz Lane Park on Fuk Wah Street and see this unique painterly figurative street art and antiquated calligraffiti while it’s still intact.
Where did you grow up, and where were you educated?
I grew up and studied in Hong Kong.
What inspires you creatively?
OVERLOADDANCE was founded in 2009. Since then I started to make things that are truly meaningful to me. My creations are all about fat guys, focusing upon the interesting bits of their lives, and even reflecting on the negative societal attitudes they receive.
When did you begin getting involved in street art? Why?
I have been trying many different ways to express the message behind OVERLOADDANCE. Besides using the Internet, I love to use other art forms like street art to deliver my ideas. It’s good to use street art because people can easily relate the art pieces to their own life and environment.
What mediums does your artistic practice encompass, and where can your art be found?
I started with a Facebook fan page and then established a website to release my creations. People find no relationship between ‘beauty’ and ‘fat.’ Since OVERLOADDANCE was founded, everything I create is to refute this long established value of beauty. I try to present fat guys in my beautiful way – though people may call it ‘disgusting beauty’. We all have different preferences and different ways to describe beauty. To me, ‘FAT’ doesn’t stop oneself to develop his or her uniqueness, so everyone can create their REAL ME style, and lead the life by their own will, not for others.
In the case of the ’13 Guy’ exhibition, how does the absence (and creation of) an art gallery support your creative idea?
The exhibition is named ‘13GUY’ because it has a double meaning to me. First, O.V.E.R.L.O.A.D.D.A.N.C.E. is composed of 13 letters. Secondly, it actually represents 13 important people, movie characters and celebrities who inspire me. They are Eun Eun, Elvis, Lovemen, Dan, OTAKU, Alber Elbaz, Nana, Dider, Oldmen, Carey, Reddy, Vampire and Ann. It also becomes more interesting (and free) when holding an exhibition in the form of street art rather than the formal way. ‘13GUY’ is not solely created by me. It isn’t finished the day I put them on the walls. They change day by day like they are living. Some people draw on them, some destroy them, the sun and the rain, etc. No one knows what will happen next or which ‘13GUY’ may disappear next. They ‘grow’ with time. It is the most fascinating thing that I always love to see. The transformation of ‘13GUY’ makes it a complete art piece.
In the ’13 Guy’ exhibition, there is a long written poem in an antiquated form of Chinese calligraphy. Did you write it?
The long poem is actually written anonymously. This is exactly why I say street art is so fascinating. While in the process of creating ‘13GUY’, I planned to present them all in the same street. It had to be quiet so that people could slow down their steps and enjoy each character. I kept searching for a place that suited, and found Pak Tsz Lane Park accidentally. It’s totally a cool place for ‘13GUY’.
Who are your favorite Hong Kong based artists, street artists, and designers?
Graphicairlines, Start from Zero, Little Thunder, YanCong, Maruo Suehio, Aleksandra Waliszewska, motohiro hayakawa.
What does Hong Kong identity mean to you, and what do you see as quintessentially Hong Kong style contemporary artwork?
Though Hong Kong isn’t a large country, you can still find a variety of cultures shining here. The society is not complete, but still there are people fighting for culture regardless of their own gain or loss. I am proud to be Hongkongese, but also feel ashamed sometimes. It’s because Hong Kong is an imperfect society that only focuses on economic growth.