Kacey Wong

Kacey Wong

8 May, 2013
Visual artist
Assistant Professor, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
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Kacey Wong is a founding member of Art Citizens and Street Design Union, which investigates the role of artists and designers in social political causes. He was the winner of the 2012 Hong Kong Contemporary Arts Award presented by the Hong Kong Art Museum, and has won other prestigious awards such as the Best Artist Award in 2010; and in 2003 was given the honor of Rising Artist Award and Outstanding Arts Education Award presented by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. Currently, Kacey is an Assistant Professor at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in the School of Design’s Environment and Interior Design discipline.
 
Ecozine: What inspires you as an artist?

Kacey Wong: Artists naturally look at things from a different angle – it’s kind of like being a philosopher, but in 3-D. It’s a very interesting way of existence; you can emerge differently from a normal citizen. Just because you’re born, doesn’t mean you exist. I think being an artist allows you to re-emerge in a very unique context. Usually, artists have something to say – either their sensitivity is unique or their way of looking at the world is unique; it’s not expression using language – it’s using another representative, such as sculpture, installations, music, painting, etc. These kinds of language have a universal tone to it, so it’s cross-cultural. That’s why it’s interesting, and that is what attracted me to become an artist. On the surface it appears to be just about the aesthetic, but it’s much more than that. It’s about the thinking: the different ways of being.
 
Ecozine: How do you think artists can influence and contribute to society and the environment?

Kacey: I think the environment consists of hardware and software. Hardware is the easy part to identify – the materials and environmental damage issues, such as how consumerism has led to a mass production of plastic bottles, and the empty bottles don’t go to a recycling center – they go to the sea. However, the more difficult side to define is the political aspect (laws and regulations) of the environment – it’s still part of the environment and is also my concern. Chinese contemporary artist and political activist Ai Weiwei once said, “Everything is art; everything is politics.”
 
Ecozine: In working on projects for the Hong Kong Cleanup (Eco Drum Set) and Ocean Art Walk (“Death by Amputation”), has that influenced your outlook on environmental issues? And if so, how?

Kacey: When I visited a recycling center in Tuen Mun last year, that was my calling. Everyone has a different calling at different moment, but at that time, I was awoken and now I can’t go back. At the recycling center, I saw an ocean of plastic – it was really scary for me, and changed my lifestyle in a personal way.
 
Sometimes people talking about ‘saving the planet,’ but I think it’s too far-away thinking. We don’t we start with our immediate proximity? If our way of living isn’t fundamentally changed, then it’s just a vicious cycle.

As an artist, we work with different materials all the time – for me, it’s not what material you have; it’s how you work with it. If you’re not creative enough to come up with a method to use the material, then the material is a piece of junk. The idea of useless and useful becomes arguable – my whole project is about that: it’s about prolonging the life of materials to exist longer. Materials don’t have expiration dates – it’s just because you’re not creative enough or the occasion isn’t correct; that’s why brand new materials become useless.
 
My materials all come from the garbage bin – at my workshop (which is located in an industrial building), there is a dumpster nearby that always has wooden slates, thrown away from construction activities. My method of operation on them is to cut and split them, so it makes them look like branches or a tree, trying to bring them back to their original form. But of course, you cannot bring it back to the original form because it’s been processed, but I try to invoke an emotional response. It’s an interpretation of the destruction of nature.

Ecozine: As a professor at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, have you seen an increase in environmental issues, sustainability, and social issues thematically in your students’ work in recent years?
 
Kacey: In this school, environmental issues are a reoccurring concern – The Hawkers Project, coastline redevelopment, homeless issues – taking on a humanistic approach to the environment, I think this makes our school more unique. Many teachers here share this concern, so the awareness of these issues is spread to the students through projects. For a design school, I think it’s easy to think that they are just educating and training students to be workers for big corporations, but I don’t think civilization can advance if you keep doing that: you’re just providing screws for the machine. We need more forward thinking, which is what we do here.

Ecozine: What projects are you currently working on? What do you have lined up next?
 
Kacey: Right now, I’m working on a project that’s going to be shown in Japan at the Aichi Triennale in August. The project is regarding the Senkaku Islands, so it relates to my personal concern about the environment, but this time I have placed more emphasis on the political side. I see showing this kind of project in japan as a golden opportunity, as this issue has been lingering for decades and both sides are now on the edge of war. My focus is on the control of the media on both sides; how both governments try to manipulate the facts and instigate their people in to a kind of frenzy. If you think about it, most citizens have never been to the islands or even have any idea where it is. This kind of control is really unnerving, so I created a fictional idea that the Senkaku Islands belong to fish and birds, giving it a natural tone and relating to my previous works (the octopus and the finless shark). The title of the piece is “釣魚台是屬於魚鳥的” (Senkaku Islands belong to the fish and birds) – a slogan from the 1970s. The intention is to stop low-level nationalism and make people think about their environment.

Locally, I’m rebuilding the Sleepwalker bunk bed (winner of the 2012 Hong Kong Contemporary Art Awards), which will be part of a traveling show to four cities: Shenzhen, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong. It is a critique on the Hong Kong lifestyle: how people work all the time, and when they should be sleeping, they are working; and when they are sleeping, they are dreaming about work. That is Hong Kong. I’ve never experienced a city that has such urgency – things are always happening so fast. The show will start 1 June in Shenzhen.
 
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See more of Kacey’s work at: www.kaceywong.com

By: Esther Wong
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