THIS WEEK, ORA-ORA SPEAKS WITH MULTI-MEDIA ARTIST HUNG KEUNG ABOUT A NUMBER OF HIS ARTWORKS, REFLECTING ON HIS ARTISTIC JOURNEY AND INTENTIONS.
Dr. Henrietta Tsui-Leung as Henri
Hung Keung as Keung
Keung: There are two very important factors that made an impact on me while I was growing up. Firstly, I had great mentors in my life who inspired me. Secondly, while I was acquiring knowledge, I was taught to find the source of knowledge. I was taught to try my best to find it and not be easily satisfied by only having superficial understanding of a piece of information. These two issues affected me a lot.
I met my first mentor when I was around 12 to 13 years old. He influenced me a lot. I have met similar influential and respectable mentors while I was growing up. They all have the same learning attitudes, they are serious about pursuing knowledge across disciplines where others would regard as abstract or conceptual back in the days. Their hard working attitudes became deeply rooted within me and I strove to become more like them and followed in their footsteps.
Henri: What you said about “finding the source of knowledge” is basically you being an inquisitive learner and getting to the heart of things. Don’t just blindly believe in the information laid out in books or said to you by other people. If you are genuinely interested in one subject matter, you have to dig deep to find the source. I think this is actually what makes contemporary art so interesting. A lot of times, we might be able to obtain information from those around us regarding both local and international social issues. However, artists like us have different ways of perception and we will be able to derive another meaning from the information given to us. We are determined in a way that we won’t easily settle with face value and will dig deeper to find the true meaning.
Keung: I agree.
Henri: What does “finding the source of knowledge” have anything to do with you travelling to Europe?
Keung: The story will have to begin when I was studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I need to thank two very special people amongst others. The first person I need to thank is Ho Siu-Kee, he was my teacher when I started learning drawing at 13.
Henri: Oh wow you are lucky!
Keung: He was also very young then. I was very passionate about drawing back then, and one day I was strolling along the streets trying to find a centre for drawing where I could be taught properly to draw. I saw there was a drawing lesson advertisement there and immediately signed up without any hesitation. The teacher was Ho Siu-Kee.
The second person I need to thank is Chan Yuk-keung. When I was in Year 2 or 3 at university and was about to graduate, I became fascinated with moving images and wanted to make videos and films. I was interested in anything related to moving images. I started talking to Chan Yuk-keung about my passions and ideals. At the same time, a German experimental film troop came to Hong Kong for an exhibition at the Arts Centre. I realised that is my world and would love to step inside that world. Chan Yuk-keung told me, “Hong Kong will not be able to help you.” He was very direct, which I feel is what teachers should be. He told Hong Kong cannot give you what you want.
Henri: Very direct.
Keung: I was of course very hurt. But I was very appreciative of how he showed me the reality of things. He said to me I would probably have to consider developing my skills elsewhere from Hong Kong. That should be around 1993 or 1994. After listening to his words, I contemplated leaving Hong Kong. During that year, Central Saint Martins opened a new postgraduate course called “Film and Video.” It was perfect match for me, and I was very lucky. I immediately enrolled in the course.
Henri: Did you family support you financially? Or did you support yourself?
Keung: I am from a grassroots family so my family did not really have money to support me studying overseas. I worked for one year and earned around 8000–9000 HKD every month, and $30,000 in total. That was all I could do.
Henri: So you decided to pursue your dreams with the money you had.
Keung: At that time, I was allowed to pay $20,000 deposit of registration fee. Once I got there, I would have to pay the rest of my school fees. I was very mischievous and told the school I had no money when I got there. I asked whether I could pay by instalments and they told me there was no such policy and that I would have to pay in full. I really had no money so I resorted to drawing on the streets and working part-time at restaurants. I still did not have enough money. Some friends and university classmates helped me by lending me some money. They each lent me around $5000 or $8000. I still did not have enough money.
I coincidentally saw Chan Yuk-keung while I was in Venice. I was still very poor then, but I still could not miss the opportunity to go to Venice! He knew of my situation, and told me not to be hesitant to ask for his help and assistance. I was really poor — I could only afford to eat 4 chicken wings and 1 egg every week. I drew life sketches on the streets for 5 pounds a drawing. 5 pounds is around $50 to 60 a day. Sometimes I had 5 to 10 cases per day, sometimes I had zero. I would sit down in Trafalgar Square or Charing Cross to draw for 10 hours from morning to midnight. There were usually many people late at night because they liked to stroll on the streets when they missed their trains and would rather wait for the night buses. A lot of people would walk around at 11pm when they missed their trains. Most days I got zero or 1 case even though I sat there for the whole day. I told myself, “I had overcome so many obstacles to come to London, friends and family lent me money — I did not come here to sit for hours, I came here to learn.” I sent a message to Chan Yuk-keung to ask for help.
The school was actually good to me, they disregarded the policy for me and allowed me to pay by instalments. But they also said they won’t show me my grades if I was not able to pay my school fees. They won’t disclose my subject grades. I thought that was quite fair and reasonable. After I messaged Chan Yuk-keung and told hiim of my situation, I was awoken by a phone call at midnight while I was sleeping. There was time difference between Hong Kong and London. The phone rang and I tiredly asked, “Hello, who is it?” On the other side, Chan Yuk-keung said, “Keung, can you hear me? I am Chan Yuk-keung!” I asked, “What is it?” He said, “Do you have a passbook? Did you receive the money I gave you?” I was very touched and asked, “What? What passbook?” He told me, “I wired you some money, see you if received it!” Some other Chinese University classmates also phoned me, including Ho Yuen-leung, Leung Chung-kei and Au Ka-wai, they all wired me money.
Henri: Thank you for your sharing. I got really touched too. That was the beginning of crowd funding.
Keung: Exactly. They supported my education. When I got back to Hong Kong after receiving a postgraduate degree in Moving Image, I worked at Radio Television Hong Kong. That was the time when digital interactive media started to become popular and there were different interactive programmings. I was extremely happy and amazed. Before I left London, I wrote a proposal on the relationship between human beings and moving images and made a CD-rom about it. I worked on the interactive project for 3 years, starting from 1998 and published it in 2001. I was very happy about the results and made around 1000 copies of the CD. People thought it was interesting, but they didn’t completely understand. I designed the CD to not show the mouse cursor while you play the game. I changed the mouse cursor to a flame, I wanted to show that the mouse cursor is just like a flame in a cave that would lead the player to a certain direction. There is symbolic meaning to it, that the mouse is just like a flame that would lead us to an invisible or mysterious space. I was very dejected by the reaction. I worked it on the project for 3 years but no one understood me. I did not know how to communicate and explain the deeper meaning. It was like I was mute.
Henri: It was like there’s a gap between you and the audience.
Keung: Yes, and this is something I have to improve upon. I went to Germany. Long story short, I went to the ZKM Center for Art and Media. I need to thank the school because I had to embark upon a 14 month journey to Germany. I discussed with the school whether I should end the contract before going to Germany. The senior management was very supportive. John Fraser, the department head at the time, told me there’s no need for me to resign nor to end my contract, I could leave whenever I wanted just with the suspension of pay. He said it’s not complicated and that I should go ahead. I felt relieved and immediately packed my bags to leave. The world is very different in Germany. Jeffrey Shaw took me in.
Henri: He’s now in Hong Kong!
Keung: Yes. At that time, he was director of the research program at the ZKM Center for Art and Media. I am very grateful he took me in. During that year, I met the professor of my future doctorate course in Switzerland. Every step of the way, I was able to meet these important and inspiring people.
Henri: Step by step, you walked the distance and got to where you are now.
Keung: I am very touched and grateful.
Henri: Do you have any artworks you would like to share with us and discuss?
Keung: I prepared some. One of the works is called Dao Give Birth To One (2013). I like this piece of work very much. You can see the concept of Chinese scroll art.
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