sound on

artist support programme (ASP) alumni: LI Hiu-wa

photo by South Ho

閱讀完整訪談 (中文) >>>

Li Hiu-wa (b.1991) received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University. Li enjoys manga, and currently lives and works as an art technician (tired) in Hong Kong. He has been experimenting with the presentation of images with different construction materials, such as glass, concrete, and metals, as well as through the medium of light and gelatin silver.

Li has always been attracted to nonsense and “unimportant stuff” sourced from urban life, finding hilarity in its midst, and connecting every fragment that might be taken by his camera. Poetic and subtle observations are always present in his works through still images that resist the fast pace of the city. From his working environment, he has been thinking of space, such as how it could be constructed and how it affects our senses and experiences when we arrange the objects and subjects in that space, and what kind of narratives could be presented in it.

Li Hiu-wa was supported by soundpocket’s Artist Support Programme 2017–18.

personal website >>>

Interview excerpt:

Fu Lee Loy Shopping Centre

Returning to the observation process

soundpocket: You invited a performer to perform “MILK TEA WAS HOT (COUNTING 5 GRAMS OF SUGAR)” in ‘10 Years of ASP’. How did you communicate the idea with him? Why did you want to do a performance in the first place?

Hiu-wa: Indeed, I have usually worked with images. The reason why I wanted to try doing a performance, or using objects in my work this time, was the vibe of the space [Fu Lee Loy Shopping Centre]. It reminded me of some works that I had imagined. I thought that Fu Lee Loy was suitable for realizing one of them, so I chose to present it here – although the original form of the work was different from how it turned out.

And regarding why I decided to involve a performer, or present the whole idea with a performance, but not show a photo or video: I think it is important to show the process for this work. Photos capture a few moments, and these are only what the audience will be able to see. They can perhaps easily deduce the actions by seeing these photos, but the process as a whole is missing. This is the same for videos: I can only provide certain viewing angles for the audience. For this work I thought it would be a waste of the characteristics of moving images if I was to present it this way: the captivating feature of moving images is that they do not only record a certain period of time, but you can also edit the duration of the video. I think, [in contrast to the quality of moving images] by actually inviting a person to do this lame, or inconceivable thing, it will create some kind of tension in the space. Sometimes I try to think about this from the audience’s point of view, and I want to create a vibe for them such that if they were to enter a space, what they would see is a person doing something lame or inefficient.

photo by Wong Ka-wing

soundpocket: Why did you have the idea of creating a vibe of lameness or inefficiency in the space?

Hiu-wa: There were a few reasons. First, it was probably because the shopping centre is very old and there was a strong perception of time there. Second, it might be related to the process of how I created works in the past. I would like to understand the relationship between the process and the result. Take photography as an example, everyone is taking pictures in digital format, so why would someone use film now, or even make photosensitive material on their own? What is the value of such complicated work? If I use a top-level camera, the photo quality will not be too bad. Its beauty somehow depends on the megapixel level of the photo. While it might be considered “bad” because of the shooting setting. If I spend a lot of time on one aspect of the process, but the end result is not ideal, how will I judge it? This is what I have been asked very often, and people usually consider spending a lot of time on things that cannot be guaranteed as “stupid”. However, I have always been concerned whether there has been anything of value developed over the process as a whole? When I apply this idea to the action of counting the sugar crystals, I wanted to emphasize the process itself, to see if there was anything that we could appreciate or get out of it. The action of placing the white sugar crystals one by one into the teacup seems to be dumb, or one has put way too much time and effort into this. Is there anything that is worth our attention, even with such tiny little things? This is what I wanted to experiment with here: with the tiniest action being carried out in this space.

Coming back to the example of photography, what I am trying to say is that no matter how good or bad the camera is, the observation process is what matters the most to me.

photo by Wong Ka-wing

soundpocket: According to what you have said, “MILK TEA WAS HOT (COUNTING 5 GRAMS OF SUGAR)” is directing the audience to be aware of the process of observation through the performer. Other than this, do you have other messages to be delivered to the audience?

Hiu-wa: There is no specific direction at all. What I did was to provide a staged scene and lead the audience to the performance. For example, I wanted to include some repetitive actions, and place some objects on the “stage”. I struggled for a long time on which objects to use in the performance. At the beginning, I told you [the curatorial team] that I would like to have soybeans and mung beans mixed together and count them out separately. But then the narrative would be totally different – it would be more like choosing things and then separating them. I had also thought about counting sand, but then I questioned this idea: I felt like it was a bit too old, and too explicit, as people can directly relate sand to time, or religion. I would like to leave more room for the audience to observe and have their own thoughts, so I decided to choose something that is more common, and we all should have experienced – that is to drink milk tea.

photo by Wong Ka-wing

soundpocket: Sugar and milk tea are things that we see everyday, they will not be too distant from us. If you were to use sand, the audience might feel directed to link it to things that you are not trying to discuss. Might they focus on the reasons why you would move the sand in the space, or the meaning of the sand to the performer?

Hiu-wa: Such objects and actions do match with the vibe of Fu Lee Loy Shopping Centre. I have to confess that I really did try digging sand here. I hope it is not illegal.

soundpocket: But couldn’t you just buy sand?

Hiu-wa: Since the hardware shop near my home was closed, I was too lazy to go and get it. You mentioned the “distance” between the chosen object and the audience, and in the end I was sure that sand was not a possible material to be used at Fu Lee Loy. Again, I would like to present an ambiguous feeling related to something that everyone has experienced (i.e. drinking milk tea), but have never done on one’s own (i.e. counting and putting the sugar crystals into the tea one by one).