At theDesk: The Contemplation Garden exhibition

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The newsDesk speaks to two artists, Victor Chu and Elaine Wong, on creating a space for contemplation and quietness through their artwork amid the frenzy of Hong Kong.

As summer scorched, it was business as usual for Hong Kong. This city stops for no one, not even yoga teachers, psychologists or wellness coaches, who despite their expertise in human wellness, still aren’t immune to the stresses of fast-paced city life.

But perhaps the people most well-equipped to show us how to carve out some time for ourselves aren’t yogis or wellness coaches, but visual artists. Why?

Artists produce work that stands still and alone outside of their physical person. They can elicit feelings and atmospheres without having to actually meet their audience. Victor Chu and Elaine Wong, of artist collective Altermodernists told us about using their art to forge safe, calm and contemplative spaces in a city that never stops.

Victor Chu, 28, and Elaine Wong, in her 30s, held an exhibition at theDesk,  ‘The Contemplation Garden’. The two artists met through a mutual friend. And though their media of choice and styles are diametrically different, a common theme runs through both bodies of work: the idea of contemplation, not simply in the experience of viewing their work, but throughout their own artistic processes.

Chu graduated from the University of Toronto majoring in Visual Arts in 2013. He returned to Hong Kong to pursue a career in arts. His artwork features lines and lines on top of lines, all intersecting in complex forms to create geometric universes on his surfaces.

Working primarily in pen and ink, his impressively large – typically 3 x 4 ft – pieces may look precise, measured and calculated, but in fact none of them are. “I don’t measure any of my lines,” he says.

Using the most ‘basic element of design’, the line, Chu creates complex yet minimalist two-dimensional pieces that suggest three-dimensional possibilities.

Sometimes the lines are extended away from his surfaces with thread and plastic, and the idea of lines permeate every aspect of his creative process. “When I work,” says Chu, “I always think about the fact that I’m ‘running out of lines’.

Not just visual lines, but also sentences, words and dialogue.” Chu exhausts all of his expression through the lines that he puts on paper, and sees no need for anymore lines of dialogue between him and his viewer. “It’s not necessary for me to tell them anything more,” he says.

With every ounce of thought squeezed into his work, Chu tells us that he actively thinks of someone with every line he draws. “However long it takes for me to draw that line,” he tells us, “I’ll think of, say, my mother. The piece becomes a record of a time in contemplation.”

Similarly, Elaine Wong, a multi-media video and sound artist, records every day scenes of contemplation, visually and in sound, and builds an ‘archive of moving images’ in order to create alternate artistic experiences.

Elaine Wong, founder of Altermodernists and a student of Creative Media at City University of Hong Kong, works with ‘moving images. She manipulates images and videos, and transforms everyday sights and sounds into new multisensory experiences.

She carries a small camera and mic with her at all times and is constantly contemplating her surroundings. “Whenever I see something interesting,” she says, “ I’ll just record it. I collect sound, too, in a way. By the time I’m finished mixing something, you can’t tell what it was originally.”

“Unlike Victor,” Wong tells us, “I can’t start with a blank canvas. I prefer to start with something that I have a strong feeling towards.” And having lived in Sai Wan for five years, she undoubtedly has a strong connection to the neighbourhood she once called home.

“I have a lot of images from here, since I have a camera with me all the time. I’ll be going through my database to see what I have.” And, true to her mission, she heads off to the Sai Wan Swimming Shed after our interview to contemplate and record more material for her archive of images and sounds.

Ultimately, she hopes that through her juxtapositions, distortions and manipulations, people can experience firsthand ‘unusual sounds with familiar images,’ scenes both ‘real and unreal’.

Chu exhibited eight of his smaller 2D works at theDesk. While Wong showed five of her multimedia video pieces. Together, the artists simply wanted people to ‘stay for a while, have their own time to think and cool down.’

“It was be a very quiet exhibition,” the two concur, with its main aim being to create a space for contemplation and thought.

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