Across Asia, the question of space and where to find it isn't an unfamiliar one. Look around any major city and you'll see buildings climbing into the atmosphere, away from the crowds of people, delivery bikes and cars that clutter the surface below. In contemporary art as well, space has become a topic of interest, with an increasing number of artists taking their work online, into the infinite expanses of cyberspace (see SlimeEngine’s new downloadable digital gallery for reference.)
In that sense, Malaysian artist Red Hong Yi stands apart. Her works tend to spread out across large surface areas, extending through space with, seemingly, little concern for the increasingly cramped nature of the continent, and more specifically, China. With the Middle Kingdom's growth comes an influx of industry and a changing identity, mirroring the artist's practice and professional trajectory. As China continues to evolve past its perception as the Factory of the World, Hong Yi's approach has changed alongside it.
“When I first started creating art with everyday materials back in 2012, my inspiration came from seeing how much was manufactured in abundance in China,” Hong Yi says. “My art is perhaps a critique of our time and China as a manufacturing powerhouse, and the pros and cons that come with it.”
Image provided by Hong Yi
Since her large-scale works of art have come into the eye of the public (she was included amongst the top female asian artists of 2018 by The Artling) Hong Yi’s approach to how she creates, what she uses to create and where she creates have all begun to adjust to the impossibly fast nature of artistic consciousness in China.
“Over the years I have grown to be more mindful of the materials I am using and what messages are sent across when I use such materials. Awareness through campaigns, documentaries and simply through conversations has made me want to be more responsible – not just with art but with every aspect of my life,” Hong Yi tells us, in reference to her changing mindset.
Her latest work, Aurora, is a billowing installation that makes use of the discarded glass covers of Honor smartphones, in Hong Kong. It's at once an astute act of branding and a visualization of physical waste though the repurposing of material, confronting us with the decisions we as consumers make on a daily, monthly or yearly basis.
Image by Jonathan Zhong/That's
“I think it is important to build awareness around the amount of waste we have gotten ourselves into. I have started thinking more about recycling and reusing because of the awareness that has been built around this subject over recent years.”
Again this raises questions about space, addressing how much a nation of one and a half billion people can consume on a regular basis, while calling attention to what those materials eventually transform into. Hong Yi chooses to repurpose them in a way that shines a light on the growing amount of waste we consume, her way of calling attention to the issue while building an individual solution into her practice.
And while the exhibition is something of a far cry from where she began, by creating patterns out of pumpkin seeds, chopsticks and tea leaves, her attention to what defines the modern world, and more specifically a modern, China remain intact.
Image provided by Red Hong Yi
“The digital age has allowed artists to explore art and design that would not have been possible with only traditional tools. I distinctly remember when technology made a big entrance during my time as an architecture student,” Hong Yi says, speaking to the rapid development of technology. “Suddenly, students were turning to 3D modeling, laser cutting and parametric designing instead of the more traditional hand-drawn, physical model-making skills we were taught in our first and second years.”
It's interesting to consider Hong Yi’s roots. Coming from an architectural background, she was rather less enamored by that line of work, instead finding herself drawn to the art of tiny objects, rather than the art of buildings. You have to wonder, what would a building made by Hong Yi resemble? While we may not ever know, we can dwell upon her art and imagine, just as she takes simple pieces and imagines whole worlds, vortex and vertebrae for us, her fascinated viewers to embrace in awe.
[Cover image by Jonathan Zhong/That's]