The artist who produces oil paintings of video game landscapes, talks about the emerging art scene in Hong Kong
Chun Hei Wong is one of a growing group of emerging artists who are altering the Hong Kong and regional art scene through their artist run spaces on the industrial fringes of one of Asia's most exciting urban conglomerations. As western galleries, institutions and curators make a beeline for HK and China we speak to artist, curator and underground protagonist Chun Hei Wong about his video game paintings and what it means to be an artist working in HK today.
Dazed Digital: When I first saw your work in a Soho gallery in Hong Kong I think it was the first time I saw an oil painting of a landscape in a video game. It was a sports car parked overlooking a beautiful green valley. How did that series of work come about?
Chun Hei Wong: I have been doing the series of painting "Video Game Landscapes" for 3 years since 2008. This series stresses on the growing importance of the virtual sceneries on people's visual experience nowadays. Whenever you walk on streets or take the trains, it is not hard to find people playing with their portable game machine, i-phones and the like. Besides, with the progression in computer graphics, the imitation of reality in the virtual world can really shock the participants. This was a starting point when I felt scenery in video games could be
targeted for landscape painting.
DD: I was struck by how familiar that sort of imagery was in our daily lives and yet hauntingly dystopian at the same time. What is your view on the semiotics of video game scenery?
Chun Hei Wong: I think the feelings people have about video games are dynamic, active, speedy and also fake at times. I have found when audiences come across my paintings, they find them peaceful and calm - static landscapes. I feel the reason for this is that I target scenes which could be easily neglected by players. For example in the car racing games, people normally just put focus on speed. For me, I drive the car very slowly to find the most beautiful composition in the game, then stop the car to paint the landscape. I also like that the original game rules are subverted in order to create the work.
DD: The industrial / warehousing area of Fotan where your studio is located at the northern edge of HK territory bordering China. There were many artists already living and working in this area, has the scene grown over the last few years?
The number of studios in Fotan has kept on growing over the past few years. Every year we have an Open Studio programme which allows people to visit studios and chat with artists. I find that many new studios are forming every year mostly by new graduates from universities.
DD: Are you optimistic about Asia's future? How does the role of the artist fit into society? What is the role of the artist today.
Chun Hei Wong: It is a fact that China nowadays has growing influence in international matters. I don't have much feeling on this. What I would consider however is how people nowadays in different locations are dealing with matters such as the influence of internet, the shrinking distance among people, the problems of environmental protection, etc. And though the role of artist has changed in different periods of time, the focus on critique and bring new ways of seeing in their artistic practice has never changed.
DD: Will the new West Kowloon Cultural district area be a catalyst for artistic expression in the HK and what does it mean for the independent art scene in the city?
Chun Hei Wong: Actually this is what individual artists, bands and theatrical troupes are arguing about with the government nowadays. They feel the government is developing so many large scale performance spaces on an international level in the West Kowloon Cultural District, and it is becoming difficult for some smaller groups to use and gain access to these spaces.