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Hung Keung: Dao Gives Birth to One

Manchester's Chinese Arts Centre presents the artist's award-winning video installation, fusing animated calligraphy and human interaction

For the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester, new media artist Hung Keung presents his award-winning video installation ‘Dao Gives Birth to One’. The work relates the ambiguous identity of Hong Kong, where East meets West, through the use of animated calligraphy and human interaction. The software Hung Keung created reacts according to colour differences in skin tone and movement, producing an interactive experience for viewers.

I checked the dictionary Shuōwén Jiězì. Amazing, when I opened it, ‘one’ is positioned in the first page, first chapter, first word. It’s not in alphabetic order

Dazed Digital: What drew you toward the concept of ‘Dao Gives Birth to One’?
Hung Keung:
Since thousands of years ago til now as Chinese people we need to imagine what kinds of meaning ‘give birth’ or ‘generate’ have.

DD: What is the meaning of ‘One’ in Chinese?
Hung Keung:
I checked the dictionary Shuōwén Jiězì. Amazing, when I opened it, ‘one’ is positioned in the first page, first chapter, first word. It’s not in alphabetic order. So I said, what happened? Then they explained the meaning of one is to divide the universe into two parts, heaven and the earth, and then that’s it. I imagine that ‘one’ is actually quite lonely because he has finished his job, dividing the world into two parts. Afterwards, it’s quite lonely with no function at all.

DD: In your work, language multiplies onscreen when it interacts in real-time with human form. Why would one character when connected with a human being become two, then three, and eventually a phrase or sentence?
Hung Keung:
Some of our Chinese characters are from pictograms. I checked about the history of pictograms and most of the pictograms first evolved from our human eyesight and human body. So we tried to create something that we can see from far away and translate it into a graphic. The Chinese characters are built through our human observation. I created one in this virtual world which is really lonely, but when this character has a connection to our human parts, it divides into two then into three, etc… This is why it’s important for the work to have an interaction with the human body.

DD: Describe the audio in the work.
Hung Keung:
It’s random. We went to the street and recorded some Cantonese, some Mandarin. You can hear some people are just talking. It’s ordinary life dialogues. It was recorded in Hong Kong and throughout China. It’s important because we share the same writing, but we have a different language.

DD: How does the animation represent conceptual elements of Chinese calligraphy?
Hung Keung:
We have two forms of Chinese characters. One you can see the stroke is moving. You see how they write this way. These represent the spatial element. Another character you see they are flipping. When we read the Chinese philosophy, some of the scholars that analyse Chinese characters they say that even though Chinese characters is a writing on the plane of a surface, the way to make the characters is through multiple perspective. In the work, this is imagined in multiple perspectives.

Hung Keung’s ‘Dao Gives Birth to One’ is on display at the Chinese Arts Centre from 6 July to 1 September 2012