I came to know about Angel Hui Hoi Kiu because of a toilet paper roll. The encounter took place a few years ago at an exhibition where she showcased her Qinghua (literally “blue flowers” ) work on toilet paper. The collection includes a piece in which a dragon, a legendary creature in Chinese mythology, is painted on the bleached white toilet paper. The long-bodied dragon hovers over the equally long toilet roll. The blue motif imitates patterns of Chinese blue-on-white porcelain and the exquisite details of the dragon’s scales and claws are simply mesmerizing. I paid a visit to Angel’s studio and was surprised to find that there was an antique wooden cabinet filled with rolls of toilet paper. “Do you use these for your work?” I couldn’t help asking. Angel laughed and said, “The 3-ply papers are for personal use. Not the 2-ply ones though. But for future work, I’d probably get some new rolls.” Angel has rolls of toilet paper piling up in her studio because of the toilet paper-buying frenzy that occurred early last year when the pandemic hit. She is known among friends for being super-rich in terms of toilet paper. “When I first started this series, my house was full of toilet paper, and my family didn’t dare to touch them since they had no idea whether those papers could be used.” Angel looks a bit unapproachable; but in fact, she has a very amiable personality. This kind of contradiction can be found in her work too — transforming everyday objects into exquisite pieces of art; finding peculiar in the ordinary. Contradictions inspire us to reconsider and blur the line between everyday objects and art.
被譽為新晉的水墨藝術家，Angel卻認為自己專注的不是水墨，而是實驗藝術，水墨只是她用來表達作品的其中一種媒介。「做作品時，我會以概念為先，好像是最新的〈膠袋刺繡——香港金魚街〉系列。」初次看見這系列是在今年的Affordable Art Fair，純白色的牆上，整齊地掛上一個個透明的亞加力膠箱，入面展示了一條條「袋裝金魚」。人們在金魚前上下觀看、細緻打量，猶如置身於人來人往的金魚街。「我習慣在工作室附近的超級市場買樽裝水，忘記了帶環保袋時，會用他們提供的膠袋。當我走上往工作室必經的斜路時，這些膠袋通常會突然破掉，水樽東歪西倒，讓我很狼狽。這些破爛了的膠袋失去了載物功能，變得沒有用處。於是我決定要做一個關於爛膠袋的系列，除了加上藝術的價值，還有香港的文化特色，所以用了一掛起來便讓人聯想到是金魚街的賣金魚膠袋。」
Though known as an emerging ink artist, Angel finds herself focusing more on experimental art rather than ink work. Ink is merely one of the mediums in which she expresses herself. “Concept always comes first when I create. My latest series, Embroidery on the plastic bag – Hong Kong Goldfish Street, is an example.” I first saw the series at this year’s Affordable Art Fair. Bags of goldfish were displayed inside the transparent acrylic boxes that were hung neatly on a pure white wall. Visitors lingering in front of this wall of goldfish, carefully observing and inspecting, mimic the scene that takes place everyday at the Goldfish Street in Hong Kong. “I have a habit of buying bottled water from a supermarket nearby the studio. Sometimes when I forget to bring my own bag, I’d use the plastic bags they provided. However, as I walk up the ramp that leads to my studio, the plastic bag would inevitably break apart and the water bottles would fall everywhere. It’s very frustrating. These broken bags became useless as they lost their function of carrying items. So I decided to create a series about torn plastic bags that come with both artistic value and unique characteristics of Hong Kong culture. I chose to work with the plastic bags that people can easily associate with those from Goldfish Street.”
“Plastic bags are cheap. It’s not a big deal at all to throw them in the trash. So what can we do to make people want to keep them?” Angel decided to change the function of the plastic bags, and in addition, she added value to them by soliciting help from the embroiderers from Suzhou to embroider goldfish of different colors, appearances, and forms on the bags. The embroidered bags can no longer serve their normal functions like holding water, but they have since become pieces of fine and exquisite craftsmanship. “It means a lot that the embroiderers from Suzhou participated in this project. It is a dialogue between traditional and contemporary art. When I first approached the embroiderers, they said no because in their minds, embroidery can only be done on fine fabric. Embroidering on plastic bags was beyond their imagination. After multiple attempts, they finally agreed to try something new.” Angel said that the initial work didn’t look good at all. She had to show the embroiderers photos of goldfish for reference and communicate with them in detail so that they knew where the goldfish should be, how they should look, the colors, and color transitions etc. The final output looks very much like the real thing that some people even messaged her on Instagram to ask her if the goldfish are real. “For the new series, we will have a pair of goldfish and some seaweed embroidered on each plastic bag, and the bags will be hung on mesh wire, just like what you’d see in Goldfish Street.”
Angel的工作室並不大，卻充滿著生活感，不同時期的作品凌亂地散落在各處，新的、舊的，像一場自我對話。用萬字夾砌成的清朝文官朝服、拿著防疫用品的千手觀音畫像，還有戴上口罩的〈戴珍珠耳環的少女〉。「今年初，我在大館辦了《瘋狂新世界》的個人展覽，延續仿藍白色的青花水墨，呈現當下世界的狀態。我模仿了燒瓷上的圖案，畫了戴著口罩的名畫主角，圍著他們的是一些日常的東西，如消毒用品和社交媒體。我把這系列叫作《My Little Hong Kong》。我會說這種藍是維多利亞港的藍，是反映著藍天的海港。」
Angel’s studio is not big, but it is full of life. The work she has produced over the years are scattered all over the place; as if there is a dialogue going on between the new and old pieces. There is a Qing dynasty official court robe made of paper clips, a painting of the Thousand-Hand Guanyin (Buddhist bodhisattva) who has various COVID-related hygiene products in her hands, and the Girl with a Pearl Earring who is also wearing a surgical mask. “At the beginning of this year, I held a solo exhibition in Tai Kwun called, Bewildered World. I wish to show what the current world is like through my blue-and-white ink designs. Inspired by the look of porcelain paintings, I reproduced some famous art pieces, but, what’s different is that the protagonists are all wearing masks and surrounded by things we see everyday, such as cleaning and disinfection supplies and social media. I named this series, My Little Hong Kong. I would say that this blue is the blue of Victoria Harbour. A harbour that reflects the blue sky of Hong Kong.”
With so much of her art constructed from toilet paper, paper clips, plastic bags, and razor blades, we might be able to conclude that there are two recurring themes in Angel’s work: reflection on daily life, as well as the deconstructing and redefining of the function of daily objects. “I sewed these razor blades on the qipao (Chinese-style dress) by hand. Because it’s so easy to get cut, I need to wear gloves to protect myself. In fact, razor blades can get extremely close to our skin, yet we can’t wear them because we might get hurt. Qipao represents the gentleness and softness of women, which makes a great contrast to razor blades that are often associated with toughness and aggressiveness. But still, I’ll leave it to the audience for interpretation. Sometimes it’s better to speak less.” These blades look like sequins from a distance. They even sparkle under the spotlights. You can feel their power with imagination. Angel wishes to create more using common daily objects. “I hope that in ten years, I can replace all daily necessities in my room with my own artworks. I am not worried at all. I have ten years to work on it.