“The Moon is leaving us at a rate of 3.78 centimeters per year — the same speed as our fingernails grow.”
Since ancient times, human beings have always been in awe of nature or the mystical universe, with a mix of curiosity and gratitude towards their spectacular and wondrous formation. However in particular, the moon has given us plenty of room for our never-ending fantasies. Some of us create stories about it with our imagination, some of us study about it with various machines, trying to find out what is hiding behind its beauty, and some of us are somewhat in between, studying about it, yet at the same time creating dreamy stories of it. One thing for sure is that, all these people are captivated by the charm and delicacy of the moon, just like Hong Kong artist Phoebe Hui.
“There is a special place in people’s hearts for the Moon. Uninhabitable and remote, it is an imaginary place that encourages exploration and can metaphorically bring closer families and friends who are apart. This symbol of the future and of open possibilities has drawn me in since I can remember.” Phoebe Hui is a creative media artist, her works are experimental and would often explore the subtle relationship between humans, the environment and nature. Her latest large scale installation “The Moon Is Leaving Us” guides her audience first to drop their mundane familiarity about their daily life, then to observe the world from a new perspective, eventually to inspire them to think about the differences between “Things we generally perceive as the truth” and “Things that exist but we can’t see them with our own eyes.”
“The Moon Is Leaving Us” is composed of two pieces of major work namely Selena and Selenite. Selena is a painting robot created by Phoebe Hui, it is designed to be able to draw a delicate portrait of the moon through data input. Selenite is a robot that consists of 48 arms arranged in a parabolic shape, on each arm there is a screen installed to project different images of the moon. Together with some ancient astronomical observation maps and NASA’s latest public data, she reconstructed the moon through advanced science and technology, so as to stimulate her audience to think about our transcendently far but close relationship with the moon. “I have aspired to transform the space in Tai Kwun into an urban sanctuary for audiences to explore, reflect, build, or re-build their relationships with our universe.”
The exhibition is held in Tai Kwun, an establishment that is full of historical traces. In a room assembled by red brick walls, it is filled up with research materials about the moon, Selena the painting robot and some of its parts. There is also an interesting part of the exhibition, you will see a “wrongly painted” drawing of the moon surface done by Selena, it is intended to bring out the idea that a painting robot, which is designed with such precision and delicacy will also have emotions and “errors”.
Coming with the advancement of technology, will the moon be farther away from or closer to us? Is it going to leave the earth to somewhere else? Well, scientists say this may take billions of years, or it might not even happen at all. Nonetheless, our exploration of the moon will never stop, since the moment we look up to the sky and are fascinated by its dewy gleams.
O：Obscura P：Phoebe Hui
O: Can you share the ideas of The Moon is Leaving us with us?
P: The Moon has a special place in people’s hearts, a symbol of the future and an imaginary place that encourages exploration and suggests open possibilities. The idea started when I visited Audemars Piguet in Le Brassus. During my stay, I was invited for dinner at a family-run restaurant located by the snowy mountain’s gentle slopes. We took a short walk in the mountains and the experience of walking on snow at night illuminated by the moonlight was unique and awe inspiring– especially for an artist who was born and lives in Hong Kong. It is then that I started researching the Moon and embarked on a journey of discovery, which has culminated in this project.
O: What do you want to explain through this work?
P: My work more generally is about building, or rebuilding, our relationship with the universe. For The Moon is Leaving Us, I wanted to encourage viewers to step away from our limited understanding of what’s around us, our immediate surroundings and the daily challenges that face us, to question our existence and the wider wonders of the universe.
O: Can you talk more about the working process of this work? What is the difficult part?
P: As a research based artist, research was a large part of my process for the project. I spent a lot of time reading historic references to the Moon, including the first book to include a detailed map of the Moon, the 1647 edition of Selenographia, sive Lunae descriptio by astronomer Johannes Hevelius, as well as modern writings including the latest data published by NASA. The Audemars Piguet Contemporary team also facilitated introductions to scientists, engineers and a former astronaut to help with my research and to exchange ideas.
Covid-19 was probably the most difficult part of the process and like many people around the world, I faced unforeseen difficulties. I was happy to face my challenges though and I am very proud of what I achieved, along with the team supporting me. My research process was the area that had to be adapted the most, however, we live in a world where technology is so advanced that a lot is possible digitally. Meetings with scientists, curators and production teams had to take place online, which was strange at first, but we quickly got used to the new normal and embraced it. We have been able to produce some truly great things, regardless of these challenges.
O: What do you think about the relationship between human and nature?
P: Fundamentally, my work is about our relationship with nature – we are so fixated on it, and this piece raises questions about the ways in which humanity sees and interprets it, specifically the Moon. I think people in general feel a mysterious attraction towards it. It is beautiful, and distanced, yet intimate and we find a lot of nostalgia in it. This is one of the reasons that I personally have long been attached to the Moon and decided to focus on it for this project.
O: How can we understand the moon or galaxy through contemporary art?
P: Both artists and scientists use visual media in their work. Scientists use various tools like the telescope to observe phenomena beyond our limited human point of view. These technological devices often generate innovative images that have both scientific and aesthetic value. In producing images, scientists need to think about what information to include and what to leave out. In a way, they are like artists who have to understand the importance of visual literacy. Contemporary art brings new perspectives to the table. The Moon is Leaving Us has manydifferent layers and can be interpreted in many different ways. I am looking forward to hearing how the public experiences the work and how it touches them differently.