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  • Writer's pictureSasha Huang

Artist Kongkee on His Hong Kong Exhibition: Kongkee: Warring States Cyberpunk — Exclusive Interview

INTERVIEW




Kongkee, also known as Kong Khong-chang, stands out in the contemporary art scene for his unique blend of past and future, merging historical narratives with cyberpunk visions. Based in Hong Kong and London, his latest exhibition, Kongkee: Warring States Cyberpunk, showcases a unique blend of history and futuristic imagination, bringing the ancient story of Chinese poet Qu Yuan into a vivid cyberpunk realm. From his high school fascination with colour nuances and printing techniques, Kongkee has developed a distinctive style that incorporates vivid, dramatic colours and iconic Hong Kong landmarks, presenting a futuristic yet unmistakably local decadence.


The exhibition, which toured from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco to Wrightwood 659 in Chicago, and finally Tai Kwun Contemporary in the artist's home, Hong Kong, highlights Kongkee's artistry in intertwining comic book aesthetics with motion pictures to create a speculative journey through time. At its core is Kongkee's 2013 comic series Mi Luo Virtual, the precursor to his cyberpunk universe and the animated film Dragon's Delusion. The film reimagines the life of the ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan, projecting his resurrection 2200 years later into a cyberpunk future. This artistic exploration bridges the ancient Warring States period with a futuristic vision, prompting reflections on human desires that span history. Against Tai Kwun's historical backdrop, the exhibition combines traditional artistry with modern technology, challenging perceptions and exploring the endless possibilities of imagination.


In our exclusive interview, Kongkee opens up about his creative journey, the process behind his Hong Kong exhibition, offering insights into his philosophy of blending historical depth with futuristic imagination to explore and reimagine the landscapes of time.


Exhibition timeline: 9 December 2023 - 3 March 2024



Time Pause Became Mountain, Time Move Became Water

1. How would you describe your artistic style?

This is a tough question because I'm not always focused on how my styles look like. Usually, I just focus on the topic that I like to work on. I can share the style that I wish I can be. I wish that my style can be fresh, primitive and original. Style is the byproduct of an artist who is trying to find the answer to where he likes to go. When the artist is trying to solve a problem or find the answer to some specific topic, during the process, the style will naturally generate.


2. What would you say would be the problem that you are solving with this exhibition, Kongkee: Warring States Cyberpunk?

The goal of the exhibition is to build a platform for the past and present; for us to communicate with our ancestors, to see how we are actually dealing with the technology. And, under the exploration of the philosophy of technology, it is how we survive and how we try to use this innovation to fulfil our desires. No matter if you were living in the Warring States 2000 years ago or nowadays, we are facing the new challenge of AI, the new algorithm.


We are more or less the same, trying to use technology to fulfil our desire to become immortal or to get more attention from others, get more likes, get more followers. It's all coming from the desire that you feel you will never be enough.

The Warring States Cyberpunk exhibition is trying to revisit the past to, maybe, know more about our natures. So that we can use their wisdom to address our problems nowadays. This is the problem, this is the topic that we'd like to study more in this exhibition.



Dragon’s Delusion

3. How would you say this exhibition is different from your previous works?

The Hong Kong station is the third stop of the exhibition. The biggest difference is about the space, it's about the heritage itself. The heritage of Tai Kwun itself is the police station from 160 years ago from the British colonel's era.


It's kind of like the giant antique that we used in the exhibition in San Francisco at the Asian Art Museum. We had put the bronze antique parallel with my LED animations to give you a space where the work itself has its own dialogue through the light, through the setup.


But in the Hong Kong Tai Kwun, we don't have those bronze objects, motifs and antiques. So, we are actually communicating directly to the architecture itself. Tai Kwun is a complex with a prison yard, prison cell and police station. When you visit to navigate through the architecture, you feel a sense that someone is trying to monitor your every move. And in the location that we have, the duplex studio, the atmosphere is quite different. It's like a church. This became the core concept to share with the audience: a theatre with a mixture of a church that people can come by to calm themselves, and to have a place for them to meditate. That's the most different approach from the previous exhibitions.



4. Talking about space and having to play around with different ways of presenting your work, how do you envision your audience connecting with your animation in the Hong Kong's exhibition?

It's the whole city, and reaching the context of the work, Hong Kong, itself, is a cyberpunk city. It's one of the most futuristic cities in the world. When people come to the exhibition, they will find a strong connection with my work, with my animation and the city that we are living in.


In the work, I used a lot of local elements from the Hong Kong city space, the skyline, the neon light sign and super condensed architectures that become one of the most significant backdrops in our storytelling. This kind of mixture, the feeling of when you're watching something that looks so familiar to you but is different from your own experience, is the strange feeling that can only happen in Hong Kong.



The making of Kongkee Warring States Cyberpunk

5. Can you share with us more insights into preparing and curating this exhibition?

This is my hometown, I grew up in Hong Kong. After the shows in San Francisco and Chicago, we had a strong feeling that humankind nowadays is facing a very similar situation. In some sense, we are all refugees. Someone is a refugee of climate change, economic issues, or political issues. We are forced to leave our own culture in some sense, even those who are physically in the same city where they grew up. But we are kind of losing a feeling or losing a connection to our motherhood culture. No matter if you are Latin American, you're African American or so on. This experience tells me that Hong Kong is one of the key puzzles of the big picture.


The new commission work for Tai Kwun, Past / Present / Future / Bleeding / Tearing / Drifting, is like an update on my journey for this whole year. Even though we are separated like an island on our own, underneath that, we are connected somehow. I like to keep this mysterious feeling that even though we don't know each other when you come to Tai Kwun, we can feel connected. That's the feeling and direction that we like to achieve with the team, with our curators for this exhibition.




"Being an artist is trying to be free from the imagination, free from all those rules and boundaries. And that includes understanding yourself."

- Artist Kongkee




Past Present Future Bleeding Tearing Drifting


6. Would you say that this is your way of reconnecting to your home? Do you feel that you have found a new sense of understanding or belonging through this exhibition?

Yes, absolutely! There's another animation work in the show called Dragon's Delusion (one of the three short animation movies showing in the exhibition). The story is about the greatest poet in our history who was born in the Warring States period. The reason why I started writing this character in the first place is because all through his work, he was questioning humanity and how he lost connection with his own country. He was exiled despite loving his country and his king. He was not needed anymore. His work shows his disappointment and questioning why good people need to be suffered. That's the starting point when I'm trying to write these characters.


But, this is a homecoming show. Now that I'm working on this new show, I find that the point is not about how we are being disappointed. It's about how we build a new connection with our hometown or even the earth, the world, in these disappointments. Once you choose to live, you have to do something to build the connection. I'm so lucky that I have the chance for this exhibition to reconnect with this city.



7. If you could give a piece of advice to yourself at the beginning of your creative journey, what would it be?

Just do whatever you want and keep observing your feelings.


Don't let the image of an artist set the boundary of what you can do or what you cannot do. Being an artist is trying to be free from the imagination, free from all those rules and boundaries. And that includes understanding yourself.



Taotie


8. Where do you typically find inspiration for your work?

I guess it's from those things that I don't understand. From the frustration of when you are struggling, the feelings of when you are abandoned. Art has become my saviour. Art saved me from those tragedies. The inspirational sparks are mostly from the time when you feel you are at the lowest point in your life.



9. Do you think you have healed from your work or do you think you've found a way to cope with it? What would you say is the outcome of this exhibition or some of your previous ones?

Some of the work in this exhibition was done during the pandemic time in the 2020s, which is the time that I was trying to use the exhibition venue as a place for people to come and meditate. It's the difference between art and music. When you are listening to music, you're trying to move with the rhythm. But when you're looking at an art piece, no matter if it is or it is not an art piece that you like, you stand still, you hold yourself up, and you stop. That moment when you stop, you build a new connection through silence, through the freezing of time. This experience is really important for me to understand what is art.


After that show in 2020, I'm intentionally trying to keep the audience to stand still in front of the work, to be silent for at least a very short period of time. This process really helped me to heal the trauma or the wound that we have. It's through the moment of silence that you go through the journey to feel the existence of yourself.




Time Pause Became Mountain, Time Move Became Water


10. Can you tell us about any more exciting initiatives in the pipeline?

Actually, I don't have a very concrete plan right now. For the animation, for the story of Dragon's Delusion, we are still moving on. I will keep writing the comic story of the comic book because the animation Dragon's Delusion comes from my comics that we have before. I will keep drawing the story about Qu Yuan, and his clone, the cyborg Zhou, and the story around them. I will keep moving in this direction.


For the exhibition, we don't have a concrete plan right now. But since the exhibition will last until March, I will focus more on how we can connect with more audience to know what is their feelings in the exhibition. This is the short-term goal right now.




"Now that I'm working on this new show, I find that the point is not about how we are being disappointed. It's about how we build a new connection with our hometown or even the earth, the world, in these disappointments."

- Artist Kongkee





Past Present Future Bleeding Tearing Drifting


11. How long do you think the journey of Qu Yuan will be? Do you think it's coming to an end in the short term? Do you have an idea of how it's going to be?

The journey of Qu Yuan is still a long way to go because the topic is too big. I don't think I can find the answer in my life. During different stages of your life, you have different conclusions and different experiences. I'm not really trying to find the ultimate answer.


Through the creative process, I get a chance to know more audience or the curators. It's this process that keeps me going. I'm still trying to find the answer, but the journey that keeps me moving.


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All imagery is provided by Tai Kwun.



Address: Duplex Studio, Block 01, 10 Hollywood Road, Central & Western District, Hong Kong | Website: taikwun.hk/en/programme/detail/kongkee-warring-states-cyberpunk/1298 | Instagram: @taikwun.hk | Facebook: @taikwunhk


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