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Mak2 Claims Her Future in House of Fortune
de Sarthe | Sponsored Content

In Conversation with
Stephanie Bailey
Hong Kong, 13 October 2021

Mak2. © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

Mak2 Claims Her Future in House of Fortune

Mak2. © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

In 2018, a Fengshui master advised artist Mak Ying Tung to add a '2' to her name in order to attract fame and fortune. In 2021, the artist decided to maximise this fateful potential by shortening her name further to Mak2.

This entangling of metaphysical and material manifestation lies at the heart of House of Fortune, the artist's latest exhibition at de Sarthe in Hong Kong (16 October–4 December 2021), the artist's third with the gallery.

Central to the exhibition is Feeding the Multitude (2021): a pile of 3D-printed crystals created from a single digital file that was blessed in a Kaiguang consecration ritual by a Fengshui master.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Earth 2 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 200 x 150 cm (Each panel: 66.7 x 150 cm). © Mak 2.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Earth 2 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 200 x 150 cm (Each panel: 66.7 x 150 cm). © Mak 2. Courtesy de Sarthe.
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Over this mound run two video projections screening two sets of binary code on a loop. The first was generated from the file containing the 3D crystal model, the other from the audio recording of the master's sanctification.

In this multimedia installation, Mak2 reflects on the manufacturing of belief, enmeshing ideas around faith, materiality, immateriality, and reproduction in the context of religion and technology: both complex systems that are as intangible as they are pervasive.

Exhibition view: Mak2, House of Fortune, de Sarthe, Hong Kong (16 October–4 December 2021). © Mak2.

Exhibition view: Mak2, House of Fortune, de Sarthe, Hong Kong (16 October–4 December 2021). © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

The use of technology to blur boundaries between the real and the constructed is something of a hallmark in Mak2's practice.

For Robot Mak Mak (2019), the artist used deepfake technology to superimpose her face onto that of humanoid AI robot Sophia, while video installation Out of Body Experience (2018–2019), which resonates with the ghost in the machine aura of the artist's blessed 3D-printed crystals, articulates a trip to Los Angeles that Mak2 took with her soul using magic purchased online.

Exhibition view: Mak2, House of Fortune, de Sarthe, Hong Kong (16 October–4 December 2021). © Mak2.

Exhibition view: Mak2, House of Fortune, de Sarthe, Hong Kong (16 October–4 December 2021). © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

Humour plays a paradoxically serious role across Mak2's work; a playful response to the futility of conditions that are ultimately experienced subjectively, no matter how collective.

Take Physicality II (2018), for which two Dyson fans border a collection of framed sheets of thermal paper whose surfaces are affected by the one fan on heating mode and the other on cool; or Mr. Fool Wants to Move the Mountains (2018), where robotic vacuum cleaners are let loose in a gallery containing large mounds of sand.

Exhibition view: Mak2, Mr. Fool Wants to Move the Mountains, de Sarthe, Hong Kong (19 May–22 July 2018). © Mak2.

Exhibition view: Mak2, Mr. Fool Wants to Move the Mountains, de Sarthe, Hong Kong (19 May–22 July 2018). © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

The conceptual underpinnings of Mak2's practice comes through in the reference behind Mr. Fool Wants to Move the Mountains: When Faith Moves Mountains, a 2002 intervention by Francis Alÿs that saw 500 people walk up a sand dune in a line while shovelling sand upwards.

At the same time, the compilation of shower curtains and bathmats depicting tropical shores in A More Perfect Sea (2019) speaks to those found landscapes composing Hans Peter-Feldmann's 'Horizons' series, another conceptual artist who balances serious questions around representation with accessible, witty gestures.

Mak2, Physicality II (2018). Dyson fans, thermal paper. Dimensions variable. ©Mak2.

Mak2, Physicality II (2018). Dyson fans, thermal paper. Dimensions variable. ©Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

In the case of You Better Watch Out (2017), which was included in an exhibition co-presented by MoMA PS1 and K11 Art Foundation in Hong Kong (.com/.cn, 21 March–30 April 2017), a giant snow globe hosts colourful balls printed with QR codes that link viewers to an image of themselves captured on CCTV when their phones scan them. A concise reflection on the surveillance practices embedded in seemingly innocent forms of entertainment.

Mak2, You Better Watch Out (2017). Sponge balls, PVC plastic, inflatable snow globe, IP camera system. 218 x 330 x 260 cm. © Mak2.

Mak2, You Better Watch Out (2017). Sponge balls, PVC plastic, inflatable snow globe, IP camera system. 218 x 330 x 260 cm. © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

There is a sense that humour operates as a mode of accessibility in Mak2's work. Take the video 'What Does Art Even Mean to You?', which appears on her YouTube channel, where a whole subset of videos, including candid captures of blind dates, can be found.

Mak2 begins a boilerplate description of her 'Home Sweet Home' painting series (2019): triptychs created from environments the artist builds in the Sims 4 simulation video game, which she divides into parts and commissions different painters to reproduce through the e-commerce site Taobao.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Fire 4 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 120 x 213 cm (Each panel: 120 x 71 cm). © Mak2.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Fire 4 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 120 x 213 cm (Each panel: 120 x 71 cm). © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

A sub-set of these works, 'Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting', are on view in House of Fortune, depicting Sims spaces arranged according to a Fengshui master's consultation. 'This series is about the disparity between reality and'—before the word fantasy is uttered, the artist stops. 'Fuck it. I can't do this anymore.'

The video moves to a clip 'two hours earlier' in which Mak2 delivers a script-perfect articulation of the conceptual inquiry into reality and virtuality, authorship and creative control, that infuses these works, against a sped-up karaoke instrumental version of 'My Heart Will Go On.'

Mak2, Sound of Music (2017). Dual channel video, audio set, red carpet, gold drapes, foam lettering, LED lights, disco ball. Dimensions variable. © Mak2.

Mak2, Sound of Music (2017). Dual channel video, audio set, red carpet, gold drapes, foam lettering, LED lights, disco ball. Dimensions variable. © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

The art world has often been a subject of Mak2's work. Included in Sound of Music (2017), a replica Hong Kong karaoke stage, are custom-made karaoke videos, among them one with 'art' as the only lyric set against 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town', and the other titled 'Who Doesn't Like Galleries' set to the epic Chinese ballad 'Strangers When We Met'.

Less direct, perhaps, is Fake Laugh (2018-2019), a six-channel video installation showing close-up portraits of the artist's family and friends.

Mak2, Fake Laugh (2018–2019). Six-screen video installation. Ed. 1 + 1 AP. Dimensions variable. © Mak2.

Mak2, Fake Laugh (2018–2019). Six-screen video installation. Ed. 1 + 1 AP. Dimensions variable. © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

A critique of art infuses her latest exhibition, too, when thinking about the conflation of faith and value, particularly in two installations at the centre of the gallery, where two bedrooms have been reconstructed, each with an LED screen installed in a bed.

In Clever Calculation I, a video shows a data scientist predicting the trajectory of the artist's career, while Clever Calculation II shows a hired actress acting the role of Fengshui master predicting that the artist will become famous according to a script based on Mak2's interactions with online fortune tellers.

In this conversation, Mak2 elaborates on the web of ideas that intersect in House of Fortune, reflecting on ideas of control, value, and what it means to be an artist.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: I Make Babies 3 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 200 x 150 cm. © Mak2.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: I Make Babies 3 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 200 x 150 cm. © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

SBFor House of Fortune, you asked a Fengshui master to bless a crystal that you rendered as a 3D model and then replicated through 3D printing. Do you personally think these 3D crystals are blessed through the original?

M2Yes I do! Otherwise how can I convince you to believe it?

SBDid the Fengshui master know of your plan, when it came to replicating the blessed crystal, and also saving his blessing on an audio file, which could technically extend his blessing to whomever obtained it?

M2Yes! He was well aware of it. He was introduced to me by my artist friend, Damon Tong. The Fengshui master was his classmate. They went to Hong Kong Art School together. So, there were no obstacles when I explained my concept to him. And when I consulted him on how to bless a 3D file, it was his idea to turn the spell and 3D file into code and place one over the other.

Mak2, Robot Mak Mak (2019). Digital video with dual channel video. 1 min 45 sec. Dimensions variable. © Mak2.

Mak2, Robot Mak Mak (2019). Digital video with dual channel video. 1 min 45 sec. Dimensions variable. © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

SBYou also worked with an actress who plays a Fengshui master in the video for Clever Calculation II, with a script based on your interactions with online fortune telling services.

What was your experience of these online services, and how has it affected your understanding of fortune telling, the human desire to know the future, and the capitalisation of uncertainty?

M2I started to employ birth chart readers on Taobao whenever I had a fight with my ex-boyfriend two or three years ago. Even after we broke up, I still hired them when I had self-doubt about my career. I treated them almost like affordable, instant, and private psychologists, which gave me comfort when the unknown was revealed.

Mak2, Out of Body Experience (2018–2019). Vinyl, PC computer, screens rock salt, light, tissues, two digital videos. 2 min 37 sec. Dimensions variable. © Mak2.

Mak2, Out of Body Experience (2018–2019). Vinyl, PC computer, screens rock salt, light, tissues, two digital videos. 2 min 37 sec. Dimensions variable. © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

I screen-captured our conversations and saved them into a file so I could check whether predictions were accurate or not later. It turned out predictions about my relationship were correct. It really amazed me, because the online fortune tellers never saw me and knew my name, but they deduced conclusions based on my birthday alone!

There is a difference with seeing a fortune teller in person, because if the meeting is face-to-face, there would be a lot more to tell based on how I look, how I talk, and my reaction to the fortune teller's questions. It made me wonder whether life is just another system, rather than being unpredictable. If that is the case, what are the rules behind it?

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting Metal 2 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 200 x 150 cm (Each panel: 66.7 x 150 cm). © Mak2.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting Metal 2 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 200 x 150 cm (Each panel: 66.7 x 150 cm). © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.
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SBIt's often been said that the economic system has a lot in common with fortune telling, given both are future-oriented and speculative, with the market often following opaque logics that can be manipulated by those with the knowledge, power, and access to do so. What are your thoughts?

M2That's a very interesting question. My prompt answer to this is that when it comes to human behaviours, I don't think they are that speculative.

When you look at how human nature has been conceptualised by Sigmund Freud, for example, and how his ideas were then manipulated by big corporations to control desires of the crowd in an age of mass of democracy, you can tell there are some patterns to trace.

Exhibition view: Mak2, Home Sweet Home, de Sarthe, Hong Kong (23 November 2019–11 January 2020). © Mak2.

Exhibition view: Mak2, Home Sweet Home, de Sarthe, Hong Kong (23 November 2019–11 January 2020). © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

I guess no matter whether we are psychologists, financial elites, or just ordinary people, we have a tendency to predict things based on our own knowledge, as it gives us a sense of security. We plant our hope for the future, just like in the past, people planted hope for their crops. It is in our D.N.A. that we believe we can behold and foresee the future.

The question to me is, am I aware of this default setting? Am I constrained by this setting? If so, what can I do to liberate myself from it?

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: In the Same Breath 5 (2020). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 120 x 213 cm. © Mak2.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: In the Same Breath 5 (2020). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 120 x 213 cm. © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.
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SBMy next question relates to the art market, particularly when thinking about the data scientist that appears in Clever Calculation I, who predicts the trajectory of your career based on data you've provided, which seems to reflect how markets can be manipulated according to numbers that are not always objective or transparent.

You also demonstrate this in Timeless, in which you show how commerce can elevate ordinary objects into collector's items. What is it like to navigate this terrain while critiquing it?

M2Just like when you don't have many choices, but you still have to do something, you create your own shortcuts and learn to navigate these shortcuts like a snake.

I guess no matter whether we are psychologists, financial elites, or just ordinary people, we have a tendency to predict things based on our own knowledge, as it gives us a sense of security.

SBHow would you define value, and how would you define the value of art?

M2Value is a psychological construct. It is created based on collective beliefs and authoritative endorsements. The same concept can be applied to money, art, stocks, NFTs, and so on.

Mak2, Timeless (2020). 3D print TPU. Editions of 50. © Mak2.

Mak2, Timeless (2020). 3D print TPU. Editions of 50. © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

SBI wanted to ask about the 'Home Sweet Home' painting series, which has been updated with the added component of a Fengshui master's advice regarding each space's composition.

When thinking about the original series, where you've talked about having control in creating your spaces but having little control when sending each segment to the painters you worked with, how has the series evolved with this new dimension of Fengshui?

M2The idea of 'digital Fengshui' popped up in my mind one day, so I decided to invite a Fengshui master to take a look at the Fengshui in the rooms I created in Sims.

The process of creating these spaces was harder than I thought, because I had to listen to the master's advice while maintaining a nice composition for the intended painting. Compared to the previous paintings, there are more limitations in making the Fengshui painting series.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Wood 2 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 200 x 150 cm (Each panel: 120 x 71 cm). © Mak2.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Wood 2 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 200 x 150 cm (Each panel: 120 x 71 cm). © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

SBWhat does control mean to you?

M2When I was younger, my feeling toward the word 'control' was more negative. I often felt I was controlled by society and people around, for example, my dad, the church, the norm, the hierarchy of the art world, and so forth. As you can see in my early works, I often make fun of the system.

I actually find it ironic that now I am actually trying to gain more control as an artist in the global art world system by giving out control of my artistic decisions to people.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Water 2 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 120 x 213 cm (Each panel: 120 x 71 cm). © Mak2.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Water 2 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 120 x 213 cm (Each panel: 120 x 71 cm). © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

SBCould you share how you decided to become an artist? What was it like as you developed your practice, both through the educational system and then later in the art world system?

M2I became an artist mainly because I didn't want a full-time job. It sounds like a joke, but it is not. I have problems following instructions. For example, I could not understand how a board game works by reading its pamphlet.

Throughout most of my studies, I did a lot of drawing on my computer and thought I wanted to be an illustrator. At the time, I started an illustration brand called 'Kiddoes'.

In my third year at university, I went travelling around Europe and visited a lot of art exhibitions. I saw an artwork by Maurizio Cattelan called Less Than Ten Items (1997) and was deeply inspired by it. It is a powerful work of art, not only because of its wit, but also his careful observation of objects and strong statement about consumerism. Then I realised I wanted to be an artist; that I wanted to make art.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Earth 1 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 215 x 380 cm (Each panel: 215 x 126.7 cm). © Mak2.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Earth 1 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 215 x 380 cm (Each panel: 215 x 126.7 cm). © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.
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When the iPhone 4 was introduced in 2010, Facebook and Instagram became really popular, and there was really cool Tumblr magazine called The Jogging, which was founded by Brad Troemel, one of the pioneers of the Post-Internet movement.

I really wanted my art to be published on it, so I came up with the idea of Sterilization (2012), where I took all the seeds off of a strawberry. It got published and went viral.

The following year, I was invited by Hans-Ulrich Obrist to join the 89plus panel at Art Basel Hong Kong. I didn't know who he was at the time. I was just an art student. Suddenly I was under the spotlight, and this was how I entered the art world. The spotlight didn't really last very long, though, and I struggled being an artist for several years until recently.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Sunflower Pool 6 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 120 x 213 cm. © Mak2.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Sunflower Pool 6 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 120 x 213 cm. © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

SBYou've said that you don't consider your YouTube video a part of your artistic practice; why?

M2Because making YouTube videos is my hobby.

SBHumour takes centre stage in your YouTube videos—you even show a clip of you doing stand-up for the first time. What does humour mean to you as an artist?

M2It is something that comes naturally to me, just as some people are more serious and some people are not. And I'm seriously funny.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Water 1 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 200 x 355 cm (Each panel: 200 x 118.3 cm). © Mak2.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Water 1 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 200 x 355 cm (Each panel: 200 x 118.3 cm). © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.

SBHow does humour change for you when you make art compared to when you do stand-up or make a YouTube video?

M2I guess the humour in the art mode is sarcastic, witty, and sometimes dark; and the humour in YouTube is awkward and punchy.

I'm still polishing my stand-up skills. I find that this is the hardest among all genres when it comes to humour. It is all about the moment on the stage; audiences react to the same joke differently on different occasions. I am going take lessons from a master. I hope that will help polish my skills!

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Wood 1 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 215 x 380 cm (Each panel: 215 x 380 cm). © Mak2.

Mak2, Home Sweet Home: Feng Shui Painting, Wood 1 (2021). Acrylic on canvas, triptych. 215 x 380 cm (Each panel: 215 x 380 cm). © Mak2. Courtesy de Sarthe.
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SBI have to ask about the biography you gave as part of your Para Site Paid Studio Visit presentation; a parody of the privileged art world, populated by people with inherited wealth. How did you create this composite character?

M2This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons is entirely coincidental.

SBWhat advice would you give to younger artists charting their own future in the arts?

M2Don't die too young. —[O]

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