You acknowledge one of your art tutors as instigating your exploration of the batik fabric by his challenge to you to create “Authentic African work”. However, how did you finally arrive at the use of mannequins in your work – was there a period of trial and mistake, an epiphany moment?
I started using mannequins as a result of a visit to the Victoria & Albert costume department and I was inspired by seeing the colonial dresses.
You accepted an MBE in 2004, adopting the title into your working name, but saying, “it was the last thing you would have expected of me”. Why did you say that?
Because my work is about challenging the establishment so accepting an honour given by the establishment would have been expected to be declined.
Your upcoming exhibition at Pearl Lam will be your first solo show here. I understand the works were made specifically with Hong Kong in mind. In what way can they be viewed as a critique/ response to the city?
The gap between the rich and the poor - whilst going on in HK - is not particularly unique to the city; it’s a shared universal problem.
I understand the Pearl Lam space will be split into two narrow corridors and works will literally climb the walls evoking a sense of constriction, and possibly struggle? Tell me about the decision to change the gallery space, and why that was important to you?
The configuration of the space is more appropriate to the kinds of works I am going to show in the gallery.
There will be a work in the exhibition entitled The Champagne Kids which will feature three individual Victorian children dressed in the batik fabric, playing on chairs with champagne bottles in hand. Please can you tell me more about these particular works?
Champagne Kids are intoxicated kids balanced precariously on chairs. Their behavior is a metaphor for the irresponsibility of the markets during the global financial crisis.
A number of your recent works reference “kids” – Champagne Kids and Revolution Kids for example. Why a focus on this stage of life?
Children are miniature versions of adults and all manifestation of adult behavior can be seen in children. Children are on the receiving end of bad adult behavior and they copy that behavior.
The centerpiece of the Hong Kong exhibition will be a work entitled Cakeman, a life-sized sculpture of an aristocrat dressed in elaborate Victorian dress made out of your trademark batik fabric. My understanding of the work is that it will depict a man bent double carrying a precariously balanced tower of colourful cakes on his back. The press release for the exhibition states that you are interested in the “point at which survival turns into greed and excess”. Please can you expand on this having regard to the work Cakeman?
Cakeman is about the way that wealthy people can never have enough. It’s seems that the more money you have the more you want and people are not tired of constantly acquiring more, even when they are aware that there is a lot of poverty around. It is an expression of the gluttonous nature of human beings.
Is there an irony in critiquing wealth in a gallery space that possibly epitomizes wealth in a city characterized by the pursuit of wealth and where art is arguably viewed as a luxury good?
Yes you are right; it can be critiqued and enjoyed at the same time.