As I step into celebrated Hong Kong artist, Adrian Wong, and his tailor fiancé, Samantha Reid’s industrial studio space in Wong Chuk Hang, I feel as though I have walked in on a jolly summer picnic. Seated by the window in the streaming sunlight, before a spread of oysters and home-cooked Chinese food, are a few of the couple’s friends, all well- known in the Hong Kong art scene: curators Cosmin Costinas of Para/Site art space, and Inti Guerrero; and Singaporean performance artist Ming Wong. It turns out it was Guerrero’s birthday recently and the gang are continuing the celebrations.
Wong Chuk Hang is one of a few industrial outposts in Hong Kong that has become a creative hub, taken over and brought to life by Hong Kong’s curators, gallerists, designers, and artists. The area is undergoing a renaissance, transformed from a grey and drab industrial zone, once throbbing with the rhythmic sound of printing presses, and the grind of metal from nearby car repair garages, into an up-and-coming area sprouting cafes, bars, a yoga studio, and a couple of design shops. Constant drilling and banging creates the soundscape to which residents now have to get accustomed as construction on buildings takes place seemingly around the clock. Today many galleries have relocated to the area looking for bigger spaces and cheaper rent, although, as is typical in Hong Kong, it won’t remain this way for long. Investors and speculators have swooped in buying up properties and renovating ahead of the MTR opening next year, driving rents and property prices up, says Wong.
Outside one of Wong’s studio windows stretches an incongruous and almost bucolic vista, as the view opens up to green mountains with birds of prey circling overhead. This is interrupted however by the sight of a garbage dump, with a sofa peculiarly abandoned further up the mountain. “How the fuck would you get something up there?!” muses Wong. It’s an odd scene but one that seems almost to be staged for Wong’s benefit, in keeping with the quirky and surreal world he’s created.
Installation artist, painter, sculptor, rabbit wrangler, psychologist…It’s hard to define Adrian Wong’s work or Adrian Wong the person. There is an element of the absurd in his playful and humorous works. But underlying this is a commitment to research and a narrative thread – whether historical, cultural or fictional – that is woven into his art, which itself draws on everything from TV shows, pet psychology, to Hong Kong’s urban landscape. Winner of the 2014 Sovereign Asia Art Prize, Chicago-born Wong relocated to Hong Kong nine years ago from the US, where he had completed a Masters in Research Psychology from Stanford, and an MFA from Yale. A combination of intellect, mad creativity, and ingenuity, not to mention some pretty impressive DIY skills, he would make most people feel like underachievers.
Wong and Reid moved to the industrial studio space in January. “This place used to be a toilet seat factory with the most disgusting puce carpet, you know, the kind where you lift it and 20 years of dust comes out,” explains Reid. The sitting room, where the group is gathered, used to be an open plan office. The couple did all the renovations themselves over a three month period in between projects. “I sledge-hammered out the walls. We did the tiling, the walls, the floors and rewired the lights ourselves”, explains Wong.
Wong’s work spills out into every corner of the space. Power-tools, spray cans, and pieces of previous installations litter the studio. An empty aquarium, previously inhabited by baby sharks and frogs (which in a gruesome performance that almost seemed fake, were eaten before an audience of partygoers), and cafeteria tables from Wong’s ‘Wun Dun’ Absolut Art Bar installation at Art Basel HK last year, take up an entire corner behind the kitchen. A large, lifeless, animatronic musical monster from the same installation stands sentry over the room, looking like he’d lost his way from the set of ‘The Labyrinth’.
In Wong’s wood workshop a giant plush baked bean character, part of Wong’s installation at Saatchi Gallery’s 2012 ‘Hong Kong Eye‘ exhibition, lies on a stack of carpentry materials. I feel like I’m at Jim Henson studios taking a sneak peek behind the scenes. And then I meet Wong’s collaborators, secreted away in a couple of cages in another room. No, it’s not a German dungeon scene. Meet Michael and Ernesto, a couple of Netherland Dwarf and Rex mix bunnies whose help Wong has enlisted to create his art works. “I got them [the rabbits] because of their chewing abilities for ‘Rodentia Absentia’, the show I did for Saamlung Gallery two years ago,” he explains. The exhibition consisted of objects that were chewed and scratched by his furry collaborators. At a Para/Site Art Space fundraiser two years ago, Michael became a fluffy celebrity of sorts, as guests watched him hop and nibble his way across a canvas strewn with coloured spots of pureed food. Lewis Carroll would find no shortage of inspiration here.
Going into Reid’s workroom, a less chaotic and more contained scene presents itself. A vintage sewing machine, a gift from Wong, sits like a prized trophy on a table arranged with bobbins of colourful thread and pins. Reid, who works with local iconic tailor, Moustache, has also collaborated with Wong on costume designs for his performance art, as well as being responsible for Wong’s distinctive sartorial flair. One side of the room is an explosion of colour and texture as an array of costumes and samples hang from a rack, much to the delight of the gathered group who are keen to play dress-ups. A furry orange coat, made from one of Wong’s monsters, catches Costinas’ eye, and it’s impromptu photoshoot time. “We killed the third member of the [Wun Dun] band, the flautist, and turned him into a coat,” deadpans Wong. “Now it looks like a gay bear.”
Welcome to the fantastical world of Adrian Wong and Samantha Reid!