Space Rich (2023) by CHANG.
Exhibition Dates: Mar 18 - Jun 4, 2023
Opening Hours: Wed-Sun, 11AM-7PM
82A Stone Nullah Lane
Wan Chai, Hong Kong
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
In the same vein as 2021’s Bling Dynasty, which explored contemporary (pre-pandemic) global consumerism by bringing together Chinese and Western culture and artistic styles in provocative visual hybrids, Space Rich will again entice viewers by its incorporation of recognizable figures and icons from pop culture and luxury brands in its compositions. Apart from The Happy Donor, which was commissioned by McCafé Hong Kong as part of the well-received group exhibition SubXture at the K11 Art Mall earlier in 2022, all works featured in Space Rich are created in 2021-2023 and have not been exhibited before.
THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT
My “Space Rich” series was inspired by my past three years of living in Hong Kong, in what I felt to be complete isolation from the rest of the world.
In this period of isolation, my childhood fascination with space travel—especially travel to Mars—often came to the forefront of my mind. I would imagine things like what an astronaut would feel on their journey. Would they feel a sense of isolaton a hundred times more acute than what I felt in my “grounded” isolation because of the sheer physical distance separating Earth and Mars? Or would they rather feel a sense of immense freedom because outer space is so infinite both in physical reality and in our human imagination?
I started doing more thought experiments of what it would be like for a “layperson” like me to travel to outer space. Every time I imagined myself in space, I felt less anxious. This became a sort of “vacation” for my mind during this tough period because I could put my problems into perspective—I was just living on a “pale blue dot” within an infinite expanse.
But my imaginative forays into this “infinite expanse” soon led me to think more deeply in a different direction as well, and I realized that, in many ways, my fascination with space and its seeming sublimity is merely“romanticized,” and I would not be carefree and happy just by traveling to Mars in reality. Earth is my home, and despite all the natural and man-made disasters that seem to be catapulting the planet to a point of no return, Earth still contains all the people and places I love, not to mention all the things I need to survive—oxygen, edible food, gravity, warmth. Mars is not currently habitable for humans—we don’t even know if food can be grown there to sustain colonies. As such, despite my fascination with having an “infinite home” in space where I can leave my anxieties behind, this remains a pipe dream.
As I thought more about what deep-seated urges made me fantasize about living in Mars, I realized that perhaps this was just the most extreme version of what I and my fellow millennials are already doing on a daily basis in our world dominated by instant information and social media—that is, “escaping” to cyberspace by adopting a consciously or not so consciously curated persona online, and detaching ourselves from our reality.
I chose the ubiquitous scene of a millennial staring at their phone as my jumping-off point for this series, situating this earthly scene visually within the backdrop of Mars. The visual pun of the Apple iPhone obscuring the central figure’s face, alluding to the apple obscuring the central figure in surrealist René Magritte’s famous “Son of Man,” came almost instantly as I imagined how, even when in Mars, my central figure would likely still stare at or see the environment through the lens of the phone instead of taking in the extreme landscape around them with their senses. This is what I often see others and catch myself doing, even in the most beautiful places on earth. Perhaps, even when we achieve the most extreme form of “detachment” from our reality on earth by traveling to and living on Mars, we would still just be looking at our phones for their virtual images of what is around us.
Our current obsession with virtual reality over physical reality made me consider my approach to color differently in this series. It occurred to me that my usual red-green colorblind approach to choosing color acted as a type of “filter” for these works which all have Mars, the red planet, as a backdrop. Mars is visually made up of different shades of red that I cannot distinguish, so I had to rely solely on my knowledge of color theory and on contrast recognition to produce my compositions. The inadvertent visual “filter” I applied to my works neatly mirrors the point I wanted to make about social media creating “filters” and “echo chambers” enveloping us that become more real to us than reality.
After putting my core figure on Mars, I thought in another direction again, this time about the recent news I read about billionaires all scrambling to invest in space exploration and to travel to space themselves—because Earth is apparently not big enough to contain so much money and power. I thought space travel for the rich represented another type of detachment from reality, one that is only enabled by immense wealth. I tried to represent this expensive privilege to be “above” all others on earth metaphorically and physically by adding recognizable brands and consumer icons in my Mars backdrop.
This ties in visually to my usual practice of incorporating symbols of global consumer culture in my works and, at the same time, brings me back to my initial thought experiments about space travel. In the end, traveling to and living on Mars is a pipe dream not just because of the physical impossibility of it—even if Mars were habitable, it would either only be accessible to the richest people in the world or eventually be turned into another world dominated by ubiquitous consumerism like the earth we live in today. In such a landscape, my central figure would continue to stare at their phone, equally lost in a virtual world, but just in a different cosmic setting.
Finally, I would like to mention that I allude to Magritte and surrealism in the series because I felt a strong urge to emulate the surrealists to reach inward and draw out subjective images to help me make sense of global events like the pandemic, the climate crisis, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I felt that the world cast a sort of surrealist “filter” on my artistic perspective in the last three years. Beyond my visual and iconographic allusion to surrealist paintings, the individual figures, icons, and landscapes I ended up depicting are, as per my usual practice, lifted from reality and far from surreal, but it was surreal to me that the resulting visual amalgamation of incongruous elements like luxury brands and the barren landscape of Mars somehow made sense. In a time when the real world seems ludicrous and unbelievable, perhaps the only thing for us to do is really just to detach ourselves from reality by escaping into our phones, escaping to Mars—or both.
「Space Rich」系列的創作靈感，源自過去三年我在香港的生活 -- 一段讓我感覺自己完全與世隔絕的日子。
我開始進行更多思想實驗，每當想像自己身處太空，便發現焦慮竟然減少了。在如此難捱的時期，這簡直是種另類的「渡假」，並讓我可以更透徹地審視自身 --我不過是活在無限穹蒼中一個「暗淡藍點」（pale blue dot）之上。
只是，這份對「無限穹蒼」的想像很快迫使我進行更多面向的深入思考。我意識到自己對太空的迷戀其實過於浪漫化，現實是，即使成功登上火星，我也不會從此快樂無憂。地球是我的家，儘管各種自然及人為災害似乎正將她推向無可挽回的境地，她卻始終承載著所有我愛的人和地，更別說那些我們都賴以為生的元素 -- 氧氣、食物、重力、溫暖…… 目前火星當然是不宜人類居住的，我們甚至不知道那裡能否夠耕作以養活殖民。的確，我常常思念著那個可以將所有焦慮拋諸腦後的「無限之家」，卻清楚這只是場漂亮的白日夢。
我進一步思考，到底是什麼根深蒂固的慾望使我如此迷戀火星旅行？我才意識到，這可能只是我和其他千禧世代的同胞們，沉浸在這個被即時信息及社交媒體主導的世界中，唯一能做到最極端的對抗 -- 我們在日常生活中已是無時無刻也有意或無意地化身線上角色「逃離」到網絡空間之中，讓自己脫離現實。
目前人類對虛擬現實的沉迷超越了物理現實，這激發了我在此系列中運用不同於以往的色調。在以火星這個紅色的星球為背景的作品中，作為紅綠色盲人士，我一向選擇顏色的方法，此時竟變成了一面天然的濾鏡。火星的視覺形象，是由各種我無法區分的紅色所構成，因此我不得不完全依靠色彩理論知識及對比識別來進行創作。就這樣，這面無心插柳的濾鏡，卻恰如其分地映照出我的創作觀點 -- 由社交媒體所建構的「濾鏡」和「回音室」，對我們而言可能比現實更真實。