As Valentine’s Day inevitably creeps around the corner, I discuss the themes of entanglement and vulnerability with two women artists based in Hong Kong, looking into their vastly different yet mutually unique depictions of imagined scenarios and relationships.
Vulnerability is about opening yourself up to the dark and endless sea of emotions, and sometimes that can be easier said than done. Quite literally, being vulnerable means exposing yourself to the elements and everything that lies within. Instead of making ourselves susceptible to danger, our minds often work to trigger our defence mechanisms as they try to protect us from harm. As a result, we unknowingly close ourselves off and retreat to our comfort zone of safety when we sense a potential threat. After all, the unknown can be scary—or rather, is it what’s already known that scares us?
Around the globe, romance remains to be one of the most popular film and TV genres. From the 1997 Titanic of groundbreaking box office success to last year’s trending Korean dating reality show Single’s Inferno, we are obsessed with love, or at least the idea of it. Portrayals of romance in the media are a dime a dozen, but how do artists interpret them in sensitive yet unconventional ways that pull our heartstrings? I sit down with two local women artists to discuss their practices and how they approach the themes of entanglement and vulnerability in their distinctive ways.
Utilising textured and surreal environments to explore the complexity of human emotions and express the emotional traces of her encounters with everyday absurdities, Amy Tong is inspired by human relationships and matters of the heart. “Love is such a diverse and universal theme that you can associate anything with, from romance to other kinds of relationships.” She divulges, “It’s relatable and easy to digest.”
In her abstract painting Leda and the Swan (2021), Tong finds profound inspiration in the story from Greek mythology, in which Zeus takes the form of a swan to seduce or rape Leda. Referencing W. B. Yeats’ poem of the same title, Tong relates the story to sociopolitical issues in modern society as the painting creates a dynamic of different reactions while exploring the emotional responses of the Trojan war.
Alternatively but in the same vein, Tong’s sculptural piece Paper (2021) is a portrayal of emotional blackmailing as she depicts a chair with knives protruding out of the seat. Made out of shredded paper, the chair is seemingly harmless and delicate, yet the contrast of the believed property of the material and the subject itself resonates with the hidden undercurrent of toxic relationships. Driven by a restlessness that comes up when she is idle, the artist’s experimental creations are deeply connected to her feelings, as she jests, “As a water sign, staying in tune with my emotions is really important to me.”
Similarly covering the themes of mythology and anthology, Wu Jiaru’s practice is a take at the intersection between technology and aesthetics as she paints naked, writhing figures entangled with one another; but, her art is mostly inspired by machine learning, knowledge, and intuition.
Her painting series Grandma’s Twelve Lovers (2021) acts as samples for an imagined algorithm to depict the image of human beings and for future species to study a fictional and virtual woman character named “Grandma”, who has 12 lovers—the same magic number of followers that Jesus had. “My art is a node in a massive network system of time and space, it could either be a small footnote or a major reference for something transcendent.” Wu continues, “As for the message I want to deliver… I would rather let the audience have their own interpretations and imaginations.”
Motivated by the concepts of intimacy and tragedy, the artist reveals, “Things like love and lust are difficult to quantify, but entanglement could be a potential container, or even solution, for these notions.” In her work, dreams and entanglements are distorted under the control of science and technology as a result of the imbalance between beings and consciousness. Perhaps this sentiment harks back to the themes of entanglement and vulnerability—we see what we want to see in relationships, just as one may look at Wu’s paintings of intensity and see vulnerable beings with their bodies entwined.