A conversation on collaborating as a way of articulating ideas and how to mold these ideas into an artwork.
Mathis Neuhaus: Can you tell a little bit about your own artistic practice?
Henry Lee: Regarding my own practice, I use charcoal a lot. Charcoal and paper, because I like the texture of paper. It comes from my love of books. I grew up reading a lot of fantasy novels. They are my primary source of inspiration and that may be the foundation of my choice of material. I rarely stray away from paper. I’ve been trained in oil painting and the use of charcoal came in the later part of my studies. I use it, because it is carbon based and it reminds me of the fossil fuels that we burn every day. The act of using charcoal itself is a reminder of the debt that we owe to the environment. All this carbon that we are spitting out in the atmosphere and into the water. For me it is a reminder that, whatever we do comes with a price. Pollution is the price that we pay for our progress. My works tend to appear dystopian, because I started thinking about: what happens if we continue along this path? If we do not find alternatives soon enough and global warming really takes its toll on earth. Our way of life really must change.
Mathis Neuhaus: It is a reoccurring topic in your artistic practice that you tend to have a pessimistic view on things?
Henry Lee: So far, yes. The focus may shift but usually I do take a pessimistic view on things. Right now in my masters research, I am looking at consumerist culture and what it does to me and people. It is still about the concept I mentioned before: everything comes at a price. But the way I am approaching this topic is slightly different. I am still using charcoal and paper, but I want to expand the ways of how I can use these two elements. I am trying to find alternative ways while still retaining these key elements of my work.
Mathis Neuhaus: Is it important for you to see your own artistic practice represented in the final project of Transcultural Collaboration?
Henry Lee: I am incorporating elements of my practice into the work, yes. My group is interested in the idea of loneliness in an urban space. I am bringing what I already have into interpreting what this loneliness can mean. There is going to be paper and drawings involved. Everyone is obviously bringing to the table what they are good at and I guess this will be my contribution.
Mathis Neuhaus: In your group, would you say it is still four different authors involved, or is it one unified voice?
Henry Lee: I guess the topic in itself is a very personal thing. We all have different interpretations of what loneliness means. We are not looking for a unified voice to answer this question. But at the same time, even though we have different perspectives on how this topic can be translated or interpreted, in terms of aesthetics we try to make it a cohesive thing. In the previous incarnation, it was a video where we all did different shots of what we feel could be interpreted as lonely activities or maybe something you do in solitude. We were aware that it was four different perspectives and we tried to keep it as that.
Mathis Neuhaus: What do you think are the advantages of collaborating on an artwork?
Henry Lee: The most obvious one is that everyone has different strengths. When you can leverage on the different strengths you come up with works that you normally would not, because you can include things you are not familiar with. For me, it was an interesting experience, because I learned a lot. I got to do things that I would normally not consider in my artistic practice, because I have a very specific vision for my own work. It is nice to leave this comfort zone at times and expand my horizons.
Mathis Neuhaus: And what are the challenges?
Henry Lee: The strength is also a challenge: that we all come from different backgrounds means we also all have different visions. There are bound to be differences in opinion and the challenge is how to harmonize them. How to maneuver the situation to incorporate all the different opinions, perspective and visions and try to make it work as a unified whole. Attaining a cohesiveness in collaborations is always going to be a challenge.
Mathis Neuhaus: Do you work collaboratively in your own practice?
Henry Lee: No. My work has always been a very solitary activity.
Mathis Neuhaus: Could you see this change after this program?
Henry Lee: If the opportunity arises and the themes are something that I am interested in, I do not see why not.
Mathis Neuhaus: What do you think have been the most decisive or important factors in looking for a group to work with?
Henry Lee: The key point is to look for a common vision. To be interested in a similar set of things. With all the different groups I have been in during the program the very first thing to look out for was: do we have something in common? And once we realized that we do the next step was to distill this common interest into something that we can all agree on artistically. Sometimes it is more intuitive, when you work with people that are more in sync with each other and sometimes you have different views that make it a bit harder to maneuver. In the first group I worked with in Hong Kong, for example, we came to a stage where we had a lot of ideas in the beginning, but we could not come to a consensus on how to use and condense these ideas. We came to a point where we had to discard all these ideas and look at our interests from a different perspective. And from that kind of disagreement we came to thinking about the idea of conflict which sped up the following process. Because we found something we could all agree on and made it our topic.
Mathis Neuhaus: And this time around you settled on the topic rather quickly and it was more about finding ways of modelling it into an artwork?
Henry Lee: Yes, the focus switched.
Mathis Neuhaus: What role does Hong Kong play in this project?
Henry Lee: I was very drawn to what the group I am working with now was doing previously. The topic of loneliness really struck me when I arrived in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a city that is really crowded and the first week when I was here, I really couldn’t get used to it. It was a sensory overload. I experienced this acute loneliness, because the city felt like a place I don’t belong in. So, loneliness was a topic I could relate with, because of this experience. Subsequently, as time passed by, I slowly adapted to the city, but I still have the feeling of: this is not where I belong. Because of this awareness, this sense of being out of place, I guess that is the fuel of what gets me going artistically. The ideas that we subsequently generated, for example, the scenes which appeared in the video, are always about our experiences in Hong Kong. In terms of aesthetics, Hong Kong is a very inspiring place. The city is very gritty, has a lot of moody alleys and I found myself noticing a lot of things that I wouldn’t have noticed if I were in a different city.
Mathis Neuhaus: As a final question: what was your main motivation for applying for this program?
Henry Lee: I have not been in a collaboration before and when this opportunity presented itself, I was very curious what it would be like if I was placed in this situation. I was looking for an experience to learn from other people and I completely got that, and more. I had no idea what was going to happen and everything that unfolded after arriving in Hong Kong felt almost like a bonus. Every day is a new experience.
Henry Lee is hailing from Singapore and studies Fine Arts at LASALLE College of the Arts. His final project for Transcultural Collaboration, that he is working on with Liana Yang, Wang Jin and Chong Suet-Chi, focuses on different perspectives of loneliness.