"In my creative process, I constantly seek out that feeling of human warmth which makes me feel safe. When in Hong Kong doing my work, travelling abroad or at artist residency, I still look around, hoping to find that same feeling."

Angela Yuen

Angela Yuen

Angela Yuen (L3-01) graduated from the Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University. In 2016, she was an artist-in-resident at Red Gate Gallery, Beijing. She was finalist of Sovereign Asian Art Prize and Ping Yao International Sculpture Festival in 2019, and the 26th ifva awards (Media Art Category) in 2021. Her works have been shown in Hong Kong, Beijing, New York, London and Australia, and are in the collections of Hong Kong Henderson Land Group, Hotel Stage Hong Kong, IFC Isola, LRC Hong Kong, The Middle House Shanghai, Niagara Gallery Australia as well as various private collectors.

Yuen’s art practice focuses on urban culture and the theme of “neighbourhood”, highlighting the symbolic meaning of found objects and their transformation into her own artistic language. Under rapid urban development, people in Hong Kong experience an ever-evolving physical and social environment. Through collecting manufactured objects, Yuen rediscovers the human warmth she once knew as a child growing up in this city. “Neighbourhood” is not only the theme of her practice but something deeply embedded in her creative process.

Land Ho!
Image courtesy of the Artist
The Magic Makers
Image courtesy of the Artist
The Puzzle III
Image courtesy of the Artist
Q1. J

What is most challenging in the creation of overlapping light and shadow effect in your work?

A1. A

I really enjoy the exchange with people. It need not be formal like an interview. I get my inspiration often through casual chitchat, supplemented by historical research, and develop them into artistic concepts. My mechanical creations are the result of experiments and numerous trials and errors.

Apliu Street in Sham Shui Po is my go to place whenever I encounter problems with the electrical stuff in my work, as I am not trained in that area. Like for the installation now exhibiting at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, I had to seek assistance from the “cifu” (expert electricians) at Apliu Street to work out which type of thick wires could withstand the high voltage needed to run the mechanical parts. This is quite typical of my creative process – it is not a solitary endeavour. I am particularly touched by enthusiastic people who genuinely want to help me solve a problem. That said, I don’t take people’s kindness for granted and fully understand if they cannot help. I treasure the sense of camaraderie with them and these people have truly taught me a lot!

Q2. J

What was the first vintage item you collected? What inspired you to create such unique installation art?

A2. A

A treasured item is a toy train made by one of the last remaining toy factories in Hong Kong. The guy who sold it to me was a friend of the toy factory owner – he even remembered the name of the company -“Winning”. The toy train was in the last batch made in Hong Kong before the factory relocated to the Mainland and the equipment for making it was abandoned and probably discarded as scrap and junk. He asked me to treasure and take good care of it.

The story of the toy train marks a time of change in Hong Kong and is a remnant of things from a bygone era. I want to pass down this story. After some thought I decided to incorporate one car of the train into my artwork “Land Ho!”, which is currently on display at Hong Kong Museum of Art. The rest of the train is still in my safe possession.

The most vintage stuff in my collection are some “British Empire made” toothbrushes and toy rattles from the 1940s – they were uncovered in a warehouse in Malta in 2016. The warehouse became a time capsule of the 1940-50s when it was forgotten and abandoned until the descendants of the owner rediscovered it in 2000. It has taken these Hong Kong-made goods 70 years to return home. They bear witness to a time before Hong Kong gained recognition as an important hub for manufactured goods – it was not until the 1960s that the Made in Hong Kong label was widely used on our exported goods.

The birth of this light and shadow installation series was entirely accidental. My first job in 2013 was to document old mom-and-pop shops on Shanghai Street in Yau Ma Tei. Most of them were in the hands of second or third generation owners and had a history stretching back four or five decades. Everything in them is not only about the history of the shop and the family running it – they tell the story of the industry and by extension the story of Hong Kong’s development. I learnt about obsolete crafts and saw tools and products that were no longer made. I started collecting them and found that apart from their nostalgic charm, their unique silhouettes cast interesting shadows. They formed the backbone to the creation of this stationary monochrome light and shadow installation series.

That experience emboldened me to approach different shops for collecting stories when researching for my art. I enjoy talking to people. It enriches my understanding of Hong Kong and allows me to indulge in the warmth of its people. Just hearing the typical greeting of “Hey, had lunch yet?” makes me feel at home.

To collect vintage stuff, I often visit storage places tucked away in old council estates. But for the trust and close personal relationships developed with the owners, I wouldn’t have been permitted to rummage through their old stock. Unlike chain stores that regularly stock take, these neighbourhood shops don’t often check their inventories. So it is possible to find stuff that have been lying around for thirty or forty years – goods that even the owners have totally forgotten about.

Image courtesy of the Artist

Urban Tapestry

Image courtesy of the Artist

Q3. J

There is so much humanity in your work. Which one work or exhibition would you say best represents you?

A3. A

The artwork “Land Ho!”, which is currently on show at Hong Kong Museum of Art from June 2023 to December 2024. The piece is a cargo ship that transcends four different eras, carrying goods once typically exported or re-exported from Hong Kong – including blue-and-white porcelain, tea canisters, silk from the late Qing Dynasty, “British Empire made” goods from the pre- and post-Korean War era, “made in Hong Kong” products that affirmed Hong Kong’s once importance as a manufacturer, and “made in China” goods marking the emergence of the country as the world’s factory. The objects create silhouettes of Hong Kong’s cityscape representing the different eras and their transformation.

For example, the blue-and-white porcelain and tea canisters form the Governor’s House, the old Hong Kong Club and St. John’s Cathedral; while the old HSBC Building, Jardine House and Court of Final Appeal is recreated with “made in Hong Kong” goods.

Discussion about this project with Hong Kong Museum of Art started in mid-2022. The piece is created using found objects, and a significant portion of those items are truly vintage – including “British Empire made” goods from the 1940s-50s, “made in Hong Kong” goods from the 1960s-80s, and “Made in China” goods from the 1980s-90s. The objects were collected over a ten-year period – ever since I started my light and shadow series in 2014 – from abandoned warehouses around the world, old local family-run shops in Hong Kong, sample stores, etc. Each object is unique and once used cannot be replaced. The process of searching for these items and interacting with different people allowed me to understand the history and stories behind them, and to build an emotional connection with the city or community they came from.

I believe that history shapes the present, and without the historical events of the past we cannot have the Hong Kong that is now.

I hope that viewers will appreciate the relationship between the objects and the silhouettes they cast on the walls – like the 4-digit telegraph codes on tea canisters giving clues about the era they represent. They are tangible and authentic objects which provide glimpses into the economic, historical and social realities of each era now existing as mere shadows on the walls.

It was a memorable moment when we opened the wooden crates to install the artwork. Security guards, cleaning staff and workers of all ages who saw the objects each felt their own connection with them – as things they have seen before or even once used as a child. I could feel how this artwork can truly resonate with people. People who saw it reminisced about the past and shared memories and stories with me, like how they made those types of plastic flowers or used to help out with product assembly work at home.

Q4. J

Your works exude joyfulness and childlike wonder. Is that what you want your audience to feel?

A4. A

The colours are a reflection of my aesthetics and the childlike innocence is a part of my personality. I guess it’s normal that the person is reflected in the work that they create.

Image courtesy of the Artist

Q5. J

Any plans to explore other creative mediums in the future?

A5. A

Going forward I would like to continue my research on installation with a focus on light and shadow and kinetic art.

Urban Tapestry

Image courtesy of JCCAC