Architecture is not only about planning and calculations. Its components also include space, culture and art.

Chu Chun-kei, Maggie

Chu Chun-kei, Maggie

In 1840, British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston used the phrase “A barren rock with nary a house upon it” to describe Hong Kong Island as a godforsaken place.

The journey began in the mid-19th century when Hong Kong was at a crossroad in its fate, with postcards featuring the iconic scenery of the Victoria Harbour. With all human traces removed to recreate the Barren Rocks from the 1840s to date, the postcards were cut up into pieces and became like hundreds of little magical creatures.

Hong Kong mixed media artist Maggie Chu (L8-11 MAGC) graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture at University of New South Wales and practiced as an architect in Hong Kong before completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts at RMIT’s School of Art in 2021.

Her art practice explores the multifaceted aspects of place identities with combination of various methods including drawing, collage, and sculptures. With source materials ranging from found images, texts and collected artefacts, Chu’s artworks intermingle imagination and facts represented in the form of archive. She explores the perception of scale, from the macro lens of the cityscape to profound personal experiences, excavating narratives of history lying within and between places.

CChu Chun-kei, Maggie
Q1. J

Can you share the inner journey or turning point in your transition from being an architect to being an artist?

A1. C

I worked in the architecture industry for twenty years, and had worked in the same company ever since it was a summer job. To an extent, I already fulfilled my full potential both in terms of development and satisfying my interests. Several years ago, I enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) programme at Hong Kong Art School (HKAS) which gave me new insight in art. This is not to infer that architecture is not art, but my practice in architecture was more on planning and calculation with strong constraints in creativity. After completing the fine art programme at HKAS, I felt an even stronger need to explore my own creativity. As I am able to sustain my livelihood, I can fully devote myself to artistic work for a while.

CChu Chun-kei, Maggie
Q2. J

What is your view on the relationship between architecture and art? Did architecture influence your artistic creations?

A2. C

After becoming an artist, I develop a fresh understanding towards architecture. Architecture is not only about planning and calculations. Its components also include space, culture and art. When I first became an artist, I did not want to emphasise my identity as an architect because the audience may have different expectations towards your works. However, I now want to delve more into the fusion between art and architecture.

Historically speaking, there had always been patriarchal influences on both architecture and art. I think females look at spaces and architecture differently from males. For example, many male architects aspire to design massive and iconic buildings. Females, on the other hand, pay more attention in the relationship between the building and its internal space. This is the direction that I wish to explore.

Tracing the mouth of stream
Sculpture | 2022
Tracing the mouth of stream
Painting and image transfer | 2022
Tracing the mouth of stream
Drawing installation | 2022
Tracing the mouth of stream
Mixed media painting | 2022
Q3. J

What prompted you to explore the identity, history and ideology of a place?

A3. C

During my study in architecture, the sense of place was often mentioned. I would contemplate on whether a certain quality is innate in the place, or the place was given its identity through the people and things that transpired there? There is no definite answer. Without a clear and concise answer, my creations explore their interrelationships which is to actually take a look at the stories that happened in the place.

Q4. J

Were there any interesting discoveries during the collection of information and objects?

A4. C

During my graduation exhibition several years ago, I started to learn about the history of Hong Kong starting from the Possession Point in 1841. I had such lofty goals then and planned to study the entire span of history from 1841 to 2022. However, I am currently still stuck at the year 1841.

Both the works featured in my graduation project and the upcoming PMQ exhibition are “Barren Rocks” which I find quite interesting. If Hong Kong is truly a barren rock, what would it be like? Starting with this concept, I collected data and injected my imagination to create the world of “Barren Rocks”.

Barren Rocks. Reminiscences 2022


Q5. J

Can you tell us more about “reminiscences”, your upcoming exhibition to be held at PMQ?

A5. C

“Barren Rocks” was a description in 1841 around the onset of the Opium War. Tension ran high between China and Europe, with Europe frequently sending army or geologists to explore different ports and looking for places to occupy. Perhaps out of political considerations, many documents described Hong Kong at the time as “barren rocks”, essentially a piece of barren land. This became the starting point of my artistic creations. If Hong Kong is not barren enough, I will remove the buildings in postcards or images with a paper cutter. For example, I removed the Victoria Harbour on a postcard with the paper cutter to restore it back to a state of “barren rocks”.

The removed images led me to contemplate on their identities. I feel that they become nothing after being stripped of whatever they were originally attached to. I subsequently transformed them into “creatures” through moulding, collages and so on.

Barren Rocks. Reminiscences 2022
Collage Painting | 2022
Barren Rocks. Reminiscences 2022
Collage Painting | 2022
Barren Rocks. Reminiscences 2022
Installation | 2022
Q6. J

How do you choose the material or medium for your art works? What inspired you to present the exhibition in the form of an archive?

A6. C

There are more than one hundred objects in “reminiscences” and the exhibition at PMQ can be considered an archive. Visually speaking, the objects are treated as “preserved specimens”. I approached them just like preserving insect specimens, with the objects attached, numbered and complemented with drawings. Not only is this putting “Art is Archive” into action, it also expresses the concept of “Archive is Art”. In addition, I created the 3D scans for all the objects [[which numbered more than a hundred]] and they will be displayed during the exhibition through video projection.

In choosing creative materials, architectural materials such as cement, screws and iron were used. As these tools become art, the transformation is quite fascinating and provides the works with more layers of meaning.

Barren Rocks. Reminiscences 2022
Collage Painting | 2022
Barren Rocks. Reminiscences 2022
Collage Painting | 2022
Barren Rocks. Reminiscences 2022
Print on thermal paper | 2022
Q7. J

What is the significance of these postcards and places for you? How do you intermingle imagination and facts?

A7. C

Postcard is a product that promotes or “sells” a certain city. It can portray the city in a most stereotyped and unrealistic fashion that is disconnected from reality. Neither real nor imaginary, it is [[simply]] a product that portrays what is most desirable about the place, and I happen to fancy this [[warped]] sense of false beauty.

Q8. J

Any other plans in the future?

A8. C

There is a NFT project in the future which incorporates my works related to the archive. Although I do not belong to the NFT generation, I can understand the identity and authenticity inherent in NFT. Most of my previous works do not have concrete identities and they are given identities through NFT. On the other hand, I will assemble fellow classmates from my graduating class to present a group exhibition to encourage everyone to continue with their artistic creations.