ANGELA SU: [Cantonese] Art and science are two different things, but they’re really the same. I'm trying to combine the two and tread between them.
Both require imagination and are based on data and reality. Both propose an alternative perspective to make sense of the reality that we see and our universe and challenge the status quo that we've accepted.
I'm obsessed with the body's internal structure. I find the insides mysterious, and I want to see them—see more, delve deeper, uncover more.
If you dismembered, deconstructed, and reconstructed a mix of elements together and turned them into a living thing . . . If you were 70% machine, 20% insect, and 1% human, would you be a human? Maybe you would have free will . . . It's a sci-fi or philosophical question as to how you define humans.
Do you know why I have a special liking for symmetry?
(On each side, like it’s a double image)
Children might have tried this: open a book, drip two drops of ink, close and open the book again to see a pattern emerge. Based on what you see in the pattern, others try to enter your mental space. Can you see B again after seeing A? The instant, the moment that the two co-exist is magical. I hope this is the feeling people get from seeing my drawings. I call it a Rorschach test, but I'm not using ink to create my works. Whether you see a sex organ, a butterfly, or something else depends on your perspective.
Many things are so divided in today's society.
Especially since the dawn of social media, the world that someone sees might be utterly different from what another person sees. The two can't communicate. After learning about someone else's world, would I be able to return to my own world?
There's authority in science, but actually that isn’t always the case. A lot of scientific drawings are deceptive. Or there's artistic interpretation involved. My documentaries construct something as a fact, but behind that, I add 1%, 2%, or 10% fictional elements. So, when people watch them, they tend to believe them. Then they'll come up to me and ask if that thing really exists.
The form serves to express my concept. I can use drawings to express bodies and machines, but I can also use videos, animation, or a novel. When you use different entry points, you'll be able to find out who Angela Su is and what I want to express. My drawings are about transformation; I might as well transform myself too.
The body, the female body, transformation, storytelling, world-making, mental illnesses, all sorts of things . . . science, scientific drawings, the true and the fake, dream and reality—everything has to come together to express the inner thoughts that I can't otherwise express.
I once laid out a few stories in a documentary. There's a main character. Some things happen. But suddenly, you enter the world of Angela Su. So, is Angela Su a character in the story? What's the position of Angela Su? [The preceding plot] stops feeling real. I love this intertwining and tension.
CHENG MAN-WING: [Cantonese] A bit thinner. All women everywhere say they want that. For example, when your body is upside down, the tassels on the costume will accentuate the motion, giving your movements a sort of . . . unearthly creature feeling, returning you to your true nature.
ANGELA SU: [Cantonese] My theme is levitation. There's a lot of social significance in this term, or perhaps something broader. Why is it that since time immemorial, humans have had a desire to fly? It might be a pursuit of freedom, a pursuit of transcendence, or a pursuit of something you can't achieve. I know I can't do it, but I persist.
It can also be about resistance, a resistance against gravity. Why do most superheroes fly? It’s a resistance against social mechanisms, artistic mechanisms, or the artistic institution, which is born out of dissatisfaction.
What is free will? Is everything you do predetermined by your DNA and a bunch of chemicals? Do you have a choice? To what extent does this choice stem from something truly spiritual in you, and to what extent is it purely a chemical reaction? I have to make changes because only by continuously making changes can variables occur. No one knows if those changes are good or bad. But if you don't make changes, you'll stay the same all your life, and the world will always be the same. You only have to dare to try.
I love mythmaking, and I love world-making—making my own world. I have my own story to tell.
Hong Kong artist Angela Su discusses how the acts of self-transformation and world-building featured in the exhibition Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice extend throughout her decades-long practice
Hong Kong artist Angela Su walks the tightrope between many disciplines and realities. Trained in both biochemistry and fine art, Su creates deeply researched projects that unfold in intersecting worlds. Fantastical yet meticulous illustrations recall anatomical drawings and Rorschach tests. Hair embroideries spin a tension between exacting precision and untameable locks. Video, performance, and installations probe themes of nature and technology, control and resistance, body and mind.
This year, Su has been selected to represent Hong Kong at the 59th Venice Biennale. Her exhibition, Angela Su: Arise, Hong Kong in Venice, presents the story of Lauren O, an alter ego who believes she can levitate and who becomes involved with Laden Raven, a fictional activist group inspired by the US anti-war movement of the 1960s. In this video, she discusses how the acts of self-transformation and world-building featured in the exhibition extend throughout her decades-long practice, as she prepares to shoot her own gravity-defying feat for the new pseudo-documentary, The Magnificent Levitation Act of Lauren O.
- Produced by
Dino Ng, Small Wang, Lai Wai Fung
Iyuno Media Group
- M+ Curatorial Research
- M+ Video Production
- M+ Text and Subtitle Editing
LW Lam, Amy Leung, Gloria Furness, Li Qi
- Special Thanks
Angela Su, Man-Wing Cheng, Jenny Tam, Lesley Kwok, William Smith, Chris Sullivan, Mimi Cheung, Blindspot Gallery
The 59th Venice Biennale runs from 23 April to 27 November 2022. Learn more about Su’s exhibition.