IN THIS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, WAI KEUNG-HUI DISCUSSES HIS PASSION FOR PHILOSOPHY, THE EXPRESSIVE VIOLENCE OF VIDEO GAMES, AND WHAT COMES AFTER SIMULATION.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hui Wai-Keung (許維強) received his MFA from School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong and graduated in Fine Arts (Sculpture) from Hong Kong Art School. His works have been exhibited abroad and throughout Hong Kong. In recent years, he has been an artist in residence in both Europe and Asia. He has been working in various media, but now focuses on digital media and Mother Nature. Hui Wai-Keung believes that the power of art can create a new universe filled with alternative possibilities. Thus, he is especially interested in irrational topics such as myths or pseudoscience. He also likes to spend time studying aesthetics. His curatorial work includes an exhibition about melancholy and contemporary art. Hui Wai-Keung believes it might be time for art to return to sublime, but also that a new definition of sublime is sorely missing.
This interview was produced by the students of Master's Degree Program in Arts, Markets and Cultural Heritage at IULM.
GVA: Can you briefly describe your educatio as an artist and curator?
Wai Keung-Hui: I was educated in both traditional and new media art schools. However, rather than sharpen craftsmanship in the use of materials, my professor encouraged me to broaden my knowledge. I remember that I spent all those days reading Kant, Lacan, Heidegger and other thinkers, so that I almost felt like studying in a philosophy school instead. Thus, although I am still ashamed of my technical skills, I am happy that I have developed my cognitive side.
GVA: Can you name some influences - not necessarily artistic ones - that played a key role in your evolution as an artist?
Wai Keung-Hui: Beside philosophical theories, I am also interested in mythologies, pseudoscience, ghost stories, gnostic though, Buddhism, Haruki Murakami’s novels and any other sci-fi narratives, both comics and movies such as The Matrix. By the way, I do believe that we are living in a Matrix one way or another. I might be strongly influenced, or I am the one who is searching for evidence. The world seems unreal to me. As I do not know the shamanic practices, art is my only way to access such alternative reality.
Wai-Keung Hui, No Play Today, 2013
"It is project of performance art, which was run on the platform of multiplayer online game, “Anarchy Online”, in October 2005. The name of performer is “Alenila” – my avatar. The online game world is a public space. This is a public performance.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) is an environment in which players are used to fight, aim at equipping the most powerful weapons and armors, and become as stronger and richer as possible. Players somehow earn their social states during the time. In October 2005, Alenila on and on kept dancing in the Temple of the Three Winds dungeon in Anarchy Online. There is the most crowded battlefield where players are fighting fiercely. Dancing is definitely not supposed to be a normal behavior there. During the time of performance, I always received other players' queries. For example, someone asked me, “ehm, alenila what are you doing in totw? except for dancing i mean.”I also encountered another interesting response. A player came to dance with me.
This performance questioned the essence of “play” in the modern game. I wonder “play” might have the power to bring people to extraordinary. However, “play” in MMORPG at most time duplicates the ordinary social conventions and requests players to fit in. It just reinforces the framing of ordinary life. “Play” might lost its mysterious and precious characters nowadays." (Wai-Keung Hui)
GVA: When did you begin using video games in your practice? Why did you specifically choose a video game to make art? What do you find especially fascinating about this medium? Its interactivity? Agency? Aesthetics? Theatricality? Would you consider yourself a "gamer" as well?
Wai Keung-Hui: I was a gamer. Like my peers, I played lots of video games. I indulged in MMORPG games when I was growing up. Then, I discovered Second Life. You might be laughing at me, but I was one of those people who believed that human consciousness would eventually transcend physical existence, and migrate to the online world someday. Virtual communities might be the prototype. Thus, I decided another transcendental practice: art. Initially, I wanted to become an online artist. Thus, I imitated those artists, such as Eva and Franco Mattes, and did some works in Second Life, but not quite as successfully. But I did perform in Anarchy Online and danced in front of other players, who were busy killing monsters. Afterwards, I somehow lost my faith in this concept of online utopia, and switched my focus to other art genres. My passion was reignited for the last two years. However, having put down my obsession with ontology of virtual presence, I adopt a scientific or archeological approach this time, and study the essence of this medium. I am learning the subjects in computer graphics, which should be the atoms of video game. I am talking about vertex and polygon, and then we find geometry, perspective, and programming algorithm in the next layer, and game rules or norms in the next layer, and so on. I am still learning and wonder what the outcome is.
GVA: When/where did you first encounter machinima? What did/do you find interesting/fascinating about this artform? What is, in your opinion, the most significant machinima of all time, and why?
Wai Keung-Hui: Sorry, my research or practice in machinima-making is limited.
Wai Keung-Hui, Re-Dürer: Saint Artist in his Study (10 minutes excerpt), 2016
"This is a rework of Albrecht Dürer’s engraving, Saint Jerome in his Study (1514). I am convinced that the ancient definitions of inspired melancholy from Pseudo-Aristotle was inscribed on Dürer’s three well-known engravings. Our melancholy, as well as our lives, are classified into three types (or stages): imagination, reason, and intellect. I rework the concepts based on my own interpretation and emotion. Instead of engraving, I hack a popular video game to generate graphics, and present them in three-channels video installation (or three separated video works). This one is belong to the third stage of inspired melancholy. It is about intellect, divine, religion, theology, and contemplation. I wish I could believe, but cannot help recognizing the virtuality and plasticity of the world. My ascetic dog of the senses never sleep peacefully." (Wai Keung-Hui)
GVA: Digital games often create parallel, alternative experiences for its users. How do you relate to the complex relation between reality and simulation? How do you address this tension through your work?
Wai Keung-Hui: Videogames are not a simulation of reality. Even though game developers might intend to simulate reality, but the outcome is something else. It is an alternative reality. As I have mentioned, our reality is not real at all. In the same sense, I never recognize those classical paintings as representation but as an another reality. There are many versions of reality, each one has its own physics, and new one would be created anytime. The simulation is an illusion because of how game development operates. However, a gun in Grand Theft Auto is definitely different to a gun in our world. You would feel differently between passing through Eva and Franco Mattes’s nude bodies in Second Life and Marina Abramovic and Ulay’s nude bodies in real life. But there are similarities and resonance, and here is the interesting point which inspires audiences. I wonder artists could uncover the unique characteristics of video games, with a view to create conflict between realities; or further cover to reinforce the illusion. In my exhibited work, Re-Dürer, I emphasized the permitted expressive violence in video games, as well as the inevitable death and reborn of avatar, which are impossible but symbolic in our reality. At last but not least, when I read this question, Harun Farocki’s project, Parallel, immediately popped up in my head, especially the video comparing old and new versions of virtual landscape. They are completely stunning. I think that the games in last decades could help remind us the fact of alternative reality.
GVA: The creative opportunities afforded by machinima are greatly constrained by existing copyright law, which prohibits many possible uses, including commercial purposes. What’s your take on the paradoxical nature of this artform?
Wai Keung-Hui: Compared to video game, many game rules in our world are boring and non-sense, one of them is copyright law.
Wai Keung-Hui, Re-Dürer: Melencolia I (outdated modern version), 2016
"This is a rework of Albrecht Dürer’s engraving, Melencolia I (1514). I am convinced that the ancient definitions of inspired melancholy from Pseudo-Aristotle was inscribed on Dürer’s three well-known engravings. Our melancholy, as well as our lives, are classified into three types (or stages): imagination, reason, and intellect. I rework the concepts based on my own interpretation and emotion. Instead of engraving, I hack a popular video game to generate graphics, and present them in three-channels video installation (or three separated video works). This one is belong to the first stage of inspired melancholy. It is about imagination, art, craft, and creativity. Geometry played crucial and mysterious part in Dürer’s engraving. It enclosed some transcendental truth. I extend it into the version in modern era, try to ascend myself into the fourth dimension." (Wai Keung-Hui)
GVA: Would you agree that machinima has democratized the art making process? Has it lowered the entry barrier for creators of video art, as some critics argue?
Wai Keung-Hui: I do not have much research in neither machinima nor video art, however, it is unfair to categorize machinima under the umbrella of video art. They are two different media. If I insisted on my philosophy, they create two different realities. Each of them has its own characteristics as well as barriers. Moreover, after Duchamp had signed a urinal, should we talk about entry barrier for art?
GVA: How do video game aesthetics affect the overall impact of your work? What comes first, the concept or the medium?
Wai Keung-Hui: It might be too soon for me to answer this question since I am still a newbie in this medium. I hack and change the algorithm and see how the game response. The results always surprise me. I only can let the medium to carry me at this moment. Even though is there some concept I would like to realize in the game, but it was turned out to be another thing. For example, when I had moved the coordinates of polygons, and expected any interesting change in form, but the change in color and textures became rather impressive.
Wai Keung-Hui, Transcendence, 2016
"This series of works tries to transcend an ordinary three-dimensional model to the four-dimension mathematically, and projects back to a three-dimensional appearance. There are many possible solutions of projection, at the same time; there are also many possible four-dimensional models which can project the same appearance. Thus, I wonder, our living world is just one of the many possible appearances, projected from many possible hyperspaces. This idea is inspired by Professor Linda Henderson’s research on fourth dimension geometry on modern art, and I would like to imitate and continue the works of those masters such as Duchamp, Metzinger, and Malevich." (Wai Keung-Hui)
GVA: Can you describe the genesis of your work, RE-DÜRER: ARTIST, DEATH, AND THE DEVIL? Why did you choose a video game to reinvent three Albrecht Dürer engravings? Is you operation comparable to the Chapman Brothers' transformation of Francisco Goya's The Disaster of War etchings into miniatures with Hell?
Wai Keung-Hui: It came out from a series of unexpected happenings. I did not intended to reinvent Albrecht Dürer’s engravings at the beginning. It might cause confusion but I intended to reinvent Joseph Beuys’ public dialogue. I was feeling down, especially after encountered failure and disbelief in my community art projects. Rejection seems to be everywhere when you wanted to contribute to the society. Thus, I put on a mask of Joseph Beuys, who was the master of social sculpture, in the video game Grand Theft Auto. I hided into the virtual world, and asked for violence to wake me up. Violence is permitted and abundant in video game, but is harmful in our world. During the time, I studied Albrecht Dürer’s Knight, Death and the Devil (1513) in a book, and learnt that the engraving should represent the second stage of Pseudo-Aristotle’s inspired melancholy. It is about morals, utopia, faith, and humanism. I understood that the melancholy would follow any utopian imagination. It is inevitable whatever generation the artist comes from. Thus, I adjusted my work to response Albrecht Dürer, since his engraving had shown a deepen contemplation. Afterwards, I further developed my rework into a full series including other two engravings. I recognize Re-Dürer as a self-portrait of an artist. I do admire Chapman Brothers' works, but there is a critical difference between our intentions. They seemed to subvert in postmodern mood, but I wish to revive classical values in post-postmodern mood. However, we both elaborate on those sensitive issues, such as violence, which are normally presented subtly, or even hypocritically, in classical works. That is why Chapman Brothers said that they had rectified Goya’s etchings. It is because the evolution of our culture. Nothing would be absolutely annoying or blatant in video games. I guess Chapman Brothers might find difficult in offending audiences in this medium.