Your story in 10 lines, with a peculiar hint on your formative age
I first started studying fashion design in London in 1997. Later on I returned to Hong Kong and worked seven years as accountant for the family business.
One day I was walking by the Hong Kong Arts Centre and decided I needed to do a course in painting. I ended up doing a bachelor course in fine arts. That spurred me to quit working and to become an artist. I started my knitting projects in 2004: they were inspired from my first project called Measuring Myself: 139 books from my bookshelf occurred to form my height (150cm) – it was how my relationship with books and the body started.
I actually focus on exploring wearable art by creating Body Containers, sculptures, since the recent years I pursue an on-going project called Travelling Into Your Bookshelf aiming to create dialogues around memories of books that I collect as gifts from people I meet on my travels around the world.
It is a journey to weaving people’s stories, cultures and history. And to open up a two-way communication.
Recalling by sewing. Drawing with memories and bodies. You try to rewrite tales and present tense with your performances and your dresses that change the structure of written and printed pages transformed in garments – and beyond! And often you wear multiple identities, always with the sake to share them with the surrounding society. Or, the same often, you travel with your own reminiscence in forms of books: you slice your personal library and offer itinerant performances to who is ready to join your knitting.
Which exhibition is so far the most intense and which experience of Travelling into your Bookshelf has been the most touching and why? What’s next on your dashboard?
The most intense exhibition has been in 2013, KNITerature at the ArtisTree in Hong Kong. I was working so hard and spent two years to prepare this solo project meant for a large-scale space (20,000 sq. ft.) with a remarkable piece, knitting conversations, involving 150 participants from around the world. I invited family members, friends, students and even strangers to give a book to me – a one of special meaning or memory from their bookshelves. When the book is shredded and knitted by the participants for weeks, months or even years in their own places, it acts like a space where the transformation of attachment takes place – from a book to a self-knitted piece. One by one, I collected the finished, half-finished or unfinished pieces from the participants, I sewed them together and eventually presented a 15-meter-long installation in the solo exhibition KNITerature. In the opening night of the exhibition, over 50 knitters gathered through collaborative work and offered a knitting performance. Many of them met for the first time but because of their engagement in the project they were connected together: a knitting community was, so, organically formed, by extending one’s engagement from a private sphere to a public one.
Travelling Into Your Bookshelf project dates back from 2009, I was invited to travel to London, Milan, Paris, Seoul, Philadelphia, Michigan, Sicily, Melbourne, Hannover, Berlin and, more recently, Venice, Istanbul and Cappadocia. The most touching experience of my Travelling Bookshelf is every journey ending in an unknown cities by traveling with my big suitcase and with my artwork and meet new people. It is full of adventures, inspiration, surprises, energy: everyone and every culture is connected. Travelling Bookshelf is a knitted world where to taste an impossible dream-world, a never-ending story, a piece that crossed times, places, people, cultures, histories and loves. I think I am very lucky as an artist having Travelling Bookshelf as the lifetime project, I am not arriving alone when I travel to a new place, it always a moment of joy of being together, being connected, specially knitting a new relationship.
I am in Yunnan in China from the end of this year (2015) and in New York in spring 2016.
Which is a good reading, according to you, for a beginner in arts? And a good school teaching life, arts and design all together?
For me, each time, a good reading is to listening to a story from the person who has given me a book, a real / secret story from his/her self and a story from the book, sometime you don’t need to understand the language of the printed text in the book, you can already read the story.
A good school teaching life, arts and design all together? For me is not important to learn arts from an institute, to learn it from your life travel journey is more important.
How is hard to start and keep on with your art in your city, or in general?
Hong Kong, for sure, is a good place for artistic creation because its art market is flourishing. But it is always challenging to get funding and related support from the local government, then the rental of the studio is very high and keeps increasing every year – all in all it is becoming hard for artists to reside in the city. One day I may move out from Hong Kong.
Which encounters do you normally have in your daily work routine?
When I am home in Hong Kong, I am most often working in my studio, by reading, knitting, listening to music – or chatting with friends.
Which is the most important achievement after you started to work as visual artist? And as a being – one of the people from this world?
I think the solo project I done in 2013, KNITerature at a large-scale space 20,000 sq.ft. in Hong Kong at ArtisTree. The most important achievement as a person, I think I am the luckiest person, as an elder sister in a big family with five sisters and one brother, everyone of us supported and shared everything together.
Describe a fantastic happening you have had in recent time…
I had a challenging performance in Cappadocia, Turkey. One day me and a friend, Tunni Kraus who assisted in my project, were hiking into Goreme Valley: we were surprised since we only met a couple and a group of people in the morning (when we started the trip), then ‘till sunset nobody was around and we were lost in a surreal powerful landscape, like walking back in thousands of years ago and in how humans lived in this natural environment.
It stands for a first moment in which to see myself, to taste the fresh air, to feel my body temperature, in an inspired place where to create a dialogue with the powerful landscape and my body and the travelling bookshelf piece, to experience the minimum of our human weight. It was also the first time to extend my art performance not just in a city, but also in a natural landscape. I hope this hidden rocky wonderland will be not damaged or destroyed by the modern world.
What is your favourite food?
Which is your favourite drink?
Which is your music or the book(s) with you now (and on which kind of side table or desk the book(s) lies down now)?
The music with me now is by Mehmet Erdem (it is Turkish music), a friend bought for me a special album signed by the singer himself when we went together at his concert in Istanbul.
A book with me now lies on a square wooden desk, it is Salvadorena by Cecilia Samartin given from a lady I met in Cappadocia, when she shared her stories with me, including how she felt in love with the place she first visited 16 years ago – and where she met her husband.
This book is from her favourite writer Cecilia Samartin and is written in Norwegian; she brought it from her hometown in Norway. She also shared the story about the book: a real one happened in Norway exactly in the town where she grew up, I am always interested in very touching real stories.
In which way do you try to live “slow”, if you like to do so, in a city as yours?
In recent years after I travelled to various cities, I learnt from the people there and I try to live “slow” while walking, eating, talking, planning – it is a basic way to enjoy life.
Which is a talent you have and the one you miss?
The talent I have is always to think positive, being full of energy as an artist to share love with people who I met during the travelling bookshelf journey. The one I missed is to love myself, a journey to learn from others, but it is an important journey the one to find yourself.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I think I may be somewhere still with my travelling bookshelf project, but at that time I should have been already travelled to over 30 cities, and the piece may have already reached 50 meter longs…
What have you learnt from life until now?
That life is a journey to experience different places, cultures and to share love with your positive energy with everyone.
I learnt also to be honest with myself, not always pretending too much. That sometimes it is good to be weak, to just follow my heart and to do everything I wish. To enjoy every moment
To learn more about Movana’s work: http://www.movanachen.com
Movana Chen is exhibiting at A Tale of Costumes, until March 31st in Venice at Espace Louis Vuitton, San Marco 1345, where she used shredded catalogues of the Maison to knit a special dress.