ON THE GO: Interview with Hung Ching-Yan (Fion)

The Hong Kong based visual artist Hung Ching-Yan, also known as Fion, is currently exhibiting at Fotografisk Center’s digital exhibition platform ON THE GO until January 9, 2022. With the project The Song of a Young Nutter (2020), Fion reflects on the relationship between herself, her family and her upringing in a traditional Fujian family with strong Chinese family values. The project unfolds questions about memory, identity and (personal) history in a very personal and colourful collage-ish imagery.

Interview by Pauline Koffi Vandet

Hung Ching-Yan (Fion), 2020, A barefoot girl in stone sitting position // We were sitting in a circle in one kindergarten lesson and listening to the teacher’s story. The story was boring and I started to move my legs. This angered my teacher and she removed my shoes, putting them in the middle of our circle to embarrass me.

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It’s been a pleasure exhibiting your project The Song of a Young Nutter at our digital exhibition platform, and I’m very happy that we can have this chat right before the exhibition ends. This has given us, the viewers, time to reflect on parts on your project, and I would like to have you elaborate on certain perspectives.

By first glance, one thing that really strikes me is your imagery, and how you seem to have found a unique and quite personal way of showing and interpreting your past experiences through a photographic collage inspired imagery. With a mixture of layers and texts as well as the use of bright colours, I wonder how you found that to be your artistic expression? And is this unique for your entire body of work or is it for this project specifically?

I always look for ways to create surreal images that we cannot see in the real-life, as I find it boring to just take pictures that everybody can see with their eyes in the existing world. In the past, I always had imagery pictures and scenes in my mind that I wanted to present to others, but no matter how hard I tried to stage them out, it is almost impossible to stage everything because things just don’t work out being together. That’s why I started working on photo collages by using Photoshop, which gives me no boundaries to visualize my inner world in a non-sense approach.

Colour is the most important element in my photography, each colour gives me imagination to different things in life. For example, the colour red reminds me of my grandmother, black reminds me of an umbrella. And one thing I find interesting is that colours have their personalities and characteristics in my works, which help the photographic narratives to be constructed.

My images do not visually look pleasing, as the layers make the images very messy and almost lose focus. The bright colours are almost too sharp for enjoyment and even contrasting colours are put together in a frame. This echoes my feeling of being an outsider in the country where I was born and raised. I like to use this messiness to reflect my confusion here.   

The project The Song of a Young Nutter is my first attempt at using photo collage, which I continue to use in my upcoming project for my master’s degree. I’m trying out more possibilities to work with this method, and right now I am combining it with stage photography to create surreal images based in the reality.

Hung Cing-Yan (Fion), Fish is a terrible creature, 2020 // When I was small, my family loved to feed me congee with fish. One time, they didn’t take away all the fish bones and I ate one. It was stuck in my throat and so my family brought me to the nearest clinic to take it out. After that time, I was afraid of eating fish.

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Some of the images give me associations to an artist like the Japanese Izumi Miyazaki (b. 1994) where she in similar – yet different – ways showcase themes like (self)identity through photographic collages. But to me, it seems like the small texts that accompany your photos in the series are almost equally important to the overall narrative. The texts contextualize the images and adds your personal story to them. But do you see the texts as equally important? Or can you explain why you choose to accompany the images with these rather personal stories as well?

I don’t usually include text as part of my work. But for this series, I find it necessary to give my audience an alternative view to see my photography. The stories in this series are unique and specific, which viewers may want to know more about the contents of each story. However, I think my work can stand alone even without word interpretations. The viewers will be able to use more of their imagination to see my images and relate them to their past experiences. I think this will be even more interesting. In fact, this is the first time I exhibit this series together with text.

Hung Ching-Yan (Fion), Dad loves eating sticky rice dumplings wrapped with rocks, 2020 // I was helping my grandmother to make sticky rice dumplings one evening, so she said that we would make one for dad too for his dinner. I put two pieces of small rocks inside the dumpling and I believed that dad would love it. He ate it at last and it seemed like he didn’t notice my joke.

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I really believe in the personal narrative that The Song of a Young Nutter unfolds. As a viewer, it seems like a great balance of exploring a very individual and personal history and still manage to make it recognizable. To me, the project feels simultaneously both familiar and unfamiliar which is an interesting perspective as I grew up in the West by a single mother and doesn’t necessarily share the same lived experiences as you.

How do you manage to balance such a personal project and still make it rather universal? What kind of thoughts run through your head when making this project?

When I first created the collages, I didn’t think of what the audience would feel. I simply wanted to visualize my childhood memories for myself to appreciate because I’m afraid the memories will fade by the passing of time. When I was able to create a few images, I showed them to my friends – both from Hong Kong and from other countries. Some of them told me that they could relate their childhood with mine by recognizing some of the objects that carry collective memories for local people, such as seaweeds and dumplings. While others thought that the stories are interesting even they didn’t know what the objects are representing. I decided to simply use compositions and colours to narrate my stories at the end without considering how others think. I believe all the kids in the world have something in common, such as playing in the playground, putting on adults’ clothes, and wearing uniforms, which I included in my work. Maybe that’s how it’s rather universal for the audiences to read with all these common habits.

Sure. And can you also elaborate further on the title The Song of a Young Nutter?

My friends told me that I was insane after listening to my stories, which gave me the idea of calling myself a “nutter” for the titling. This project is about my childhood, so I added the word “young” in the front.

I also wondered if you have had any feedback from your family?  

I showed the images to my parents without showing them the text, as they seemed not interested in seeing more. My dad seemed to like the visual of my images but none of them understood the ideas behind it. I am not surprised with their reactions because they have already given up on me in terms of guessing what I am thinking and creating- maybe that’s why I should call myself a nutter even more. 

Hung Ching-Yan (Fion), Chicken will appear when the egg paste flows down, 2020 // I believed that I could breed chickens from eggs in the fridge. One time, I stole an egg and put it under my legs for the whole afternoon, hoping that I could breed a chick. When I was about to give up, I broke the egg and the egg yolk flew through my feet.

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Even though the project can be interpreted as a rather personal project it can also be discussed in a greater matter, I believe. As it’s touching upon timeless themes like memory, identity, family relationships and coming of age, you could easily read the project into more philosophical and societal discussions as well. For example, how you remember a childhood, how family dynamics work both within societal structures and internally in each family as well as how one’s past also defines one’s present. It can be viewed as a search for or longing of identity (and what goes through in this search).

Where do you place The Song of a Young Nutter? Is it merely a personal project about growing up and finding your identity or is it also a criticism of e.g. a society characterized by strict family values?

The Song of a Young Nutter is the starting point for me to study my personal history. It is also a process of self-realization to question my unsettled identity under the changing society in Hong Kong. I am exploring this topic furthermore by talking about strict family values, which relates to the idea of the Chinese communist ideology of absolute obedience.

And can you elaborate on why you, as the artist, place your project in that category? 

The reason I create art pieces is to have conservations with myself. Being an artist, I live like everybody else in society and we experience the same issues. I sometimes imagine how things matter to other people when I talk about my concerns through art creation, so I start to link my personal experiences to a bigger picture – the social issues and changes we encounter. I am looking forward to connecting with people through my art expressions and listening to what their perspectives are.

Hung Ching-Yan (Fion), A child under care, 2020 // My uncle and his girlfriend at that time brought me to a playground one day. While I was playing, I fell down from a slide and broke my ankle. It was really painful and when I told them they said I would be ok. When we went back to my grandmother’s home for dinner, they said they took good care of me in the park.

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As we’re soon saying goodbye to your great exhibition at ON THE GO, I would like to ask you if there’s anything specific you think the viewer should reflect on when seeing The Song of a Young Nutter?

Maybe reflecting on one’s self-awareness towards his/her identity? What are the factors affecting your way of thinking? How can you see yourself differently in this society?

And also, can we expect other projects from you again soon?

Yes! I’m working on my master’s project, which is a continuation of the series The Song of a Young Nutter as I said above. I will be exhibiting it in my graduation show in November this year, stay tuned!

Hung Ching-Yan (Fion), You’re like a cloud, 2020 // My mum was a tiger mum who was over-protecting and she would follow me everywhere even when I was in high school. On the bus to China, I walked down the stairs to the toilet and left my wallet on the chair and mum immediately spotted it. She shouted to me in front of all my friends from school, saying that I was as careless as a cloud as I forgot my wallet. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, at the same time, I could imagine my head turning to the shape of the sky.

About the artist

Hung Ching-Yan, Fion (b. 1993) is a photographic artist from Hong Kong, who was born and raised in a traditional Fujian family. When she was young, she lived with her grandparents for many years, and has since then realized that there’s a big generation gap between the family and herself. She has been focusing on the exploration of family relationships and resolving conflicts with Chinese cultures in the past few years.

Hung is primarily creating works based on photography, images and text. As an emerging artist, Hung has been actively participating in the Hong Kong art scene. Her recent project “I Wanted To Be A Mother” was selected to be one of the shows in the “Photographer Incubator Project” of the Hong Kong International Photo Festival 2020. This was also Hung’s second solo exhibition and was just exhibited in PHVLO HATCH art space in SSP district, Hong Kong. Other works of hers were exhibited in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Germany, Italy and Denmark. She is currently undertaking her Master degree in Photography with London College of Communication, University of Arts London

Hung graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Hon) in Visual Arts degree from the Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University in 2016. Her work “To Be Used Someday” received a WMA Young Talents award in 2016.

For more information, please visit: www.hungchingyan.com


Thank you

On behalf of Fotografisk Center, I would like to thank Hung Ching-Yan (Fion) for her cooperation and contribution during the online exhibition on our digital platform ON THE GO. The exhibition ends January 9, 2022.

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