On a sunny afternoon in Macau, artist Hong Yi – alias Red – was busy finishing her work in a secret corner of the Mandarin Oriental, Macau destined to be the new lobby lounge.
“This is my second time in Macau. The first was 10 years ago but I don’t really remember much,” she said. “But this time is special. The collaboration with Mandarin Orient is also very special. I gave a speech about creativity. The New York Times contacted me and asked: ‘Would you like to give a talk about your art?’ I did it, and Mandarin Oriental was invited to that speech; their GM was there. They found my art perfectly fit their new lobby lounge.”
This young artist, from Sabah in Malaysia, is very enthusiastic about the environment. “This piece I title ‘Bloom’,” said Red in front of her artwork. “Mandarin Oriental gave me a rough direction; they wanted to do something with the lotus, which is representative of Macau. I really like the meaning of the lotus in Chinese, how they bloom from a murky condition.”
Like the past works of Red, this artwork is made of special materials and presented in a very unique way. “There are around 10,000 flowers. The hand-pipe is kind of like how you pipe a cake – instead I use paint rather than butter cream!”
At that moment, she took out her piping tools and paints, demonstrating how to pipe the flowers. “It took me and two assistants around a month to do this. My mum also helped me. Actually, the inspiration came about three, four months ago when my mum took a cake decoration course. I saw her doing the flowers and I thought it was a way to preserve a flower: I done this before using real flowers. They just died after three days; I hope I can preserve this piece.”
She had already piped a rose and a dahlia. “In the beginning, I sketched the whole pitcher. After piping all the flowers, I started to stick them on the major part. Then, I started to put other flowers like apple flowers to make the background. ”
Over the past few years, Red has created a lot of temporary art pieces using many novel materials from daily life such as teabags, cups, sunflower seeds and balls. “After studying in Australia, I went to Shanghai. What really caught [my attention] was how cheap we can get things on Alibaba and Taobao. I started to collect all this stuff that I could buy at a very low price. I can buy 20,000 cups in blue and get them delivered to my house in two hours at a ridiculously low price,” she laughed.
The work that made Red famous was a piece featuring a basketball to draw the portrait of famous Chinese NBA player Yaoming, saying: “In 2012, I started to put my creative process on the video platform for friends and family. I didn’t expect to receive such interest from viewers.”
“I always get inspiration in my life. At that time, Yao was very famous and I could see him on the news. So I did this piece,” following which Red did a portrait of singer Jay Chou and film Director Zhang Yimou utilising coffee and socks. These enabled her to find the favor of legendary actor Jackie Chan, who asked Red to create a unique art piece for his company. “I felt very honored to have this chance to create a piece for Jackie Chan,” she said. “I spent two months staying there to finish it. Every day, he came to see me and offered comments. It was quite interesting.”
Having used so many materials to create these art pieces, nothing seems strange to her anymore. Red also shared an interesting experience about her past work. “Teabags are a little bit different to me. I used 2,000 teabags to dip into water to get the colors out. I shipped this piece to Switzerland. It took some time to get there because the Customs had to open the boxes to check them bag by bag to make sure they were all tea. It was quite funny,” she laughed.
Her passion and her energetic words told us she would definitely wow the world with her unexpected creativity. “My next goal will be to use garbage. I come from Sabah, a holiday destination. There is a famous island and it’s a little bit polluted: I’m thinking of collecting the trash there to make a piece. I may make it like a documentary.”