Mum

Phoebe Ching-ying Man 2002

Being an artist in Hong Kong is neither fascinating nor assertive. Sometimes when my friends introduce me as artist, the other party will probably ask, "what's your occupation then?" It seems that an artist cannot be defined as an occupation. It was somehow similar to what Tsang Tak-ping wrote in the press four years ago, "Visual artists have been considered as disorganized, antisocial, tardy, leading a frivolous life, non-human, jobless, emotional, lousy, laissez-faire, ill-groomed, self-esteem, apathetic, ostracized, introvert, irrational íK" The majority of Hong Kong people do not feel good and interested about artists.

My mother is an ordinary Hong Kong woman born in a working class family, never knowing what I had been doing in the university during my four years of studies in Fine Arts. When I chose to study in the Faculty of Arts, my mother asked me anxiously, "What can you do after graduation?" I tried not to scare her to say that I want to be an artist, but simply replied that I could teach.

After holding a solo-exhibition in '94, people kept on inviting me to launch more and more exhibitions. I did not reject any one of them, but keep on doing my best on each and every one. Very often I had to work overnight and missed my dinners at home. As time went by, my mum asked me, "Ching Ying, when will you stop playing all these and do something else more serious?" I did my artwork seriously but what my mother referred as something serious is to be a civil servant or bank employee, a job prosperous enough to get a low mortgage rate.

Many Hong Kong artists, like me, seldom invite their family to their own exhibition; they never talk with their family about their own way of thinking. It is hardly possible to request them to appreciate our works made of garbage, taboos and which challenge conventional aesthetics concepts. But if we do wish to, there is always the chance.

In '96 I had to assemble a stage installation in one-week using three thousand sanitary flowers. Every flower had to be fabricated in seven minutes on average. It would take an skilled labour like me fifteen days to complete, assuming no more meals and rest. Deadline was then so near that I had to reluctantly seek help from my friends and family. I was so furiously hurried that I plead my younger brother for help. His feedback was, "You've got to find someone else, I'm not interested." When I turned to ask my mum, she agreed crisply to lend a helping hand. My mum, my little brother and my friends went to help me in McAulay Studio. A domestic factory production line with division of labour was set up. My mum was the most hardworking among others; she tried her best effort as if she were the Head. She got my friends oriented, made all tools available, facilitated the assembling procedure and even performed the role of Quality Controller, not to mention advised on technical aspects. For instance, I had insisted to be 'true to material' by using real eggs. Mother thought that I was too fussy. She opined that it would be difficult to distinguish between ping-pong balls and real eggs since the audience and the stage are so far apart. She even bought some ping-pong balls for trial to prove it. Finally, I accepted her suggestion, which did worked out in saving much time. While I looked as if I was at ease talking to my friends, my mum knew perfectly well that I was in panic. I was so touched with tears when she offered to take a day off from her work so as to help me. She was never interested in art, and yet she helped me with all her heart.

In order to let my mum feel better to help me, I grasped the opportunity to explain her my design concept. After saying a whole lot on cultural critics and art history, she looked confused and paused to ask, "You did so many weird things, sometimes I really doubt whether you've got insane," then I stopped saying no more. I tried another approach of explanation, I told her what prizes I had got and that I obtained design fees from my artwork. In fact, I never believe art can be assessed and awarded, whereas getting design fees does not imply that the work is good either. In any case, such approach turned out to be effective: she seemed to understand more and listened more seriously to my design ideas. She even tried to relate my birth history with my artwork; she defended for me when somebody criticized my works. She started to support me more in the field of art, we have more interactions and the feeling is excellent.

Mum and I are from different worlds, but there are always grounds to communicate. Sometimes her simple and direct way of thinking can be very provoking. She is also friendly to everybody. Once I went to market with her and was astonished to find that she knew so many people there. She explained that she met them so often that they became acquainted naturally. To me, who already got accustomed to the remote human relationship of modern society, my mum portrays a truly positive example.

I went to pursue further studies in San Francisco from '98 to 2000. The ambience of art creativity is all around; even ordinary people know a bit of art, and so being an artist there can be assertive. Nonetheless, facing those friendly looking but not really heart-to-heart Americans, I cannot help thinking of my mum in Hong Kong.