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Exploring the ecological art practice of contemporary artist Peggy Chan

STIR delves into the artistic practice of one of its favourite finalists for the ‘Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020’. Part 2 of 3 examines the works of Macao-born Peggy Chan.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : May 22, 2020

Sometimes, the role between an artist and activist can be quite a blur. History can point us to numerous creatives through the course of art who have stood up for minorities, refugees and other groups, which have been marginalised. Art has created awareness and has served as a tool for people to speak out against authority and established power structure through non-violent methods. Some examples of activism through art can be seen in the work of feminist group Guerrilla Girls and even Ai Weiwei’s works. Artists have long been representative of the unrecognised, unheard and underground resistance and will continue to play a crucial role going forward as well. Hong Kong-based artist Peggy Chan tells the story of those without voice - the flora and fauna of Macao.

Her submission for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020 caught our eye and made it to STIR’s list of favourite three, chosen for its relevance in its social and environmental implications as well as its ability to play with material. The Sovereign Art Foundation is a well-established patron of the arts throughout the Asia-Pacific region and their annual prize provides patronage for upcoming artists from this region.

‘Specimen Tree 5’ by Chan examines the depleting ecology of Macao | Sovereign Asian Art Award | Peggy Chan | STIRworld
‘Specimen Tree 5’ by Chan examines the depleting ecology of Macao Image Credit: Courtesy of Peggy Chan

Chan’s work, Specimen Tree Series (No. 1-6), is a result of extensive research into the ecological evolution of Macao. “Due to the urban development, wetlands ecology is on the brink of extinction and the ecology will in turn lose its balance," she mentions. Her work employs the cyanotype technique, which is an antique photographical printing technique that uses sunlight as a necessary instrument for developing the images on photo paper. The shade of blue varies with the intensity of sunlight and the duration of exposure. Chan draws a parallel to her work saying, “like life, it has unforeseeable variations”.

Chan pushes the limitations of two-dimensional images, transforming the photographs into sculptures. In the series, she renders animals of the region like little crabs, frogs and bugs onto the photo paper and secures it in place with large needles, which to the viewer might denote the fragility of the ecosystem in Macao. The final works are presented encased in glass, further alluding to the underlying message of her works urging protection and preservation of the wetlands.

‘Specimen Tree 6’ by Chan blurs the lines between two and three dimensional artwork | Sovereign Asian Art Award | Peggy Chan | STIRworld
‘Specimen Tree 6’ by Chan blurs the lines between two- and three-dimensional artwork Image Credit: Courtesy of Peggy Chan

Shraddha Nair (SN): What drives you, as an artist, to create and what are some philosophies you abide by through your practice?

Peggy Chan (PC): Since I was young, I like imagining, creating, and going against the norms and rules. Art  opens up such a space for me to realise my imagination. My philosophy is not to set any boundaries for myself in creating.

SN: What does it mean to you as a creative practitioner, to be nominated for the prestigious Sovereign Art Award?

PC: The Sovereign Art Foundation, which offered this award, is a charitable foundation. I am really thankful for their constant hard work in promoting Asian contemporary art whilst helping children in need through expressive art. This award is meaningful in all facets.

SN: What do you feel will be the role of the artist and the purpose of art in a world post-pandemic? Will the place art holds in the world be reaffirmed, elevated or drowned?

PC: Artists are just normal people. But what they can do is to inspire people to reflect and imagine through their artworks. I believe art will be elevated. Art can comfort hearts at this troubled time. It elicits reflections on things they may not have thought of in the past. The pandemic has brought us to realise that art has been long embedded in our lives as an indispensable part. People have come to realise that not being able to visit museums and cinemas has great impact on our daily lives.

Artist Peggy Chan | Sovereign Asian Art Award | STIRworld
Artist Peggy Chan Image Credit: Courtesy of Peggy Chan

Peggy Chan Pui Leng holds a BA in Fine Arts from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University. Chan’s works have been shown throughout Asia, most notably in Hundred Specie, Macao Museum of Arts (2017), Jeonnam International Sumuk Biennale, Mokpo, Korea (2018), The 2nd CAFAM Future Exhibition: Observer - Creator, The reality representation of Chinese Young Art, CAFA Art museum, Beijing (2015), Hong Kong Female Artists Exhibition, St. Petersburg State University, Russia (2018) and Sparkle! After One Hundred, Oil Street Art Space, Hong Kong (2015).

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