One experiment borne out of an act of defiance by the celebrated Red Hong Yi turned out to be a life-changing experience for herself, and her team. In 'Thank God It’s Monday', they celebrate the best of themselves – through their art.
Story by KOAY CHOON SEAN for Lensa Seni
MONDAY. Arguably the most despised day of any given week. You’ll find cute T-shirt slogans and song lyrics that attest to this “fact”. However, not everyone will acquiesce to the negative energy surrounding Mondays. At least, not one particular Malaysian artist from Sabah.
Red Hong Yi, better known as Red, is known for her experimental works using everyday objects and materials to create thought-provoking pieces. Her oeuvre includes a portrait of the Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou created using socks (2012), a sunflower seed tribute to Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei (Sunflower Seeds Di Er, 2017), a tea bag portrait of a man making Teh Tarik (Teh Tarik Man, 2015) and a part sculpture, part performance art piece which graced the cover of TIME’s April 2021 issue (Climate is Everything, 2021). Her Instagram profile is clear about this. Red, who is also the founder of Memebank, famously calls herself: “That artist who paints without a paintbrush.”
You would expect that Mondays would the same even for her. Just a run-of-the-mill start to another week of chasing deadlines.
You couldn’t be more wrong. In a manner of defiance and a form of Red’s interpretation of Google’s 20-Percent Rule (a concept made popular when Google went public in 2004, in which it encourages its employees to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google), Red and her team don’t do a nine-to-fiver on Mondays.
She said, “For a couple of months, I told the team – let’s take Mondays off. You guys can do anything you want to. By the end of a five-month period, we would have to exhibit something! It can be anything at all but take your Monday off to do it!”
That motivation led to a culmination of the self-initiated personal projects and was finally displayed in a group show titled ‘THANK GOD IT’S MONDAY!’ This three-day exhibition was held in conjunction with George Town Festival 2021’s 9 Days 8 Exhibitions campaign and featured 12 artworks in various mediums by 11 artists, including Red.
There was no unifying theme on display, other than the fact that all of the pieces were made on Mondays. There were installations, ink prints and many applications of the acrylic element. Honestly, it felt more like a science fair.
Each piece checked the experimental boxes – they were fun, inquisitive and personal. If only science were as colourful and expressive. It was a departure from the team’s repertoire, and a showcase of their-newly acquired knowledge through personal instruments of art. Not something I would think to associate with a mundane Monday.
I was particularly attracted to WC Yan’s Moment (2021) among the works on display. A monotone portrait of a woman was accompanied by four panels – two on each side – containing a myriad of three-dimensional, mini acrylic plates meant to resemble the stained-glass of a cathedral. Specifically, the famed La Sagrada Familia. A captivating line from the artist’s text read:
In this breathtaking basilica,
La Sagrada Familia.
Tourists were lost,
in the colours, lights and Gaudi’s tiles,
while me, in your smile.
Are personal works made on Monday usually this dramatic (and beautiful)? The transition in expression by the lady in question, who witnessed the symphony of light and colours as it happened in La Sagrada Familia, was gracefully shown through delicate strokes of graphite pencil. Her smile drew his utmost attention despite the grandiose colour parade in the sanctified space. The artist further expressed the insignificance of the surrounding scene by using clear, acrylic plates to epitomise inferiority of the hues from the stained-glass to her ephemeral expression. The reflection of light on the plates subsequently infused the centrepiece with a dazzling aura of elegance. It was brilliant.
Red’s piece was obviously compelling, particularly for those who have been following her satirical adventure of ‘starting a bank’.
On her wall text, Red explained that she spent her Mondays trying to understand the complex world of cryptocurrency and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT). Her first foray into that domain led to the creation of Doge to the Moon – an NFT which was sold last July for 36.3 ETH. At the time of writing, that translated to a value of more than RM673,000.
For this exhibition, she recreated two witty pieces using the subject – or rather, a meme – of the crypto community: the Doge. The larger work of the two was a direct interpretation of the earlier NFT (Doge to the Moon, 2021), where she used the stems of lotus root and okra to create imprints of the titular character and the moon on a textile surface. I was drawn to that technique because it reminded me of the art assignments in primary school. Although it was a nightmare for my mum then, I can imagine her chuckling at this piece today. The other one was a collection of three cut-offs from the original NFT, representing the Doge, the moon, and the word “Memebank”.
Red went on to create five other exclusive NFTs under the same series, which were collectively valued at 190 ETH (at the time of writing). That’s RM3.5mil! When was the last time you dedicated your Monday towards growing a concept beyond your breadth of understanding, and sold it for a million ringgit or more? Perhaps, great things do happen even on the first day after the weekend!
There are 10 other artworks in the exhibition dedicated to each artist’s personal passage through Mondays, but I am inclined to leave you here with just two. One had the effect of elevating what appeared to be monotonous, to a deeper level of emotional connection and aesthetic appreciation. The other fun piece had its value fired “to the moon” without too much intensity. Stark in contrast when you think of the underlying motivation, but both pretty much reflect an artist’s aspirations.
And they were realised through many Mondays.
It doesn’t matter if you define yourself as a person of arts or science. Red and her team are challenging you to dig deep into your passion and nurture it, even on – or rather particularly – the day you so wish to erase from any conceivable timeline.
How about starting a transformational journey every Monday? Someone I know of would love to hear me say “Thank God It’s Monday”.
Now where’s my boss? I have some convincing to do.
Thank God It’s Monday by Studio Red ran from Nov 26 – 28 at The Whiteaways Arcade, Penang as part of George Town Festival 2021’s ‘9 Days 8 Exhibitions’ campaign.
KOAY CHOON SEAN is a participant in the CENDANA ARTS WRITING MASTERCLASS & MENTORSHIP PROGRAMME 2021.
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