Interview #16

MATERIAL TRANSLATION | Fight or Flight

Amy Cheung

Written by RMM
Photos by PMQ

With the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual fashion exhibition welcoming record-breaking crowds, it seems safe to say that fashion is finding its place in the fine art world. We no longer subscribe to a 17th-century notion of what art should be — fashion is more than frivolous applied art and is more often than not, a brand new canvas for artists and fashion designers to break new ground with.

Amy Cheung, one-half of the experimental label handkerchief, is one such designer. An accomplished conceptual artist in her own right, Amy’s large-scale installations have put Hong Kong on the world map, with remarkable installations like Ashes Unto Pearl (2008) and A Bleeding Toy From Childhood (2006) exhibited in galleries worldwide. Her art often questions preconceived notions of our existence, and seeks to create a dialogue between ideas, objects, people and society.

For Fight or Flight, handkerchief’s exhibit for MATERIAL TRANSLATION transformed six “boring dresses” by sending them on a search for excitement. Armed with “additional attachments or accessories”, each dress had to fight or fly from different situations in life.

RMM: What inspired the idea of ‘flight or fight’?

Amy: Riitta gave me a boring dress the other day and said I would like it. It turned out that I really liked the dress! When Smart Textile asked me to contribute to a fashion project, the whim of collaborating with Riitta to create a collection simply crossed my mind. And I said to Riitta, “Let's make this project exciting and dangerous.” So the dress has to react with human's instinctual, psychological response in life threatening stress mode. That’s why I create the dress and embellish it with my “secret weapons”.

RMM: We’ve noticed that your art tends to explore war, the dichotomy between utopia and dystopia, women’s identity issues and even environmental issues. Where does “Flight or Fight” fit into the general themes that you work with?

Amy: A lot of my works are about defense. For example, the toy tank, transparent container, environmental defense and art which depicts the ways human survive in difficult situations.

I am now working on a project regarding immigrants' psychological defense. I got the idea about body's response to danger. Therefore, 'flight or fight' arose naturally, and the theme just manifests into the wearable.

RMM: What do you think makes a textile “smart”?

Amy: A dress works as a basic form for 6 different defenses. It can be considered a smart second skin. We envision 6 different applications of fabric treatments, which are equivalent to our desire to develop faster, smarter, cleaner and easier clothes to handle challenging circumstances. In doing so, our bodies and minds will continue to evolve ourselves to be in tune with the process of our environment.

RMM: What’s the story behind the ‘scary puppet’, and its unveiling on the fashion runway?

Amy: I just want to make something fun!! First, the scary puppet told the model that there was a dead body on the stage. So the model went to look at the corpse where the puppet jumped to sniff it alive, then the puppet collaborated with the model to bring the dead alive! I don't want the show to be too serious. I just want it for fun. And I think that everyone in Hong Kong is too serious. Obviously we need more humor!

The story of ‘scary puppet’ and its unveiling on the fashion runway

RMM: Would you incorporate smart textile into your art or large-scale installations in the future?

Amy: Yes, totally!!! I am researching into smart technology that tracks the mood or disorder of its wearer. Maybe it is too early to say, but this project is certainly inspiring and has opened new doors for further development.

Official Website of MATERIAL TRANSLATION - Smart Fashion event and Exhibition: www.pmq.org.hk/event/material-translation-smart-fashion-runway-exhibition/

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