Artist Movana Chen rarely draws or paints or sculpts – instead, most of the time, she knits. The Hong Kong-based artist is best known for her ongoing project Travelling into your bookshelf, for which she makes art from books that are recommended to her by people she meets on her travels around the world. After reading the books, she shreds them, then weaves the strips together to make eerie "body containers" that can be either worn or displayed. Chen recently adapted this unique weaving technique for an installation at Ovolo Southside, for which she wove pieces of old maps on to Ovolo's logo – the egg. Now that she's taken that installation down, Chen tells us what she's working on next.
Tell us a bit about the installation you created for Ovolo Southside. How is it a continuation of your earlier work? What was new about this installation?
The recent installation created for Ovolo Southside – which is the same piece I collaborated with Ovolo on at the Art Central fair – is titled Floating Identity and has shredded travel maps interweaved on Ovolo's signature eggs, which are then put on the wall, like they're floating in the sky. The idea is of identity being free-floating, where everyone and every culture is connected, and where we can taste an impossible dream world. The eggs exist without nationality – floating and dreaming, through the shredding and knitting of multiple languages hidden in the maps. This also creates an alternative way of reading and exploring maps – they can be detachable, connectable and have multiple entryways and exits. Between people and place we can open up a freedom of movement without any rules. This new installation is a piece that crosses time, place, people, cultures and identities.
That installation was recently taken down. Will it be installed anywhere else? Or is it very much a site-specific piece?
Now the piece has been taken down, it won't be installed in another place, as it is a site-specific piece. Unless in future I collect more maps from other cities and add more stories on to Ovolo's eggs and install it in another city.
Are you still working on your Travelling into your Bookshelf series? If you are, where did you travel most recently for that?
Yes, Travelling into your bookshelf has been my lifetime project since 2009. I recently travelled to Turkey – I had a challenging performance in Cappadocia. It was the first time to extend my art performance not just in a city, but also in a natural landscape, an inspired place to create a dialogue with the powerful landscape and my body and the travelling bookshelf piece.
For Travelling into your Bookshelf, people are constantly recommending you books. What are you reading at the moment?
A book I am readying at the moment is the English version of Salvadorena by Cecilia Samartin, given to me by a lady I met in Cappadocia. The lady shared her stories with me, including how she fell in love with Cappadocia when she first visited 16 years ago – and that it's where she met her husband.
What do you think of Hong Kong’s art scene? Is Hong Kong a good place to work as an artist?
Hong Kong, for sure, is a good place for artistic creation because its art market is flourishing. But it is always challenging to get funding and related support from the local government, then the rental of the studio is very high and keeps increasing every year – all in all it is becoming hard for artists to reside in the city. One day I may move out from Hong Kong.
What are you working on at the moment? Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
I am working on a book project, planning to launch a new book Travelling Into Your Bookshelf – this'll be the first volume of the 12 cities of the bookshelf journey, with people's stories I've collected between 2009 and 2015. Also coming up is a performance project in Siberia at a book fair in November – I'll bring the Travelling into your bookshelf piece there, too.