From our Hot Seat series.
Artist Hoi Chiu creates his work with somewhat unusual materials — sand. What started with some idle Internet browsing and then experimenting with the medium himself at the beach has lead to almost a decade of creating sand paintings and doing live painting performances — sometimes set to music. Most recently, he performed alongside French pianist twosome Duo Jatekok in The Butterfly Lovers as part of this year’s Le French May festival. We spoke to him about the allure of sand and the challenge and reward of live performance.
Growing up in Kowloon Walled City, Chiu created games and stories for himself as a child. That creative acumen lead him to take on a slew of careers — from puppeteer to actor to set and costume designer — but his childhood love of drawing eventually led him back to the visual arts.
Sand art gave me a whole new perspective on art. It is so different from any kind of traditional medium like oil, ink, pastel or watercolor. I wanted to share what I discovered with other people, so I started drawing single pictures using sand. Then I proceeded to give live sand performances in which I tell a short story. Later, because I felt sad about not being able to keep any of my work, I started sand animation to keep a record I can share with more people in the future.
Sand art is one of a kind. No one can reproduce any piece. I love its uniqueness very much! The infinite possibility of sand, the fragility of the finished piece, and the light and shadow that sand creates all attracted me so much that I decided to devote myself to it.
My past performing experience matters. It keeps me aware of the audience’s response, so I can keep my performance interactive yet artistic. It trained me to face the audience directly and respond to them on stage immediately. This is especially important for sand art performance, as when I immerse myself into my sand art world, it is easy to forget about everything. I add hand gestures in the sand performance so as to enhance the atmosphere of the story I am telling. This helps me to deliver emotions. I believe the transformation from one drawing to another is the essence and charisma of live performance. It keeps you guessing.
Every performance is a new challenge. Even after eight years of live performing, I still cannot sleep well before a show. Live performances expend a lot of energy. The painting must perfectly match with the music, and every second counts. So every painting, every moment is well planned and things cannot go wrong on stage. I guess I may need to retire a few years later when I cannot remember so many things!
I am not a good example to anyone so I don’t think I am the right person to give advice, but, be true to yourself! I believe doing what you like will have the best results.
My dream is to produce a long sand movie of 90 minutes, but I’d need to spend years invest a lot in it. Hopefully one day my dream will come true.
Artists don’t care about the future, we only care about this moment. I am open to what I may come across.