A Good Yarn
Tatler Hong Kong|September 2020
A Good Yarn
Artist Movana Chen has travelled the world in search of inspiration, but being stuck in Hong Kong has opened up a realm of new possibilities
Oliver Giles
A hiker gets lost in the Siberian tundra. Thick snow blankets the ground. Clouds billow threateningly overhead and the temperature plummets to minus 25C. She panics.

Two strangers connect over the internet. They discuss books, art and travelling. After months of messaging, the pair meet at a coffee shop in Seoul, where one teaches the other to knit.

A woman in Hong Kong is presented with a key. She carries it to the Sicilian city of Palermo, where a hand-drawn map leads her to a lone blue house on a sun-drenched hill. The key fits.

These sentences might read like they are ripped from the pages of novels, but they are true stories from the eventful life of the wonderful, wacky Hong Kong artist Movana Chen—and she has plenty more. “I have so many stories, so many,” says Chen, 45, laughing. “I love life on the road.” Chen spends up to ten months a year travelling, gathering materials and ideas to fuel her art, which takes the form of drawings, paintings, photographs, videos, performances and, most famously, installations created from woven paper. Her latest pieces are being shown this month at an exhibition at Flowers Gallery in Sheung Wan, opening on September 8.

A highlight is a new paper installation, the latest work in Chen’s ongoing Travelling into Your Bookshelf project. For this series, she makes striking pieces using long strips of paper torn from books that Chen has collected on her travels and knit together as if they were wool. From afar, the resulting sheets look like a scarf or rug.

Sometimes Chen hangs her knitted creations from a gallery’s ceiling or wall; other times she molds them into sculptures she calls Body Containers—human-sized cylinders that look like beautiful, delicate sarcophagi. Whatever shape Chen’s knitted pieces take, words and letters are almost always still visible on the surface, mixing English, Chinese, Cyrillic and Hebrew characters into an unintelligible mix, like the voices from the Tower of Babel.

In Chen’s art, paper is a subject in and of itself, not merely a blank canvas on which to draw, write or paint. By tearing pages from books and cutting, ripping and folding individual sheets, she hopes to encourage viewers to think more deeply about this everyday material. She also loves paper because it is the conduit for language and stories, two things universal to every culture, which have united people throughout history. “All my work is about making connections,” she explains.


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September 2020