I actually focus on exploring wearable art by creating Body Containers, sculptures, since the recent years I pursue an on-going project called Travelling Into Your Bookshelf aiming to create dialogue around memories of books that I collect as gifts from people I meet on my travels around the world.
Q: Recalling by sewing. Drawing with memories and bodies. You try to rewrite tales and present tense with your performances and your dresses that change the structure f written and printed pages transformed in gaments - and beyong! And often you wear multiple identities, always with the sake to share them with the surrounding society. Or, the same often, you travel with your own reminiscence in forms of books: you slice your personal library and offer itinerant performances to who is ready to join your knitting. Which exhibiion is so far the most intense and which experience of Travelling Into Your Bookshelf has been the most ouvhing and why? What's next on your dashboard?
Movana: The most intense exhibition has been in 2013, KNITerature at the ArtisTree in Hong Kong. I was working so hard and spent two years to prepare this solo project meant for a large-scale space (20,000 sq.ft.) with a remarkable piece, knitting conversations, involving 150 participants from around the world. I invited family memebrs, friends, students and even strangers to give a book to me - a one of special meaning or memory from their bookshelves. When the book is shredded and knitted by the participants for weeks, months or even years in their own places, it acts like a space where the transformation of attachment takes place - from a book to a self-knitted piece. One by one, I collected the finished, half-finished or unfinished pieces from the participants, I sewed them together and eventually presented a 15-meter-long installation in the solo exhibition KNITerature. In the opening night of the exhibition, over 50 knitters gathered through collaborative work and offered a knitting performance. Many of them met for the first time but because of their engagement in the project they were connected together: a knitting community was, so, organically formed, by extending one's engagement from a private sphere to a public one.
Travelling Into Your Bookshelf project dates back from 2009, I was invited to travel to London, Milan, Paris, Seoul, Philadelphia, Michigan, Sicily, Melbourne, Hannover, Berlin and, more recently, Venice, Istanbul and Cappadocia. The most touching experience of my Travelling Bookshelf is every journey ending in an unknown cities by travelling with my big suitcase and with my artwork and meet new people. It is full of advantures, inspiration, surprises, energy: everyone and every culture is connected. Travelling Bookshelf is a knitted world where to taste an impossible dream-world, a never-ending story, a piecethat crossed times, places, people, cultures, histories and loves. I think I am very lucky as an artist having Travelling Bookshelf as the lifetime project, I am not arriving alone when I travel to a new place, it always a moment of joy of being together, being connected, special knitting a new relationship.
Q: Next destination?
Q: Describe a fantastic happening you have had in recent time...
Q: Which is a talent you have and the one you miss?
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Q: What have you learnt from life until now?
Movana: That life is a journey to experice different places, cultures nd to share love with your positive energy with everyone.
Stories are everywhere, and can come about anytime in any form. Every story represents a unique combination of space, time and lives. People love stories. They laugh at them, sometimes cry over them. Stories make people follow a certain form of life according to the references within. In this way, people and stories interact to make life more dynamic, enjoyable and fruitful.
Astonishingly, I found knitting everywhere too. Before I got to know Movana, I was such a foolish boy who knew nothing about knitting. But now I have begun to think about and get to know the world of knitting. It is, above all, an act of love and affection. It has long been a manifestation of motherly love towards the family in Korea as well as all over the world.
We all agree that love is the most indispensable ingredient of life. But unfortunately, love is sometimes hard to express. Kids know everything about love: showing love, and being loved, with no hesitation. For them, love is natural; they love confidently. But in the course of growing up, we sadly lose the confidence to love and to be loved. We have to be well-bred human beings to be able to appreciate and express love in proper ways. So, love needs practice.
When I was growing up, I did not see my mother knitting. As a housewife in a poor agricultural family that subsequently became a small commercially motivated family after we moved into the big city, she had been far too busy, I believe. So I had no chance to experience the world of knitting.
When I began to meet girls, they sometimes sent a knitted piece to me as a present. It was definitely an expression of special affection. With hindsight, I know that they were all one-of-a-kind pieces, designed solely for me. Knitting is an act of bonding between strangers. Through their knitting, they were in fact sending me an expression of love. (I, the foolish boy, should have known that!)
Through this personal story, I have came to realize that knitting is a ‘relational’ product: knitting creates a peculiar world of affection, and people get close- knit when they share a world created of knitting. Somebody might call it a life-world of knitting, because knitting generates love and affection and, as a result, breaks down barriers and brings people together.
Since 2007, when I first saw Movana Chen as a foreign artist participating in the Fringe Festival in Seoul, her art of knitting has continued to evolve into a proper ‘world’. This evolution goes hand in hand with adding more stories to her work. The more stories she interweaves, the more reading we could enjoy when appreciating her art.
At first, she knitted shredded paper from magazines. The popular culture in those magazines got a new life. Magazines are usually destined to be short-lived. Movana took them and gave them a longer life in an art form. In this sense, it was a rearranged life, designed by a young, intelligent and contented artist.
Editing is an art of putting hitherto unconnected things together in a certain media. Editing is an art of rearrangement. Book editing involves putting varigated materials on a certain size of paper, under one new original title. Magazine editing is a similar thing: connecting the unconnected trends into a volume. Webpage editing shows no difference; by quoting various links,
a webpage allows us to navigate an unprecedented world. When we see Movana’s planning note, we can immediately recognize that her art is full of this editing. She is always trying to put a new dimension onto an existing order of things.
Movana was smart to invite her friends, and consequently their life-worlds and stories enter her art. Travelling into Your Bookshelf is so ambitious. A book is quite different from a magazine. For every reading person, the bookshelf, the personal library, is his/her own heaven and castle. It is the life-long result of their intellectual journey; readers collect certain books, and project themselves into the books they read. Movana decided to visit there, and collect her friends’ books, along with the book-lovers’ stories and their everyday lives, and turn them into art. The project is still ongoing, with more than seven interconnected bookshelf memories, and keeping participants on their toes as to where the next stop will be.
I just cannot forget the moment she arrived at Incheon International Airport for the Seoul stop, with a huge bag containing the work that would only get bigger as it continues on, stop after stop. For me, the huge bag seems to be a channel through which we are able to meet the participant friends from all over the world. In this sense, she was not arriving alone; she had come with many other knitters. It was a moment of such joy; joy of being together, being connected, specially in the form of beautiful art.
Knitting Conversations, a new round of Movana’s evolutionary art, does not just include participation through giving books; it encourages the meaningful collaboration with friends. After adding simple techniques to manage the shredded paper, most of the participating friends find that they can directly contribute to the art production in an enjoyable way. Even without Movana, they can continue knitting, adding their own creative edge into the work, originally designed and initiated by Movana.
As such, most of them join as collaborators, just like myself. From the very outset, Knitting Conversations has been an effort towards an art of togetherness. Movana’s art has evolved from ‘putting together’ (rearrangement and/or editing) to ‘being together’ (collaborative art).
The most peculiar artistic aspect of Movana’s work is its everyday kind of production. Her art is deeply interwoven with processes of our daily life. The material (paper) is such an everyday thing; knitting is such an everyday technique; and each of the people participating is such an everyday person.
French philosopher Henri Lefebvre once said that we should make our everyday lives as a festival in order to overcome the hazards of techno- bureaucratical social space in modern capitalism. Taking part in the collaboration works of Knitting Conversations has turned my everyday life into a highly festive moment. This has not just happened to me; it has happened to my colleagues, my family and my friends too. They have all enjoyed the knitting and shared my joy of collaboration, making their own everyday life full of festive delight. It was very hard for them to believe that they were indeed making art using everyday things: paper and knitting. They were even more astonished to find out that their knitting would be a part of a huge work of art.
KNITerature is, in some ways, a simple collection of such shiny, sparkling and joyful moments. And a huge thanks to Movana for allowing me to be a part of it; for allowing the people around me to appreciate the everyday aspect of art. Once they have experienced such a moment, their everyday lives will be different once and for all. Movana’s knitted world makes people think the unthinkable so easily (“Ah, art doesn’t need to be just a dream”), and it makes their everyday life-world meet the never-never dreamworld. People love Movana’s knitted world because, in there, they can taste an unfamiliar but gorgeous piece of the seemingly impossible dreamworld, thanks to Movana’s effort towards an evolutionary/collaborative art.
translator-cum-publisher at Windshoes Guild of Publishers in Seoul, collaborator with Movana since 2007, both as performer and knitter
According to our present knowledge of time and space, light and gravity, and the universe and everything, matter and energy came together billions of years ago as the Big Bang to create our current universe. All the matter and energy that existed then continues to exist now, and while it may rush off in all directions as the universe expands, the gravitational energy between each bit decreases by compensational amounts so that the total amount of energy, in whatever form, remains constant. This is the First Law of Thermodynamics. In a closed system such as our universe, the total amount of energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can only change from one form to another. In this way, across all time and creation, everything is connected.
We may think that our lives are relatively contained like a series of concentric circles, with our friends and loved ones in our inner circle and everyone and everything else in the material world in subsequent circles, ranked in order of the degree of influence they may have on us. But in actual fact, our lives are touched every day by an extraordinarily diverse range of events, issues, decisions and omissions that we cannot possibly keep track of, let alone chart the multifarious ways in which unknown, isolated instants impact on us. Chaos theory uses the analogy of the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil being responsible for setting off a tornado in Texas to describe the impossibility of making predictions for complex systems. The term butterfly effect is now used to describe a broad range of ideas that are concerned with complexity. The butterfly analogy does not say that these things are not connected, only that the underlying conditions by which they might be connected can never be sufficiently articulated to allow conclusions to be drawn. The environment offers us lessons of its own. The phenomena of global warming and species extinctions teach us that in ecology, everything is connected to everything else, and that actions have consequences and nothing exists in isolation.
In her work, artist Movana Chen makes these connections explicit in tremendously evocative ways. Her work speaks to the connections between imagination and experience, dreams and reality, and the ties of love and compassion that bind us together. Her work celebrates the fact that we are all individually and gloriously different but are also connected to one another through our humanity. Movana shreds books and magazines that are given to her by friends or acquaintances and uses the shreds to make threads that can then be knitted into forms. She reads the books and then remakes them in such a way that the lives of the owner, author, artist, and every other person who has ever read the same work are intermingled into something shared.
Movana only accepts gifts of books if they have particular significance to the person who gave them to her. When it is reborn as a new work of art, something bearing that significance endures, even though the original words and pictures are now completely unintelligible. The shredding and knitting takes the original content and reorders it into new configurations. Fragments of individual words and images can be identified on the visible surface of the work, but the rest is imbedded deep in the loops and whorls of the knitted knots. The knitted work is like a dense net that catches and contains the words of the author, as well as the thoughts and feelings of every reader who has ever encountered it.
The casual destruction or disposal of cultural property often gives us pause for thought, despite the fact that these objects may be well-chewed children’s classics, dog-eared paperbacks, or outmoded vinyl recordings that were produced in the millions. Such is the resonance that these objects have in our lives. We associate the deliberate destruction of cultural property with hateful autocratic regimes such as Nazi Germany or the Taliban in Afghanistan. The book burnings, confiscations and desecrations of art objects by such regimes represent a deliberate attempt to destroy a living culture. But when Movana ‘destroys’ a book, it is done for the purpose of recreating it as another work of art.
Her work investigates the material culture of popular publishing and explores the ways that public and private spheres co-exist. It is a social engagement with art and ideas in both the material and metaphysical world.
artist, art historian, critic and independent curator
in conversation with movana chen
Q: You read every book before the pages go into the shredder. You have to knit and do all the things related to your artwork, exhibitions, and overseas artist-in-residencies, including in Seoul and Sicily. You also have your duties as a gallery curator. How are you able to find time for all this?
Movana: I make it a point to read every book or at least get an understanding of the content. In cases where it is not possible for me to read a book in detail, such as one in a foreign language, I have the person who gave it to me to tell me the story. For the KNITerature project, I have read about 200 books so far. Some are comics and Korean language books. Some I have read intensely—every line, every word—and even I took notes. It depends on the content. In some cases, I just do a quick glance of the pages and try to understand the plot. I get very little sleep. I read when I am on the bus, and I do my knitting wherever and whenever I have time.
Q: Do you ever tire of reading and knitting? Which has inspired you more — reading or knitting?
Movana: Definitely not. I love doing both. That said, the first inspiration actually came about by chance—not because I particularly loved reading or knitting. When I was attending Hong Kong Art School, I had a project called Measuring Myself: I stacked up a pile of 139 books of equal height to myself, and I started exploring the relationship between the books and myself, wondering what I could do with the paper. I decided to shred it and knitted a dress with the shreds. Then I started working with magazines because the paper is more durable. I collected unwanted magazines and the idea of ‘recycling’ came about; how I was able to give new life to something that would have ended up as trash. However, I have since moved on from that and my work is no longer about ‘recycling’. I also do not like being stereotyped as a ‘paper-knitting artist’. My work at this stage explores interactions between people from different cultures, and linking their stories. People from around the world are participating in my project. They have to think about their book and share their story with me and others, and that is how them come together in one single project.
Q: How does Body Container fit into this network of relationships?
Movana: I was picking up magazines on the street and it got me thinking about my own connection to the external world. Body Container was initially made of magazine shreds but it has also moved on and now I knit them from books and also maps. Within the Body Container, no one knows how I am able to listen and feel the different reactions of people in different countries. In Central District, Hong Kong, I once stood still within a Body Container for hours. When one person started taking photographs, others joined in. They would talk among themselves and treat me like I was invisible. Tourists were generally more interested and would ask for my name and how they would see more of my work. They found it amazing that a Hong Kong artist could do this in the sweltering summer heat. I also went to the local food markets, where people would debate as to whether anyone was inside. Some saw such performce art as silly. In Korea, kids would touch the Body Container and ask me questions without any hesitation. The French also had a lot of questions about my art, what I was trying to say, and why I was there.
Q: What about books that you find boring or hard to comprehend?
Movana: I do try to read them. Once someone gave me a Bible. It was just not possible to read every page of it. I am also not a religious person. I asked the person to choose a chapter he would like me to read. It was the story of Esther. I realized it was a simple story. I had thought that the Bible was full of complicated teachings that would be very hard for me to understand. Similarly, a Korean friend gave me her books of piano scores and it didn’t matter that I don’t read music: the books meant something to her. Reading has enabled me to learn many things within a short period of time. Some books are so captivating that I do not dare skip a single word.
Q: For Knitting Conversations, were you happy to accept gifts of books from anyone who was willing to give them to you, or was there some criteria for participation?
Movana: I refrained from extending the invitation to people who say, were interested joining for the sole reason of learning how to knit. Participants have to understand my work. Most people start out not knowing how to knit, but they have books, memories, and stories to share, and they fall in love with knitting along the way. The person, the book and his/her relationship to the book are the important elements. The pages of the books are fragile, which makes them difficult to knit, but they contain words that carry meaning in relation to history and culture. Someone’s memory of a book can be shared with others. Some people have wanted to give me textbooks and magazines. I tell them I only wanted one book, and it must have a significant meaning for them. Many participants could not bear to part with a book they see as precious, but in the end are happy for it to be turned into a work of art rather than have it sitting idle on a shelf. I treasure these books that were very dear to people.