Hong Kong born 1970
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, installation, chenille sticks
The work Excuse Me! was created for the exhibition Blackphoenix with Michael Pablo, at Melbourne’s First Floor Artist & Writer’s Space in 1997. This exhibition explored issues relating to cultural identity and ‘miscegenation’ – people of ‘mixed race’ – which referred to our own mixed heritages and migrant experiences living in Australia.
Excuse Me! is made entirely from chenille sticks, a craft material also known as pipe-cleaners. I used black chenille sticks to form the wall-drawing, which depicts a crowd of Asian cartoon-like figures standing together. Within the wall-drawing are the shapes of cartoon speech bubbles, containing Chinese calligraphic text with western punctuation such as exclamation and question marks. Here, I twisted thick red chenille sticks to mimic inky painted brushstrokes. The wall-drawing and characters are pinned directly onto the gallery wall, creating a kind of 3D drawing effect, with the shadows adding depth.
The text in each bubble forms an expression or question from a Chinese/English travellers’ phrasebook, which I had used on my trip to Beijing where I went to study language in 1995.
In Excuse Me! the crowd of people confronts the viewer with questions such as ‘How do you do?’, ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘What is your name?’ – basic phrasebook expressions which also echo cultural interrogation.
My work continues to deal with and explore themes arising from issues of cultural identity and politics, migration, ‘multiculturalism’ and racism, within an Australian context. The style of my work reflects a hybrid of influences from both eastern and western, traditional and contemporary art forms –such as Chinese calligraphy and traditional Chinese art, cartoon and comic book graphics, animation, and graffitti art.
Kate Benyon, 2002
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002