Avant guardians

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2007, 12:00am

Artist and fashion designer Movana Chen considers a piece from her clothing collection fashioned from shredded magazine pages. 'I wonder if the Koreans will notice the top is knitted partly in their language,' she says.

Chen's knitwear designs use paper instead of wool, and she's presenting them at the 10th Seoul Fringe Festival, which begins today.

The piece she's holding is part of her latest installation, Wear 'Me' Out-II, which she has created for the festival and features shredded South Korean magazines in a nod to her hosts.

Chen, who is also curator of Hong Kong's YY9 gallery, says she's looking forward to seeing how the Seoul audience will react to her fragile garments.

The exhibition is an interactive experience, with the public invited to question, touch and even tear apart to investigate the delicate dresses, trousers, shirts, skirts and lingerie that make up the collection.

She hopes for a different reaction than the usual reticence. 'Hong Kong people have always been more intrigued by the clothes as fashion [than art],' Chen says. 'They're mesmerised by the technique and the effort. And they hardly dare to touch anything, let alone tear it apart.'

But there's one top she's hoping to bring back in one piece: a shirt knitted using Chinese and Korean magazines. 'This piece is a dialogue between me and Korea. If I go to another festival elsewhere, I'll mix in magazines of that country.'

Also making their Seoul Fringe debut are self-proclaimed sonic wizards Vincent Wong and Regina Chang, otherwise known as Snoblind. With Chen, the duo were selected by the Hong Kong Fringe Club to take part in the festival's Asian art exchange project, which will be held around Hongik University, regarded by locals as the centre of independent culture in Seoul. More than 300 artists will be taking part in 200 performances and 150 exhibitions over 19 days. The festival is expected to draw a crowd of 150,000.

With their laptops, trip hop sounds and a double bass, Snoblind are ready for a live jam session with Korean DJ Guru in a marathon set that will showcase 95 bands.

'It's a great way to exchange ideas,' says Chang. 'Not many bands jam using computers. For our show in Seoul, we'll feature video footage too. We've captured snapshots of the evening scape - scenes of Hong Kong highways, the Symphony of Light show, fireworks - which go really well with our music.'

Wong is feeling equally enthusiastic. 'It's meant to be one huge street party,' he says. 'I can't wait to meet and jam with like-minded artists and audiences.'

Billing their music as 'an intelligent blend of technology and live instrumentation', Snoblind (inspired by Robert Sabbag's novel Snowblind), was formed in 2002 when the two so-called cubicle jockeys met and realised they shared a mutual obsession for electronica and bass guitar.

Within a few years, their eclectic blend of funky electronica and high-energy rock, infused with free improvisations of sampled instruments and video jockeying (or what they call 'live visual scoring'), made them live gig regulars in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Their debut album, Musica Di Digitalia, released last year, enjoyed critical acclaim, and the band say they're still evolving musically.

'We grew up in the 90s grunge movement,' says Wong. 'Groups like Nirvana were big influences in our rock days. But now we're moving more towards instrumental trip hop, which is totally the opposite of rock - not explosive and more synthetic.'

Both in their mid-30s and holding down full-time jobs, the duo spend most weekends on their laptops sending each other new samples and sounds, chatting and exchanging ideas with musician friends and fans, and checking orders for their CD from their online distributor.

Neither wants to give up their day job for now. 'Working actually inspires me,' says Wong. 'If something drives me really mad I just go home and make a song.'

Chen, on the other hand, hasn't looked back since quitting her day job. The idea of knitting using magazines as fibre came to her while shredding old files when she worked as an accountant.

The next day she dug out her favourite issue of British style bible i-D, tore it apart, taped the strips together, laminated them and shredded them into yarn, which she used to create her first piece of wearable art.

The London fashion school graduate finally decided to give up accounting for good and make a career for herself in art and design.

Her first pieces were hand- crafted handbags, which she sold in London. Her designs were soon copied. Chen finds this ironic, because the creative ethos behind her bags was anti-fashion and against high-end designers.

'We're surrounded by magazines,' she says. 'We hear so much about trends. We're losing ourselves in it. That's why I'm tearing them apart.'

People who view her collections also get the opportunity to tear them apart. The finished pieces are knitted without lamination, using old magazines donated by friends or collected off the streets.

Chen once wore one of her creations in Central and was surprised that no one gave her a second look. 'Hong Kong is either far too busy to notice - or just too fashionable.'

Seoul Fringe Festival, Today-Sept 1