Oscar winner for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon debuts solo artwork in Hong Kong show

  • Timmy Yip won best art direction in 2000 for Ang Lee’s film, and his show is a mixture of costume design and installations
  • Yip is focusing on art for now given the low standard of film productions these days, he says
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 7:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 7:32pm

Though best known for his work in film and fashion circles – he won an Oscar for best art direction in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000 – Timmy Yip Kam-tim has been largely absent from the business that made his name. Why the self-imposed hiatus?

“I see films as my lifelong career and a calling. It’s something that is almost holy,” says Yip, whose career in costume design and art direction spans over three decades.

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“The films I want to make need to reach a certain height in terms of artistic and literary merit,” he explains, alluding to the low standard of film productions these days. “It’s better to keep a distance.”

Instead, he has been shifting his attention towards art. “Tim Yip: Blue – Art, Costumes and Memory” is the 50-year-old’s first solo show in the city, and is being held at the Hong Kong Design Institute Gallery in Tseung Kwan O.

It features not only his costume design but also his art.

Half the exhibition is made up of artworks that all revolve around Lili, a silicone girl with long hair, sunglasses and bland facial features who is meant to be such an ordinary character that anyone can relate to her.

There is Collapsed Lili (2010), a six-metre (20-foot) statue whose body is deconstructed into different parts and scattered throughout the space, and Blue (2018), a short film composed of blurry footage of Hong Kong with Lili in the scenes.

Lili can also be found on the covers of Vogue, TIME, National Geographic and other publications in Outdated Magazines (2017), where Yip uses the character to replace celebrities who are not known to the new generation as a way of depicting the constant rise and fall of stardom.

Ending the exhibition with his latest work, Robot Lili (2018), in which a pregnant Lili converses with a robot in a mirrored room, Yip asks a bigger question – what does the future hold?

The works are a far cry from the Qing dynasty robes visitors to the exhibition may recognise from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (worn by Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh in the film), or the red gown with exquisite golden embroidery that Zhang Ziyi wore as the empress in Feng Xiaogang’s The Banquet (2006).

These showy pieces illustrate that, unlike most designers, Yip does not stick to one style. In fact, he experiments with different approaches to costumes.

His designs vary so greatly in style and form, and represent different eras and cultures, that he is surprised when people recognise his work.

Perhaps it is this same experimental and organic approach that helps connect his design work from the past to the present.

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“I spent eight years creating Lili. And I knew from day one, I cannot rush to make more variations, but I need to take my time so that her face would become familiar to people,” he says.

Tim Yip: Blue – Art, Costumes and Memory, HKDI Gallery, 3 King Ling Road, Tsueng Kwan O, November 17 to March 31, 10am to 8pm, closed on Tuesdays, Free.