BUILDING BLOCKS I had a normal childhood but I always felt this need to satisfy my parents' desires and so I became an architect: I could draw, make models and make money, like they wanted. I graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, the United States, with an architecture degree and worked for five years in the field, but it didn't satisfy my desire to help humanity. At first, I thought I could do that through designing interesting and quality architecture. But I realised (society's) problems couldn't be solved by an engineer - if you delve deeper, they're related to politics. I was doing fine arts in my spare time and I decided to move more into that area, which gives me more freedom. It was a slow transition.

AN EYE ON AI Artist Ai Weiwei once said, "Everything is art, everything is politics." I started doing political art in 2011, when Ai was illegally detained by the Communist Party and I began to investigate why they were afraid of him. He wanted to find out how many children were killed (in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake), and to change architectural codes. But because he exposed how many children died, he was detained. What does that say? It's difficult to be a good guy in China. But there are people there who want to do good, like human rights lawyers and ordinary citizens.

THE OLDEN WAYS I tried to do art in Times Square but it was impossible. I wanted to have two chairs and sit on one and talk to people like Aristotle did. But that was not possible because the security guards said they would kick me out, treat me like a hawker. Sometimes I feel the government treats its citizens like they're eight years old - "Don't do this, don't do that."

My piece Wandering Home is about old Hong Kong. It's a dwelling made out of wood and metal sheets attached to a tricycle and is about living freely in search of the old Hong Kong. In the 1960s, we were all escapees from mainland China and poor so we helped each other.

MAKE AND BREAK When you're an artist, you want to have an audience. Weekly protest marches in Hong Kong give you a ready-made audience. And when you have that big a crowd you want to make big pieces. I've created a robot, a tank and a battleship. I made the battleship Raptor after the PLA claimed its own dock in Central. I created it out of cardboard and it transformed into a park, which is what people actually wanted in that space. I destroy my models after they have been used, because I've got no place to store them. We used sledgehammers, which we named "I love Hong Kong", to smash the battleship into smithereens .

OCCUPYING HEARTS AND MINDS The "umbrella movement" has seen an explosion of artistic expression that wasn't achievable before because you wouldn't get promoted unless you had an "in" to those circles. Occupy saw a big release of public space on Harcourt Road that toppled the existing order. You can see all kinds of art: satire, road signs, chalk drawings. Art changed the physical site. The work is so powerful.

I have spent many days in Admiralty during the protests and in the middle of the night there have been parents with their young daughters handing out apples to protesters. It has happened not once but many times. There's a lot of perseverance to fight this battle. I have been touched.

MANNING THE PHONES Twenty-five years ago (democratic politician) Uncle Szeto Wah said that if you wanted to lead a movement you had to have a microphone (and batteries). These days you need a smartphone (and a charger). Anyone can lead a movement. By sharing the same network we can spread pictures and news. The "umbrella movement" has also shown that you can make a difference. Those climbers who hung the banner on Lion Rock boosted people's spirits, and though it was only up for a day, it will stay in people's hearts forever. We achieved something extraordinary not just for Hong Kong, but for civilisation. The protest zone is like a stage demonstrating our utopia, so it's realer than real.

A FAMILY DIVIDED I am suffering first hand as my family is being torn by the protests. My mum signed the anti-Occupy petition, manipulated by (journalist) Robert Chow Yung. It's a political problem that has infiltrated many families. I just don't talk about it with my mum because all she, and others, care about is that they have to wait longer for the bus. They don't care about the injustices in mainland China, they don't care about universal suffrage being lost.

The lesson I learned from Ai is that you have to let people know about what is going on. I was doing the "umbrella movement" before the "umbrella movement". I was thinking back in 2011 that if the Communist Party could do this to a great man like Ai Weiwei, they can do this to anyone; look at Kenny G. Back then, I prophesied seeing the gate of freedom closing and decided I had to do a lot and quickly, because Hong Kong is going to become like Shenzhen.

Wake up, everyone! But not everyone wants to wake up, like my mum.

LESS IS MORE Some of my works are shown in museums and galleries, but I make my living as a teacher (assistant professor in the environment and interior design department of the Polytechnic University's School of Design) and finance my art through that. I don't have any bad habits and I eat very little. Creativity is only possible when you have limitations. Not having a lot of money is helpful. That's why I make things out of scrap wood and cardboard. Never think that if you have a lot of money and freedom that will mean a lot of great art.

 

Kacey Wong is a judge at this year's Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize, the theme of which is "modern slavery and human trafficking". The winner will be announced on December 10, Human Rights Day.