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* Mak Ying Tung 2, an Artist, a Standup Comedian and More

Chan Lok Yiu

Immersed wholly in her performance, a woman delivered the punchline of a joke. She held tightly onto her microphone, praying that her opening gag did not fall flat. Some seconds ticked by, and a handful of the audience dissolved into laughter. The other night, her artwork was handpicked by Klaus Biesenbach, former Chief Curator of MoMA, to be included in a star-studded exhibition. As the art mogul was about to utter her name in the opening ceremony of the showcase, he went blank, and the remainder of his sentence melted away.

The name of the woman is Mak Ying Tung 2. If she is required to fill out an application form, there is a strong likelihood that 'artist' will be put down in the column of occupation. The surmise does not lie behind whether Mak2 herself is a self-assured artist who oozes impeccable confidence, but instead, her ‘mundane’ perspective upon “being an artist” which stands in striking contrast with other artists’ narrations. “I see artist as an employment which I have taken up, and I practice my professionalism by meeting all deadlines. When I was informed that the board vetoed the idea I proposed, there is no question of putting an attitude and calling off the project,” says Mak2.

Contrary to such seriousness is the playfulness embedded not only in her artworks, but also in her internet personality as reflected on social media platforms. A glance at her Instagram account immediately offers glimpses into her humor. Photos underscoring her chucklesome expressions, videos recording her experience of talking to strangers on the door phone, and her pitiful stories which are likely to be greeted by guffaws of laughter, to name but a few. When asked about the origin of her sense of humor, she roared with laughter, just like what she had done numerous times throughout the interview. Then, she explains, “I guess I am a natural. My father used to be a great entertainer at the dinner table when he was younger. As smart and witty as one could imagine a comedian to be.”

Not only does humor play a vital role in her social media presence, but it is also indispensable to her artistic creations. Having notched up considerable success, Mak2’s series artworks Home Sweet Home commissioned painters on e-commerce platform Taobao to recreate segments of screenshots from The Sims, a world-famous life simulation game. Then, she combined three different works to form a single painting. In tandem with her mischievous sense of humor, the minor yet apparent discrepancy between the vivid works of different painters, as accented by the mismatches of avatars’ faces that ruin their ardent kiss, points towards the distinction between reality and an illusory understanding of connections between people. It brings about a mockery of how capitalism has transformed human relationships.

Mak2 is not an artist who excels in certain art media, but a conceptual artist. As a creative media graduate, she had never imagined herself ushering in an art career until she acknowledged the significance of a clever concept to an artwork after a university course, in which she attained good grades with her wacky yet intriguing idea. “I got an A while my classmates who designed a sophisticated VR program got a B-. This experience is a lesson which teaches me about the importance of concept, and it shapes my art approach,” says Mak2. She has been largely responsible only for formulating a concept for her work, outsourcing the remaining processes to people according to their areas of expertise. Likewise, in Home Sweet Home, her main duty is to create an idea for the series of works. As for execution, it is on her assistants to run the project.

Given Mak2’s role as the prime mover of her artworks, it is essential for her to be always hungry for alternate experiences. A few years ago, she plunged into the realm of stand-up comedy. She was invited by a friend to Openmic, an event that created an opportunity for amateurs to crake jokes on stage. Be it hilarious or not, it is an experience for people who aspire to be a comedian. Soon after her first foray into stand-up, she started performing to live audiences in showhouses. “I have always been interested in doing comedy,” says Mak2. Her words come as no surprise as it is. “I lay low when I began giving comedic performances at first because I was not funny by any means. My friends entreated me to let them watch me perform. Hell no!” she adds.

Mak2 sees her venture into stand-up comedy as an opportunity to explore alternative ways of thinking. Being an artist who has come into contact with art for almost a decade, she is grappled by a fear that her future artworks will be sheer imitations of the existing ones, and thereby, a repetition of lackluster products under the guise of art. “The languages of contemporary art and comedy are dissimilar. While the former lays great emphasis on the context, the latter stresses the power of misdirection,” Mak2 explains. It is through her attempts in different spheres that she spurs herself to create things of all kinds, and therefore, penetrates deeper into the art of creativity not only as an artist, but as roles which she appears to be drawn to.

Despite the immense importance of art and comedy to Mak2, the activity which she enjoys most for now is Yoga. Perhaps her interest in this spiritual exercise can be attributed to her past experience as a devoted Christian. From her perspective, her recognition of other religions, especially their narratives about the world, shattered her confidence in Christianity, and thus, she abandoned it.

Analogies between religion and artworks, the traditional ones in particular, are oftentimes drawn by intellectuals with an intention to illustrate the religious dimension of art. The sanctity of art, as discussed by David Inglis in his theories about culture, is not necessarily derived from the religious themes of some artworks, but a prevailing perspective which regards art as wonders belonging to a sacred realm. Cast a glance at some of the prominent museums, and scenes featuring endless queues next to rigorously protected artworks unfold before one’s eyes. Expressing their appreciation in hushed tones, the eager visitors bear uncanny resemblance to the worshippers who sink to a whisper the moment they entered the sanctuary to catch sight of hallowed relics. To take it further, when hardcore art devotees lambast an artwork, they always assert that the creation is not a true work of art , whereas the validity of art as a high culture is seldom questioned, and likewise pious followers of religions when their leaders are embroiled in big scandals which conflict against their religious doctrines — they simply accuse them of going against the words of God, but they never express even the slightest bit of disbelief at their religions.

In spite of the similarity between religion and art in the traditional sense, Mak2 does not rely solely on her passion for art to fill the aching void left by the fall of her religious faith, nor does she believe in the exposition of art which stresses its undoubtable divinity. Instead, artist is only one of the many roles which accounts for Mak2 as a whole, and it aids in her journey in search for the substitution of her abandoned religious belief.

“What I want is not a grand narrative that satisfies all walks of life, but one that reassures me. I am, by no means, content with what my experience as an artist inspired me, so I started exploring other possibilities. Stand-up, diving, and yoga are some of the examples. I cannot tell what I am searching for. But still, I believe that only through experiencing and learning, together with questioning and answering, could I finally arrive at a compelling conclusion which convinces me. This is what I have been yearning for years,” says Mak2.


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