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How to Translate Research into Art 2/2

Updated: May 2, 2022

This is Part II of “How to Translate Complex Research into Art.” Please click here for Part I.

Click here to watch "Plastic, plastic, every where!"

Step 5: Experimentation

Even though I knew what I didn’t want, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted. I had to test it out.

Some artists have attained an established style, and they stick to it. Some artists look to explore and reinvent constantly. I belong to the latter category. That means, I don’t have a default medium or style that I follow for every single work.

Mask-making at Hong Kong Baptist University's garment lab

Masks/costume: I wanted to dress myself as the five delegates for a monologue performance at the 2084 G5 meeting. Again, without any fashion and sewing knowledge, I tried using wire and paper in the garment lab. That did not go so well. It’s clearly something to pick up down the road. Let’s scratch that idea for now.

Monologue performance: I wanted to make a monologue performance of all five G5 delegates. A few weeks before the exhibition, I realised it was too ambitious an idea to flesh out. I shelved the idea for three years. I later tried my first Polluta monologue performance at Firstdraft Gallery, Sydney Australia. Even though I prepared as much as I could for the performance including attending an acting workshop, I wasn’t quite happy with that experiment either. Again, I shelve the idea for now. Maybe one day that idea will resurface.

Stylistic experimentation: An artist’s genuine personality should shine through her art. (I think) I am fun and funny, but also hyper uptight and serious. Unfortunately, that stiffness translated into my art in an unflattering way. With the encouragement of graduate school professors Dr. Ho Siu Kee and Kalen Lee, I was brave enough to take risk. I incorporated the bizarre quirky ways I see the world such as making every character into an animal. If you are willing to be vulnerable and show a piece of yourself in your art, the right people will recognise and be attracted to it.

Style from 2014

Style from 2015

Moving drawings short film: In 2015, I wanted to hire someone to do the animation for me. I exhausted my existing network for advice and connections. Having no filmmaking or animation background, I was not able to find any animator. I had to do it myself...

(Fun fact: I insisted on calling my first film a moving drawings short film instead of an animation, because I didn’t follow the history or workflow of an animation at all. With my future films, I don’t think I’ll do that anymore because I am following enough generic animation workflow.)

Step 6: Execution

Once I had the outline of what not to do and what to follow, it was the simple part: execution.

Working on the film in After Effects

Simple and easy are two different things. I ended up spending three and a half years to animate my first short film, learning from YouTube tutorials, incorporating research elements that fit this short film and letting go of research elements that don’t. Since I wasn’t a trained animator and didn’t have a mentor or colleagues to ask, I constantly ran into problems and had no one to go to. I often had months of questions stored up. As soon as I met someone who was willing to help, I would dump all the questions onto the nice person…until I met the next. Now I am so happy when people approach me for advice, because I am super grateful for all the generosity I have received from the universe.

While I thought I could finish an animated short film from scratch with absolutely no prior knowledge in a few short months, I ended up spending 3.5 years on it.

Step 7: End Result

In 2015, I began working on my film. In 2018, I finally finished my film, after numerous rounds of revising. I wasted so much time redoing, rearranging and discarding certain shots. The film went from 20 minutes to 45 minutes to 30 minutes to 23 minutes.

I launched my film at my solo exhibition’s closing event at Pro Arts Gallery in June 2018. I remember revising the film three days before the event on my laptop, in a dingy ill-lit hotel room at San Francisco’s Civic Centre. Every time I thought I had finished and spent 8 hours exporting the film, I would only think of one small detail to improve the film the next day and spend another 8 hours exporting the next version.

Pro Arts Gallery premiered "Plastic, plastic, every where!" as an outdoor projection onto a building in Downtown Oakland, CA, 2018.

Despite all the film’s imperfection, I am incredibly proud of my first short film. Not because it was great. Not because I traveled to some international film festivals with the film. Not because I showed it in many exhibitions around the world. Not even because I won an award with it.

But because I didn’t take no as an answer and gave it up in 2015.

Film still. Plastic, plastic, every where! 2015-2018.

Never take no as an answer. No matter what your friends, teacher or family tell you. Do not give up.

Now I am working on my second and third animation this year with two teams. I have progressed from doing everything myself to working with two teams of animators, composers and assistants. From all my previous mistakes, I have come up with my own workflow. I am grateful for the painful experiences my first film gave me.

Polluta film still. 2022.

Do follow my second animation project Polluta short film on social media to watch the project unfolds!


Step 1: Identify unique idea

Step 2: Find Supporting References

Step 3: Testing

Step 4: Translate Research into Art

Step 5: Experimentation

Step 6: Execution

Step 7: End Result

Using one work to illustrate, I share my research methodology because I get so many questions about how I translate my research into art. This is most definitely not the most efficient way to create art. This is by no means the best way to create art, or a recommendation for other artists to adopt this method.

The School of Magritte. Mixed Media on Cloud-dragon Handmade Paper. 28x40 xm / 11×16 in. 2017.

Finding one’s unique idea and then your unique methodology and visual language is an artist’s job. Once an artist starts to copy or recycle her own style, she is not making the best art possible.


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Sunday Afternoon. Mixed Media on Cloud-dragon Handmade Paper. 38x72 cm / 15×28.3 inches. 2017.


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