Fiery artwork on a burning issue


Hot issue: Red created a stunning installation work that made the cover of the latest edition of Time magazine. — Photo courtesy of Time

KUALA LUMPUR: Contemporary artist Red Hong Yi’s installation work, a world map made entirely of 50,000 green-tipped matchsticks, has made the cover of the latest issue of Time magazine on global climate change.

The photo shoot was held at KongsiKL arts space in Kuala Lumpur, with Red’s artwork being set on fire.

“What could possibly go wrong? Man, if the whole thing engulfed the entire building I guess. But we made sure that it didn’t go anywhere near that, ” says Red about the story behind the artwork.

Fire-retardant paint was sprayed on the front and back of the 2.3m x 3m artwork before it was torched, and firefighters were on standby.

The artwork is both an installation and performance art piece, with Red and her team of 12 Malaysians working together on its creation, photography and videography.

The dimensions and positions for the matchsticks were first designed on a computer, before the holes were laser cut into the board for insertion of the matchsticks.

Red describes the making of this work as a laborious process, one that took two weeks of sticking matchsticks into holes on the board for eight hours a day, before watching the piece burn down in two minutes.

The green matchsticks, placed at varying heights for topographic effect, were a metaphor for trees.

“The motivation behind it came from the urgency of having to tackle (climate change) together, ” adds Red in a recent Time interview.

“The idea came from wanting to highlight a world map, where everyone’s involved, and if one place is affected, the whole place is affected.”

The cover image was photographed by Annice Lyn, co-founder of Women Photographers Malaysia.

“It was surreal to find out that my photo was chosen for the cover. Of course, I’m very happy about it, but at the end of the day, this was really a team effort. There was an incredibly talented team supporting Red, including two other photographers, David Yeow and Jessie Lyee.

“I believe that photography has the power and magnitude to inform, reform, impact and unite people. This project is a great initiative that highlights the horrible reality of climate change that we are experiencing all over the world, ” says Lyn.

Such global issues apply to anyone regardless of cultural differences, or geographic location.

“As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to assail the world, we are reminded more than ever that no country is unaffected by global crises, whether it is a pandemic or economic collapse or, as this special issue highlights, global warming and climate change, ” adds Red.

Last year, Red tackled racism with portraits made from food items while in lockdown in Kota Kinabalu.

She spoke up against a spate of anti-Asian sentiment and racist attacks stemming from ignorance about the coronavirus with a series titled I Am Not A Virus.

The Sabah-born artist began her career as an architect and received her Masters of Architecture from the University of Melbourne.

Her work has been shown at H Queens in Hong Kong, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, World Economic Forum in Davos, Anchorage Museum in Alaska and JP Morgan Chase Bank.

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