The Artist Duo Realign Humankind's Relationship to Nature and the Cosmos Around Us
Artist duo Man&Wah based out of Brisbane, Australia have spent the entirety of their oeuvre celebrating the beauty and diversity of nature. The twin brothers, born in Hong Kong, view life and the surrounding environment around us, including the cosmos, as one interconnected ecosystem.
Through nature, their greatest collaborator, they highlight the importance of humankind’s symbiotic relationship with the natural work around us, especially with humankind disconnecting from the surrounding natural environment more and more each day. Through visual works, workshops, meditation/sound performances and interactive installations, the duo’s creations evoke thought, emotion and then action, asking viewers to see that the human relationship with nature results in sustaining a liveable planet.
Man&Wah realign our perspective to appreciate, honour and respect the natural world: without it we all wouldn’t be here.
Currently global biodiversity is at an uneven equilibrium that over time will challenge the human species’ life on Earth. Man&Wah’s works highlight the beauty and fragility of the natural system around us. Inextricably connected to the cosmos, the entire system is intertwined and influenced by one another.
First experiencing their works at the exhibition ‘Entwined: plants and people’ in Brisbane, where their large-scale photography of detailed high-resolution imagery of native Australian plant species made quite the impression, we knew there must be more layers to this artistic duo’s work and approach. Champ caught up with the duo to find out more about their practise, perspective and plans in a world needing to reconnect with nature.
Nature is undeniably a big inspiration and co-collaborator of yours. Can you tell us more how nature drives the work you do?
In the words of the powerful John Trudell – “we are a natural part of the earth, as a natural part of the earth we have the energy and the power that is the Earth, the Earth will take care of us […] all the things in the natural world are a part of creation and feed off the energy of sacred mother Earth”. Without nature none of us would be here, EVERYTHING humanity has built and created comes from nature – “natural resources”!
Basically without the living systems of nature and its regenerative seasonal cycles of life none of us would be alive, and of course this is connected to the cosmic cycles of the solar system. Modern consumer existence (which we both are also very much a part of) proceeds as though it’s detached from the regenerative living cycles of nature. Humans are very much part of these cycles and we have to live accordingly to these cycles. Knowing and experiencing this connection on a daily basis drives what we do.
How does it influence your overall approach to life?
There is really no separation with our creative adventures and approach to life, this is always in tandem because how we approach life influences the artworks we create, and the process of creating artworks will influence how we approach life, its a loop of discovery, with the loop continuously expanding bigger and bigger.
“We have embedded the spirit of stewardship into our creativity and everything falls into place with this as our guide, choices we make then become very clear in relation to how and what we create. So the sync is not necessarily between us as twins, rather it’s a constant collaboration between nature and us“
Please tell us about your upbringing, hometown, and family heritage.
We were both born in Australia and grew up in Hong Kong, then came back to Australia at 8 years of age and grew up in Brisbane, Queensland. As kids we experienced two very contrasting cultural upbringings. An example was our schooling – we remember primary school in Hong Kong was constant homework and study till we nodded off to sleep! In Australia schooling – hardly any homework, way less pressure (this was back in the late eighties) and a lot of time hanging out with the other kids in the neighbourhood playing street and backyard cricket, and generally running amuck. Living arrangements in Hong Kong were very condensed. Our family of six lived in a small one bedroom council apartment on the 20th floor – each apartment was allocated a toilet cubicle (squat style toilet) in a separate location on the same level (much like public cubicle) which doubled as a small storage space with multiple bicycles hanging over our heads as we squatted and did our business. There was no bathroom in the apartment so the kitchen doubled as a bathroom at certain times of the day where we all had bucket showers and brushed our teeth.
When we first arrived in Australia to our two story brick house we remembered how large the backyard was! Everything was so spread out, trees and greenery, the lounge room was about the size of the apartment we lived in Hong Kong. Arriving in Australia during the late 80’s we were the only asian students in the primary school. On our first day at school during lunch time there were crowds of kids following us around, curious of who we were. During our first and second year of primary school we literally copied the homework and class notes from classmates sitting next to us because we could not understand what was being taught and did not know the English language then. Also we remember the first time we encountered racism, having hate directed at us just because we looked a certain way, or seeing our parents being abused in public for having an asian appearance as young boys – it was certainly a strange experience.
The first house we lived in, our next door neighbour was an old Australian couple, they owned a small business selling meat pies and sausage rolls out of their van. This old couple loved chilli sauce and my parents made awesome chilli sauce! So we would do swaps – a small jar of tasty Chinese style chilli for tasty pies and sausage rolls! We remember the first time biting into a meat pie and sausage roll… damn it was tasty with loads of tomato sauce – We had never eaten or tasted anything like it before! We always wondered what happened to Joyce and her husband when our family eventually moved to a different house….
Tell us about living and working in Brisbane, what is it about where you are that inspires you?
We really appreciate Brisbane, many green spaces like reserves, parks, bush walks and short drives to some of the most amazing beaches in the world. Being close to and having easy access to nature is very stimulating.
There are also some great spaces along the Brisbane River for outdoor activities, but a thing with progress – much of the precious mangrove eco-systems along the Brisbane River have been destroyed/removed to make way for human leisure and “city development” – something we constantly ponder about is where does development or progress start and end at the expense of the ecosystem which essentially is the life support for life…?
We constantly observe and seek to understand the interactions between humans, civil developments and natural space, how these elements evolve (or devolve…) together, and how each of these elements influence one another. These observations inspire us to question more and help shape the themes we explore in our creative and personal life.
Living and working in Brisbane in our early twenties, we didn’t really appreciate it, we just wanted to leave this large country town! We constantly wanted to live and work somewhere else because – anywhere was better than your own home town right! – but as we began to travel, live in other cities and countries, we gradually realised Brisbane is a really great place, it developed a lot during the past decade and still is expanding and transforming at a fast pace.
As twins, how do you work together in sync?
Working together in sync is fairly straightforward as we both have complementary skills in design, photography, filming, editing, bookkeeping, budgeting, creating concepts and a bit of sound recording. Every thing we create and every project we engage with – we have a principle wondering of – “what’s been channeled and created through us, does it serve the best possible outcome for the thing we are representing?” – which is nature.
We have embedded the spirit of stewardship into our creativity and everything falls into place with this as our guide, choices we make then become very clear in relation to how and what we create. So the sync is not necessarily between us as twins, rather it’s a constant collaboration between nature and us.
How would you describe the work you do with sound and visuals?
It was a natural progression and a cosmic combination! The musicians whose tracks we have used and collaborated with – Jonn Serries and Clara Durbidge, the sounds they create profoundly and beautifully blow our minds!
What are some things about your work that others might not yet know about?
We draw a lot and really enjoy using and creating with a pen and paper; whether it is drawing, for relaxation, creating concepts, tapping into our imagination or jotting down ideas.
What are some of the tools you use for your work?
The tools we use are fairly straightforward stuff like computers, cameras, sound recorders etc. We always use pen/pencil and paper as mentioned.
One tool we have really come to appreciate is our own imagination – being able to think and contemplate beyond what’s being presented in front of us, think beyond our reactive behaviours and conditioning, being able to explore ideas, concepts, perspectives and stories without imprisoning our ideas and thoughts in an extreme dogmatic way. It’s definitely a handy tool to have when engaging in projects and also for life in general, especially in the past two years where there has been so much fear-based information and coercion being constantly perpetuated to the public.
“Without the living systems of nature and its regenerative seasonal cycles of life none of us would be alive, and of course this is connected to the cosmic cycles of the solar system. This is something society constantly requires reminding of because the modern consumer existence (which we both are also very much a part of) proceeds as though it’s detached from the regenerative living cycles of nature. Humans are very much part of these cycles and we have to live accordingly to these cycles. Knowing and experiencing this connection on a daily basis drives what we do.”
What have been some pivotal projects for you over the years?
Every project we’ve engaged with has given us very unique learning, creative and life experiences and contributed in shaping us creatively and as people.
Two projects that comes to mind was a three month residency/exhibition at 1Shanthi Road Gallery in Bengaluru, India, and the other was our 5 month QUT (Queensland University of Technology) residency at The Cube space where we spent time creating works to be exhibited on one of the world’s largest scientific and learning display screens that was fully digital and interactive.
The 1Shanthi Road residency was an organic experience and process, it was not results driven. So we just turned up and explored the natural green spaces of Bengaluru city and see what would come out of it. Most days we just walked and explored the city, observed, photographed and filmed anything that caught our interest. We got to hang out with the awesome crew at 1Shanthi Road, meet many local and international creatives that filter through the space. The place had such a beautiful vibe. The content we had recorded over a two month period was created into an exhibition, it was the first time we really got into video and large physical installations. We still have fond memories of a store we frequented where they would make fresh cut potato crisps, thinly sliced and fried on site, then bagged for you on the spot; and also the chicken shawarma joint down the road from the gallery we also frequented on many nights along the very busy main road, two of many highlights!
The QUT residency was also memorable, this project we had a very clear concept and outcome to deliver – which was to create an immersive space where people can slow down and become meditative, digitally interact with the work, include educational aspects and have the audiences experience the plants and nature works in a very large scale. We were very fortunate QUT provided us access to all the different university departments, along with organising meetings with all the specialist researchers in the many different departments; we got to hang out, chat and learn what the researchers did, and cross pollinated ideas with them. We got to hang out with botanists, horticulturists, marine biologists, programmers and tech people to name a few. We spent a lot of time in the microscopy department where we got the chance to play around and use the electronic microscopes to record imagery of plants! These images eventually became part of the final exhibition.
It was such a buzz to see our botanical works presented and exhibited in such large scale at The Cube and see people interacting with them. We used audio tracks produced by Jonn Serrie – who’s an America based “cosmic composer”, the beautiful cosmic audio by Jonn really pulled the whole exhibition together and created a unique experience in The Cube space.
Other projects that comes to mind was collaborating with Brisbane based artist Caitlin Franzmann, creating a set of really beautiful divination cards titled Fortunes of the Forest inspired by Karawatha Forest in Queensland, that was a really beautiful period. Also our residency in the Amazon Rainforest mid 2019, in central north of Brazil. That really left a mark on us – experiencing the life force of the Amazon Rainforest, meeting and hanging out with an awesome crew of international artists, swimming in the Amazon river, that was a really beautiful time.
So, through every project we learn and experience something new which in turn informs the next project and adventure. As we evolve, the creative work evolves.
What are your plans for the next 3 years?
We plan to continue creating exhibitions with galleries, continue selling prints privately, continue to offer nature inspired workshops, host more immersive multi-sensory events that awaken peoples physical and non-physical experiences, continue to pollinate what we create into other realms and industries outside of the “arts” context where people in all walks of life can experience a different perspective of nature and the cosmos.
Read more about Man&Wah here
Text: Monique Kawecki