• People
  • Mar 21, 2024

Mak2: Funnily Enough, Nothing is Original

Portrait of MAK2. Courtesy the artist and De Sarthe Gallery.

Web sitcom actor-director, stand-up comedian, maker-of-Reels, expert in the craft of ordering paintings on Taobao, and conversant in AI prompts, artist Mak2 has commissioned many other talented people to create her artworks over the last decade. Now, she has a whole production studio working overtime on the fabrication of her installation for Art Basel Hong Kong in 2024, Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy (2024), which De Sarthe Gallery is producing for the Encounters sector. The artist graciously took 15 to 20 minutes out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her quixotic pursuits of fortune, fame, and laughter.

HGM: Thanks for meeting with me. I don’t want to take too much of your time, and I don’t want you to take too much of my time either. 

Mak2: I never thought you took me seriously—that’s why I never took you seriously, either! Now you have a piece of paper with questions on it? The dynamics between us will change because of this, okay?

You’re about to show a new work at Art Basel Hong Kong in the Encounters sector, and a lot of people might be talking about you. Your name has a number in it—which some people find confusing. Can you explain what we should call you and how that happened?  

The story of my name happened in two parts. The first is how I became “Mak Ying Tung 2.” In 2017, I was in Yau Ma Tei waiting for the bus with my ex-boyfriend. We had 15 minutes until the next bus, so we walked around the block. One of the feng shui masters on Temple Street said he would give us a “free” consultation. My ex sat down before I could stop him. When I told the feng shui master my name, he said there are only 33 strokes in my name and it’s not enough for me to become crazy rich and famous. He said I need at least 35 strokes. So I added two more [二]. He charged me HKD 1,000.

Then there’s the story of how I became “Mak2.” In 2017, I was in a very important show in Shanghai, “.com/.cn”, curated by a well-known curator, Klaus Biesenbach, for K11 and MoMA PS1. He loved my snow globe sculpture, You Better Watch Out (2017). He came to the group exhibition “Reversal Ritual” at De Sarthe, and he picked it himself—it was the highest point of my career at the time. He loved the piece so much that he talked about it in the opening speech—but he had trouble remembering my name. I was sitting next to Li Liao—the artist who worked at a Foxconn factory and used his salary to buy one iPad. Li said, “He cannot remember your full name; you’re not going to become famous. Maybe you need a name that is easier to say.” Lee [—] and Wong [—], maybe those guys are famous not because they are so talented, but because their names are easy to say. Probably! Now I’m Mak2, “Mak-two.” People remember me.

MAK2, Home Sweet Home: Penthouse 1, 2023, oil and acrylic on canvas, triptych, 141 × 250 cm. Courtesy the artist and De Sarthe.

In your new project for Art Basel Hong Kong, Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy (2024), what exactly are you copying?

Firstly, I highly recommend reading the press release—kudos to the gallery team for breaking down such a convoluted concept—but let me also explain in my own words. You know my triptych series Home Sweet Home (2019– ), right? I choose environments in The Sims that look like Hong Kong, but also dream-like environments or a utopia. I export the jpeg in three parts to painters I find on Taobao. When they finish, I combine them together. What I want to say here is that my ideal home of Hong Kong—the Hong Kong that I imagine—when it’s translated into a reality, it is not like what I imagined. The original is reality, The Sims is copying reality. My work, Home Sweet Home, is a copy of The Sims. The third layer is another Taobao copy of my triptychs but it’s not a triptych, it just mimics one. The fourth layer is an imagined version of what the artwork will look like 200 years from now, possibly in a future where our current ideas of art have also been abandoned. Of course, the artworks have to be exhibited somehow, and so the booth in which the Home Sweet Home works are hung will also be replicated—not once but twice, and upside down.

In the renderings, I have to say, despite the title Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy, it doesn’t really look like a copy: the upper part looks overgrown with plants and the canvases are divided. Please explain.

It’s not a perfect copy. The “Four Stages of Simulation” was something that came up during the early conception of the work. At stage four, “the sign bears no relation to any reality whatsoever; it is its own pure simulacrum.” The idea of having half the installation in ruins alludes to the changing formats of showing and seeing art, and how the present contains both the past and the future. In the present, the upper part of the installation looks like a relic of the past, yet from a future where art fairs are no longer relevant. There will also be chairs and a reflective table in the booth that will be mirrored by chairs and a table on the ceiling so the space in between becomes like an endless tunnel or abyss. What I want to say is that time is not linear. I want to compress time into a point—past, future, together.

Rendering of MAK2, Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy, 2024, for Art Basel Hong Kong Encounters, 2024. Courtesy the artist and De Sarthe.

People want to know: Are you going to clone your gallerist, Pascal de Sarthe?

What? No! Pascal is unreplicable. But, actually, I wanted to clone the Art Basel Hong Kong director, Angelle. Conceptually that would be the next step of the work—but they wouldn’t let me. Maybe when I’m more famous I will propose it again.

Okay, big question: As an artist, do you think you’ve ever had an original idea?

No! All of them are unoriginal. The only “original” ideas are “undetected plagiarism.” I didn’t even come up with that—that’s from Steal Like an Artist. Just because you haven’t seen it before, doesn’t mean it is original. We are in contemporary art—this is postmodernism! Maybe someone else has already come up with it and you just don’t know about it. We’re not omniscient.

Do you spend more time playing The Sims or going to comedy shows?

Haha, I am an artist by day and comedian by night! Humor is a huge part of my practice, and doing comedy helps my creativity. As you know, I am a conceptual artist, I go where my ideas take me. While I continue to develop ongoing works, my comedy practice has also led me to create more performative pieces.

The West Kowloon Cultural District is running out of money, they say. I noticed they commissioned your web sitcom Hong Kong’s Next Top Artist (2022). Do you think that there’s any connection there?

No, the Jockey Club funded it! Ask UBS, they bought my one of feng shui paintings. They said it has brought them good fortune! 

Last question: Who is your favorite painter on Taobao?

I never studied painting—I don’t know how to appreciate them based on aesthetic value. I send the painters the images, they give me a quote. It’s like purchasing a service, very transactional. I hire a company but I never make a connection with the painters because they change all the time. You never even know if it’s the same artist. Anyway, whatever they do, I will put on it the wall.

I can’t say anything mean—it’s Art Month! I’m doing a lot of meditation and sending out good vibes. Everything has to be positive, constructive, and very loving.

Mak2’s artworks are on view at the De Sarthe booth at Art Basel Hong Kong in 2024, and in the Encounters section, with the installation Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy (2024), and in “Beyond the Singularity,” the Hong Kong Arts Development Council’s ARTS • TECH Exhibition 2.0 through April 7.

HG Masters is deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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