Earlier this month, I sat down with Space Glider and Solunaliving Founder RACHEL LEE to chat about her art management consultancy, lifelong passion for painting, and the future of the art community in Hong Kong. Aside from being a DVR Garager, we also have Rachel to thank for curating the artwork at our flagship location, which we can confidently say is a match made in Abstract Expressionism heaven!
As someone who’s been on both the creative and business side of the art industry, Rachel offers unique insights on how to elevate the value of this medium of expression in our cultural consciousness. While she herself comes from a diverse background spanning Seoul, New York, and Hong Kong, her love for art is rooted in its ability to transcend borders and connect individuals from all walks of life - a universalism that has informed her understanding of truth. Read on as Rachel discusses the duality of idealism and pragmatism, social commentary in art, pervasiveness of visual language, and the joy of facing challenges.
MC: Can you start by sharing a bit about yourself and how Space Glider came to be?
RL: I actually studied as a painter. I started painting when I was very young, and did my Undergrad and Master's degrees in Fine Art. Before we moved [to Hong Kong], I was teaching at a university. At the same time, I was also organising exhibitions and art events in Korea. When I moved to Hong Kong with my husband and my family, I decided to help my friends and teachers - some were young artists, others were established artists - to gain exposure abroad and hold exhibitions in Hong Kong and Singapore. So that’s how Space Glider started.
MC: That’s amazing! May I ask what medium you mainly worked in? Also, I’ve always been curious about where the name Space Glider come from.
RL: I did a lot of acrylic. I actually lived in Hong Kong around 10 years ago. At that time, I was teaching painting to expat wives and ladies at the YWCA. I was fresh out of graduate school, and was working on some paintings and living in Hong Kong. The theme for the series of paintings was called Space Glider. When you’re young, you’re constantly trying to find your identity. For me, that was travelling and living as a nomad, not only as an artist but also for my personal growth. The whole theme reflected what I was curious about, which is how the many different cultures and lifestyles come together in this once city. Space Glider reflects the spirit of not only an artist but a young heart: travelling and understanding different people and cultures.
MC: When did your passion for art begin, and how did you decide to pursue this passion professionally?
RL: Like I said, I started studying art when I was really young. I see it as my first marriage. I was so in love with it from a young age. My mother was a fashion designer, so I grew up around a lot of different fabrics, textures, and fashion magazines. That was always very interesting to me, and I studied in New York for a while. It was just always there. It was my passion, and my way of understanding life. I had to put painting on hold because of my big family. And I’m living in Hong Kong, so it’s difficult to find a space to set up a studio, so I chose a practical path. But I’ve always felt that I’m not satisfied with just working on my own paintings. I also love helping artists, talking about and sharing art - that’s actually one of my strengths. I want be a part of the whole story, so in a way I can both help myself and others.
Space Glider reflects the spirit of not only an artist but a young heart: travelling and understanding different people and cultures.
MC: Space Glider’s vision is to “[connect] societies and cultures with each other”, which is more relevant than ever in the current global climate. Can you touch a bit more about the this idea?
RL: Painting is a visual language that has no barrier. Sometimes, depending on your culture or language, people have different concepts for certain things. But painting is a medium where if you see it you feel it. By sharing emotion through painting, I hope people can feel more connected, understand each other, and learn from each other. To me, that’s the most important role of art.
MC: Is this role or responsibility what keeps you motivated day in and day out?
RL: Yes, I think so. Like I said, painters are the people who not only tell their own emotions, but also what they consider to be truth. It’s a pure vision. I feel like we can also interpret our own meaning of life through visual language. Through this, we can not only understand each other, but heal each other. Healing is a popular topic nowadays, but really we should all try to calm down, stop arguing, and think about fundamental truths we’re all seeking.
MC: Can you share an especially memorable project you worked on for Space Glider?
RL: One of the big projects I did when I was in Korea was with a PR agency that was helping to promote Absolut Vodka. What they did that was interesting. They had a slogan called ‘Transform Today’, and they would find areas in [Seoul] that were unclean or disorganised, and they asked artists to transform them into something more. Something artistic. We worked with visual artists and installation artists, and filmed the various areas around the city. Through that, we showed the audience the transformative power of art. We showcased the transformation of the city at [the Seoul Museum of Art], and threw a big party afterward. The campaign was Absolut Vodka’s vision, but we saw this as an opportunity to connect the commercial world with fine art. It was a Marketing campaign, but the whole point was to use art to help change people’s perspectives.
MC: Can you tell us what a typical work day looks like to you?
RL: Right now, I’m working on two projects. Space Glider is always there. I’m also working on Solunaliving, which is a platform that sells ceramic art and homeware among other things. This second project combines lifestyle goods with art. It is a way for artists to both make a living and continue to create.
MC: Juggling two businesses must be challenging enough, but what are some specific challenges you’ve faced starting up in Hong Kong?
RL: For Hong Kong, there is the issue of art appreciation. But so far, the biggest challenge is the real estate market. It’s so crazy. Just like how I found it difficult to continue painting, I’m sure many people cannot afford to have a studio. The city is so busy working to pay rent, there’s little room for culture and art. I can see that it’s changing and people are working on it, which you can see with the fairs.
MC: You mean the one or two weeks out of a year where everyone cares about art?
RL: The issue with the fairs is that they’re completely commercial. People are seeing art as more of an investment, rather than appreciating it for what it is. I’m a very positive person. So even with these problems, I’m happy to see that people are trying. In a way, there has been a lot of change in the city. It just takes time.
MC: So would you say the future of art in Hong Kong is hopeful?
RL: It’s hopeful. Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city with people from all backgrounds and walks of life. There is an understanding that art can connect, so with all these trials there will definitely be change. The young people in Hong Kong see so much when they travel, and want to bring new things to the city, so I see a lot of potential here.
MC: What can Hong Kong do differently?
RL: In South Korea, in the last few years especially, the government has tried really hard to sponsor and push forward cultural growth in the country. I recently met with the someone from a local NGO who wanted contacts in Korea, so she can try to understand how the government supports the art industry and community, so change is happening.
MC: Can you share a bit about Ji Soo Park? [The artist who painted the pieces ‘Networking-H’ and ‘Networking-A’, which hangs behind our reception desk at DVR] What initially drew you to this artist’s work?
RL:She was actually my professor during my Postgraduate studies. She’s now teaching at at another university called the Seoul National University of Education. The theme of her artwork is always the organic and natural. She likes to express how our lives are all interconnected, and you can sense that in the two pieces. They’re just paintings, but they’re very much like creatures. They have a kind of power to move you. Also, they matches the space so well. The theme, the colours, everything. It’s just perfect. I was thinking about the meaning behind Garage Society. The concept is not only about the workspace, but it’s a place for people to connect, supporting each other.
Life is like a long journey, and at no point can you say “I’m done, I’m successful now”. It’s a path you have to go through. Sometimes it’s tough, sometimes it’s fun. The fact that you have a challenge is a blessing.
MC: What describes your taste in art?
RL: Art is something that can be very personal, and reflects your emotions or how you feel at that time. What you connect with depends on where you are in your life. When you’re young, you tend to be more brave but also more critical, negative, even complaining about life, which is not always a bad thing. I think negativity is not always a bad compared to positivity; it’s just plus / minus, Yin and Yang. Day comes after night. Negativity or a critical mind can bring you to a better place and move you forward. When I was younger, I was attest to more of the deep, dark, and dramatic - or more critical artwork. I’m still young, but as I become a mother and become more mature, this part of my life has moved towards the brighter and more positive side. One time I was reading an article about Mother Theresa, and she said something that really touched my heart: [“I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there.”] That just shook me, especially having grown up as an artist. Artists not only paint beautiful things, it was also necessary to learn about critical thought. They’re taught to make sense of the Postmodern world and problems people face. This is actually a major issue in the contemporary art world. If you go to art fairs, you see a crazy world and there’s so much social commentary. This is very attractive to some people, and I was also like that. But at the moment, I’m just not interested in this. It’s not something I want to be focused on. I want to focus on the brighter side, and bring attention to what is positive and help people understand each other instead of creating divisions. That is my hope.
"Networking-A" by Ji Soo Park.
MC: Thank you so much for sharing. Changing the tone a bit, where can we find you over the weekend? Can you recommend us your favourite Korean restaurant to try? RL: On weekends, my husband and kids like to go swimming or hiking. We work hard during the week, but we’re very family-oriented people. You can find us in Stanley or Repulse Bay or the Peak. Somewhere in nature, definitely not in a shopping mall. We like to eat at home because I love cooking. If we do go out, I like Arirang in Wan Chai. If I want to feel like I’m home, then I go. It’s authentic Korean. MC: Lastly, can you share one piece of advice for aspiring or fresh entrepreneurs or even artists? Essentially anyone who wants to pursue the path you’ve taken. RL: I’m not sure if I’m the right person to give advice to them, but one thing I’m thinking now is that life is like a long journey, and at no point can you say “I’m done, I’m successful now”. It’s a path you have to go through. Of course, sometimes it’s tough, sometimes it’s fun. The fact that you have a challenge is a blessing. Your job, or the work you do, should help yourself and others, which is a very important part of what it is to be a human being. It’s like a long training session where you have to learn to endure, and facing challenges is a great joy in life. So as an entrepreneur or an artist, when you face uncertainty or fear, just go out and take a walk or have some time to yourself. Then you come back fresh, and start a new project.