As part of our #BeTheChange series, we sit down and discuss how work has evolved, with change-makers in our Garage Community.
This week we chat with Zev, an artist and lighting consultant. She uses The 33PRESS moniker for her artistic endeavors, and prefers to remain anonymous!
We chat about finding fulfillment, creating balance, and embracing discomfort in a cut-throat city like Hong Kong.
Author: Ching Lam Ip, Programme & Marketing Lead, Garage Society
I work as a lighting consultant for my day job, and I work on my art project in the evenings. I primarily do photography, but I experiment with different digital and physical mediums in my work.
I started using The 33PRESS as my moniker a few years ago and I have been adding to my portfolio on and off over the last 9 years. I still prefer to stay anonymous!
To me there is no number that holds more esoteric significance than “33.” This number appears frequently in my daily life! I got myself tattooed with the number “3” on both of my hands, so it becomes a “33” when I put my hands together to craft my creations.
Yes! I had my first solo exhibition at Garage Society event space back in March of this year.
It was right in the middle of the fifth wave, so it was pretty tough and challenging to organize any type of event, let alone my first solo show! There were a lot of social restrictions we had to work around, but I was determined to push forwards.
The theme of the show is “Escapism Addiction in the KONGRETE JUNGLE” - I’d describe it as a cross between an homage to Hong Kong, as well as a reflection on the balance we crave, yet struggle to find, as a fast-paced city people. Those were my inspirations for the show.
Hong Kong is a very energetic city with a 24/7 pace, so I often feel the need to escape in order to find my own perspective. I also worked extensively with mirror effects in these pieces, which are a representation of the balance I am trying to achieve.
I’ve been working on many of these pieces for close to a year, so I was excited to finally showcase them. Though the show did not draw huge crowds, all in all, I was very happy with how it all turned out.
I had the chance to invite everyone who’s important to me - I actually extended the show by a week in the end! Putting a whole show together from scratch was definitely a valuable learning experience for me, and I’m proud of what I achieved.
“For The Hungry Ghost” is another series of her digital artwork, this piece named “Character 3147 - Come on!”
Growing up, I was a very emotional child - I cried a lot and had trouble staying still. It felt like I was holding a huge amount of energy inside a tiny body - the energy needed to be expressed, but I wasn’t sure how.
I wasn’t what you would typically describe as a “good” student. When I got to higher education, I chose to study visual merchandising, and ended up working with many big, luxury, retail brands.
After a few years, I found that I wasn’t fulfilled by this work - there were lots of limitations on how I was supposed to be “creative” through someone else’s vision.
That’s what led me to pick up street photography around 2011. I started exploring rooftops and abandoned buildings. I found myself drawn towards taking photo of the interesting characters and children I met on the streets. The purity of their hearts attracted me.
Art and photography was my path towards finding personal fulfillment. It allowed me to channel that energy I had too much as a child, and slowly regain balance in my life.
Over time I’ve expanded beyond candid street photography, and so I started using the named “The 33PRESS” a few years ago to mark the shift in my personal transformation; a revolution in my self-concept.
At the time of creating The 33PRESS, I had very little direction about where I wanted it to go. I just knew I wanted to create for the sole purpose of expressing myself, as opposed to impressing others.
I’ve worked on The 33PRESS on and off for about 9 years now. I’ve done everything from event photography to hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and bars to support myself.
Honestly, there have been periods of time where I doing it on survival mode - as a means to support myself rather than purely for creative fulfillment. But I’ve also found success and recognition in my work.
Hong Kong is a small, dense city, where everyone is trying to make a name for themselves. There’s very little support for small, independent artists - it often feels like there’s no space left over for artists who aren’t already big names.
Combined with the high cost of living, it can be really difficult, and mentally draining, to get to a point where you are able to financially support yourself, and then also create the time to pursue other passions. It can feel like an endless climb at times.
The family pressure side of it can also be very difficult to navigate. Of course, this won’t apply to all artists, but for the kids who grew up in Hong Kong around the same time as me, there’s a general belief that it’s absolutely ludicrous to pursue a career as an artist.
99% of people will deeply question how you plan to survive and sustain yourself. Very few people will support your decision, which is exactly how it felt for me.
Even to this day, after two exhibitions, my family still doesn’t support my work as a creative. They still believe that I should focus on finding a “proper job” in order to live a “good life”.
They have good intentions, but it’s not for me. Sometimes, overcoming the lack of emotional support can feel even harder than the financial side of the equation.
On the flip side, I would say that the most rewarding part of being an artist is knowing that I have inspired someone else. This happened very recently, when I was part of the “URBAN COLORZ” group exhibition in March.
An art collector had visited the show, and in his post about the experience, he talked about how he was inspired by The 33PRESS to create his own art. That moment of connection and recognition was so rewarding. It reminds me why I’m putting all this time and effort into creating, and provides perspective for this journey I’ve chosen.
I’ve been working at my day job for close to a year and a half now, and right now, the danger is getting too comfortable.
I wouldn’t call it laziness, but I find that when a creative (or any person for that matter!) gets to a place where they’re content with their environment, then it becomes difficult to grow. You stop asking yourself what else you can be doing. I DO NOT want that to be me!
I want to push myself to try new things continuously, reach new heights, explore new mediums of expression, grow in all facets of my life.
My day job is an important part of that equation, because it provides me with the financial stability, time, and freedom to explore my art career.
However, I do find myself prioritizing my personal growth at the moment. The last year has been very intense in terms of work, truly working 7 days a week non-stop.
As a side effect, I’ve isolated myself and become much more introverted in the process. I think it’s time to work on expanding and blending back into my social circle, so I can find new inspiration from others.
It’s all a fine balance.
First of all, I think it’s important to be pragmatic and smart in your approach. It’s not all or nothing!
Take it slow - if you’re just starting out, there’s no need to quit your day job and throw yourself into the deep end! Work on it bit by bit, and allow yourself time to build momentum and grow.
Having a part-time or full-time job that takes care of your daily life, while also providing a bit of a safety net, will really help clear up the brain space you need to be creative.
The other thing is to be well prepared. Put in the time and work to build your portfolio, so that when the right opportunity comes your way, you’ll be ready. Trust your intuition and gut instincts! You’ll know when something feels right and it’s an opportunity worth pursuing.
Getting in touch with my inner child.
Kids express exactly what they want, and express exactly what they mean. There is no confusion, there are no half-measures.
As adults, while it’s true that we can’t go around making demands all the time, many people take that politeness and meekness to extreme levels. Many of us being accustomed to never stating what we want out of life.
And when you can’t verbalise and define your desires, it means you will never achieve your goals.
Creative takes the heavy mass that is our lives, and transforms it back into available energy. Art can help us rediscover ourselves, and present our true selves to the world.
When we say that art is like holding a mirror up to life, I believe that it’s misunderstood as realism, when in fact it is actually recognition. It’s a way to see through our own falsehoods and the stories we’ve constructed for ourselves, and instead recognize things for exactly what they are.
Exploring sculpture as a medium.
Hmmmmm still haven’t made up my mind about how I feel.
The non-narrative film Baraka! It’s a poetic documentary film speaks in magnificent images, natural sounds, and music, both composed and discovered.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity
When Zev isn’t doing consulting work, you’ll find her working on various personal projects at Garage Society Wan Chai Lockhart. You might even catch another The 33PRESS exhibition in the space soon!
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Welcome back to Mandy's In-House Notes, a twice-monthly column touching on all things brand-building, entrepreneurship and female-empowerment related, from the mind of Mandy Pao.
This week, we're talking about the power of using the right data to inform your design process.
Author: Mandy Pao, Founder and Creative Director, Eloquence International
Cover image: Jezael Melgoza via Unsplash