The 52nd HK Arts Festival

Enter Miwa Matreyek's Surreal Dreamworld About a Planet in Peril

Text / Adam Wright

Multimedia artist Miwa Matreyek's work with shadows and kaleidoscopic projections may deal in the ephemeral and intangible, but her most recent performance was inspired by something very real: a pile of the plastic waste she generated over one month.

During the creation of Infinitely Yours, which the Vancouver-based performer, animator, director and designer says is aimed at sparking a discussion about climate change, Matreyek began what she describes as "a plastic audit".

"At first I was just going to film it for the performance, but after collecting all this plastic trash for a month, I started to wonder how I could make different choices—such as how I could get tofu that wasn't in plastic without having to drive an hour and a half to a special store. Even if I couldn't find the answer, I think the struggle and gaining that awareness was still really important," the artist tells FestMag.

In Matreyek's dreamlike productions, the performer steps behind a screen and into projected moving images, interacting with them as a shadow silhouette and injecting emotion into scientific phenomenon. The end result is hypnotic and the humanity-versus-nature themes can be appreciated by people of any age: youngsters will be enthralled by the scenes of cute animals, tiny humans and starry nights, while older viewers will understand the intention behind the images of wildfires, industrial pollution and a planet in crisis.

"I do feel like I'm creating a phantasmagoria experience because it's grounded in the physical world—the audience can see that there's a screen and there's projectors, and there's me transforming into a shadow. But once I become a shadow, it becomes a very fantastical, surreal experience, very dreamlike. I'm interested in the intersection of the ephemeral, this kind of dream logic, but grounded in the visceral."

Matreyek developed her signature style after receiving her MFA in Experimental Animation and Integrated Media from CalArts in 2007, and she's performed her interdisciplinary shadow performances all around the world at venues and events such as TED and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her first two works Myth and Infrastructure (2010) and This World Made Itself (2013) were quite whimsical in nature, and explored the relationship between humanity and our world, both physical and mental, natural and man made.

But her tone darkened over the years as she became more focused on the unfolding climate catastrophe. "I do have a whimsical side to me, but as I've made work, I've realised how powerful this mode of storytelling is and how audiences have been quite affected by it. So I understood that as an artist, I had crafted a visceral tool and began to question what I wanted to lend my magical powers to."

Matreyek will be bringing all three of her signature works to the 52nd Hong Kong Arts Festival. When put together, the artist says the performances trigger "a kind of exorcism" of our collective climate anxiety. "But then again the pieces are just really magical and that's all they need to be."

Miwa Matreyek's World of Animation 

Date: 20-23/2/2024

Venue: Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall