Miami-born, New York-based artist Teresita Fernández reveals how traditional Chinese scroll paintings inspired her latest works

Size matters to Teresita Fernández. The American artist is most famous for her large-scale sculptures that dwarf viewers, soaring over their heads or stretching out of sight through cavernous museum halls. As well as being physically imposing, these works explore big ideas about the environment, history and the wonders of the natural world.

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It’s hard to convey a sense of scale in Hong Kong’s pint-sized galleries but, against the odds, Fernández has done it. In her latest exhibition, Rise and Fall, Fernández has transformed Lehmann Maupin’s Hong Kong gallery into an immersive installation, combining 24 individual works into one immense piece that completely surrounds visitors.

Following the exhibition opening, Fernández sat down with us to discuss the title of the exhibition, the inspiration behind her new works and her experiences serving on Barack Obama’s US Commission of Fine Arts.

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Above Teresita Fernández (Photo: Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong)

The landscapes in Rise and Fall are reminiscent of Hong Kong’s mountainous islands. Did Hong Kong inspire these works?

In Rise and Fall, the mountainous horizon separating water and sky is a reference to island geography, such as that of Hong Kong—a place where one is constantly surrounded by water.

The result is a site-specific installation with thousands of blue horizon lines that rise and fall, surrounding the viewer. The title of the show is also a reference to how this term is used to describe the rhythm and swinging pendulum of power and social movements throughout history.

As Rise and Fall is site-specific and involved you drawing on the walls, how long did the installation of the exhibition take?

The panels themselves are quite slow and laborious to make, as the surface is built by hand, polished, and then drawn on. This can take several months. The installation in the gallery required painting and drawing directly on the walls, which I did with a team of people over a couple of days on site.

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You’ve previously talked about the importance of the “moving viewer” and how your installations are created for people to walk around. How did you adapt this to the smaller scale of Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong?

My installations depend on the ambulatory viewer to activate the works. While the gallery itself is a small space, the images I’m using are immense and vast landscapes and oceans, which the viewer moves in and out of as they experience the works.

I was thinking a lot [about] traditional Chinese scroll paintings, which are small when rolled up but quite long as they unfold into panoramic views. In this same way, the walking, moving viewer in my installation is also moving in and out of each image.

The surfaces of the panels also reflect the viewer’s movements and shadows on their polished surfaces, becoming a shimmering real-time aspect of the image.

What do you think your biggest contribution to the US Commission of Fine Arts was?   

I was on the commission from 2011—2014 and was honoured to have been appointed by President Barack Obama. Those eight years that Obama was president really enabled people to imagine the world differently, to see a government that reflected the current demographics of our country.

The Commission was made up of six people, most of whom were architects and designers. I always saw my role as being about bringing a visual artist’s perspective to the conversation.

Rise and Fall is on at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong until December 30. For more details, visit

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