Inside the Studio of Ivana Wong, Who Debuted Her Music Inspired Hong Kong Art Exhibition
Dubbed Hong Kong’s Queen of singer-songwriters after winning the Commercial Radio Singer-Songwriter Awards for seven consecutive years, Ivana Wong has been a luminary in the fields of music, performing arts and film since she emerged in 2005. She has made a name for herself writing movie theme songs, appearing in musical theatre, performing her own music in concert, collaborating with fellow Canto-pop artists including Hins Cheung, and movies, including a Hong Kong Film Award-winning lead role in 2013 movie Golden Chickensss.
Recently, Wong has turned her creativity to the visual arts, culminating in her debut exhibition, The Missing Something—The Singing Canvases, at ArtistTree, in which she explored the idea of sharing, kindness and gratitude. Visitors entered the exhibition through a dark tunnel where Wong's handwritten poems appear on the walls, while sounds of nature play in the background. The tunnel led into a room with a video installation showing changing winter scenery, while twinkling light bulbs hang from the ceiling, and Wong’s orchestral compositions can be heard. “The Singing Canvases is a sensory [experience] that evokes the forgotten feelings of happiness and love from sharing. Through this meditative experience, I hope visitors will get to relive precious memories,” she says.
Here, Wong shares what a day in her life is like as a singer-songwriter and aspiring visual artist.
I live by a forest. Every morning at 6am, the wild animals deliver their performance: the frogs usually go first, followed by twittering bulbul, and finally a full chorus of stray dogs, to which I fully wake up. With my teeth brushed and face washed, it’s time for my filtered coffee. On busy days, I would already be working, but on a more relaxing day, I like watching the news and playing video games. Recently, I’ve changed my breakfast time to noon for a super slow morning.
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I love to read at this hour, when I’m fully awake. My selection of books is broad: poetry, philosophy, art, novels, travel and food guides. They are great sources of inspiration for my work and motivate me to write poems or brainstorm concepts and ideas for future projects. It’s an exciting journey to go through my little notebook from time to time. The bits and pieces recorded sometimes will end up becoming bigger projects. In my recent exhibition The Singing Canvases, for example, I created a walk-through art experience that encompasses a mix of music, chiaroscuro, video and written words.
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I maintain a good work-life balance despite my hectic schedule. The gym is tough; I prefer dancing, and tap is my favourite, although I’m not a professional. I have so much fun at the two-hour classes. I love helping myself to fruits or a quick bite of bread after sweating it out.
Afternoon is my time for a fun music session. I love all genres of music, so I get inspired by different types of compositions. I don’t only listen to my own creations but also classical, post-rock ambient, electronica, rock and jazz, just to name a few genres. While listening, I often sketch with ball pens—to me, music is a language that creates an abundance of images and stories in my head. I’m very particular about my pen choices and only use fine tips of 0.7mm or 1.0mm.
The sunset creates the perfect mood to be around my piano. When I was younger, I practised whatever had been set out by my piano teacher. Now I let my hands flow naturally on the keyboard. Improvisation is an important part of my music writing; when a striking melody pops into in my head, I write it down in my notebook or record it on my phone. Many of my songs were written at my piano, a lovely white Steinway, which was a gift to myself after my second concert at the Coliseum. I also work with a synthesiser, which has a wide selection of sound samples to work with; I like picking samples randomly to spark new music ideas. It’s amazing how a single sound can arouse my emotions so deeply that I can build music on top of it.
I like to cook vermicelli with dried shrimps, tong yum kung soup, beef stew, or fried rice for dinner when I have free time. They are mostly traditional dishes, sometimes with a twist. I can feel creative anywhere, even the kitchen—I sing out loud when I cook; the living room, where I have dinner with my loved ones, is always filled with music, very much like a theatre.
I’ve turned one of my rooms into a small home studio. In this little paradise, I’ve curated my own collection of family pictures and toys in the display racks. On the walls are paintings I collect and posters from concerts I’ve attended. I also have my electronic keyboard, which I’ve been using for a decade to create music, in this room. I put on my headphones from 10pm onwards. During my peak season when I am involved in different arts projects, I make myself hot tea and don’t stop working until the next morning.
‘A Day In The Life’ is a Tatler weekly cultural series, which delves into the lives of tastemakers in Hong Kong’s arts scene.