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Meet the winner of the fifth Audemars Piguet Art Commission, Phoebe Hui

The artist shares how the increasing distance between Earth and the moon inspired her artwork 'The Moon is Leaving Us'.

Interdisciplinary artist Phoebe Hui won the Audemars Piguet Art Commission for her large-scale installation ‘The Moon is Leaving Us’. The fifth iteration of this biennial competition marks many firsts – it’s the first time the Art Commission was held in Asia and the first that a solo female artist has won it.

We speak to Hui about her artwork and what it means for her as an artist.

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How did your interest in the moon as a subject start?

My research largely focuses on science and technology to help audiences better understand the complexity of the universe. My interest in the moon dates back to when I was a child and first discovered Su Dongpo’s legendary poem Prelude to Water Melody. The main character stares at the moon and longs for his brother. After spending many years away from my friends and family while studying abroad, the moon has made separation more bearable for me. By looking at the moon, I feel closer to those I love – a feeling that particularly resonates today.

Phoebe Hui looks at her artwork 'The Moon is Leaving Us', created for the Audemars Piguet Art Commission.

Phoebe Hui looks at her artwork ‘The Moon is Leaving Us’, created for the Audemars Piguet Art Commission.

You mentioned that your interest in the moon was re-ignited in 2019 when you visited the Vallée De Joux. Do you remember what went through your mind?

I visited the Vallée De Joux, Audemars Piguet’s home in Switzerland to meet the family and really get to know what they are about. The Audemars Piguet Contemporary team organised a lovely dinner at a remote restaurant in the Swiss mountains. On the walk there, we found ourselves on a moonlit road, where the moon was the only source of nocturnal light. This was a very different experience from my everyday life in Hong Kong, a buzzing metropolis that is always lit by the city’s skyline and neon lights. I knew then that I wanted to explore the many facets of the moon, some of which are widely known to us and others that are not, including the scientific fact that the moon is slowly migrating away from the Earth. The questions this finding raises, coupled with how humanity sees and experiences the moon, are at the heart of this project.

What was the most troublesome part of creating The Moon Is Leaving Us?

I am very much a research based artist. My process is usually pretty lengthy, and my works keep evolving till installation. I spent a long time working through ideas until I completed the concept for the piece. The moon wasn’t my original motivation for the work, for example. It was only upon travelling to Switzerland to visit Audemars Piguet’s home in the Vallée De Joux that I shifted my focus. I am very grateful to the Audemars Piguet Contemporary team, who facilitated introductions for me beyond my network and offered me the opportunity to consult with experts, scientists, and even a former astronaut as I worked to develop my artwork. These conversations were vital in developing the work into what it is today.

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The research room detailing Hui's extensive study for the artwork.

The research room detailing Hui’s extensive study for the artwork.

‘The Moon is Leaving Us’ premiered at Tai Kwun in Hong Kong on 23 April and will stay on view until 23 May, which also marks the end of Art Basel Hong Kong. Hui and her team are working to bring the installation around the world, if possible, after that. In the meantime, you can experience the piece digitally at the Audemars Piguet website here.