Au Ho-lam, Suzanne
J: What inspired you to pursue art? When did you decide to turn into a full-time artist?
A: I jumped straight into work after school and never remotely thought of becoming an artist until around 2011 or 2012, when art jamming was all the rage and I had my first taste of it. I am a sucker for hobby and interest courses and have tried my hand at an eclectic mix that ranges from cookery and acupuncture to Chinese medicine. Learning of Hong Kong Art School’s short courses, I wasted no time enrolling in one, unbeknownst that the filtration would blossom into a full-fledged affair that saw me progress from a foundation course to a bachelor’s degree with a major in ceramic art. It happened that the JCCAC had studio units for rent around the time of my graduation, so I gave it a try. It marked my auspicious start as an artist because, not only was my studio application accepted, I was also shortlisted in a ceramics biennial held in Romania.
J: Your studio is called Tao‧Mat (literally, “ceramics, objects”). Can you share with us how you meld ceramics with everyday objects in your work?
A: Loofah plays an important role in my ceramics creation. This came to me one day when I was at home holding a loofah in my hand, an object that is of little use outside the bathroom. I was drawn to its unique patterns and started to experiment with it, randomly tearing up the sponge and pouring bone china clay into the different segments. The mix set and hardened into uniquely shaped ceramic pieces. Since then, this ordinary everyday object has been a recurring theme and motif throughout my work.
J: Can you tell us how the creative idea behind SpectrUM came about?
A: SpectrUM was actually my graduation work, created around the time of the Umbrella Movement. Where words failed to express the complex shifts in ambience and emotions in the occupied districts, I let my art speaks. I painted the surfaces of ceramic pieces with light-sensitive cyan solution, to let the dye “seep into the bones”, so to speak. Similar to the photographic process of cyanotype, the work reacts to sunlight and changes in colour. It is my allegory for life – there is always a way out, as desperate as circumstances may seem.
J: As both a ceramicist and spiritual counsellor, how do you see the relationship between ceramics, nature and the self? Do you find inspiration from within or the world outside?
A: Ceramics affords me a finer, keener sensibility towards people and nature. To illustrate: my eyes are attuned to the orbs of light, which emit intricate glows not dissimilar to the layered structure of a loofah, but they are not visible to all. Ceramics is a medium that allows me to communicate with the outside world, an invisible link that connects me with people.
I became a spiritual counsellor because people often confided in me their problems and I could read through their auras and gauge their feelings to see where their problems lay. Art, as it happens, is an ideal tool to channel one’s emotions.
Together, loofah and ceramics have charted my shifting states of mind throughout the years and enabled others to “see” me. In return, I hope to use them to read people and connect with them in an interactive way. I have in mind a workshop where participants will be invited to cut up a loofah and I will read the resulting dissections as a way to probe the underlying issues and untie the knots in their hearts. The pieces will be loaded into the kiln only if and when they are happy with my reading. Like a deck of tarot cards, my loofahs are a carrier for messages to understand oneself.
I work intuitively and intuition is a product of the subconscious mind. Looking at a freshly minted work, you may not yet fully understand the choices made during the creative process; only when you revisit a work later will you acquire a deeper understanding. This is the “art of reading” that I seek to bring out in my work.
J: You attended two international ceramics symposiums in Romania and Turkey last year. Can you share your experiences with us ? How do ceramic cultures and techniques of the East and West differ?
A: Many Romanians are adept at making ceramics and ceramic clay is a common construction material there. They even have ceramic water pipes! What is fascinating is that the use of ceramics varies in different countries where it takes on new properties and features. While we focus on conceptual and theoretical aspects, ceramicists in the West have the edge in technique and application. After all, there is ample physical space for them to play with fire – literally – in practising Raku firing.
J: Can you tell us about your collaboration with fellow tenant artist, Rachel Cheung, on “On Earth: Lai Chi Wo Art” Project?
A: This project is led by Rachel with the vision of preserving and revitalising Lai Chi Wo, a Hakka village near Sha Tau Kok, and its unique Hakka customs and culture. I got acquainted with some descendants of the indigenous villagers when I was studying abroad, and learnt how they lamented the fast-eroding human warmth and neighbourhood cohesion (which luckily is something still thriving at JCCAC) in their home village. On Earth is intended as a bridge that reconnects these ex-inhabitants, evoking their fragmented memories through ceramics and an array of activities while unifying these snippers into a collective historical whole and shining a light on the beauty within. There is also a farming project that brings together the new generation of urbanite migrants with older-generation farmers. It takes a concerted effort – the marriage of modern technology and age-old wisdom – to ensure a sustainable preservation of rural culture.
Au Ho-lam, Suzanne