Li Tak-yung, Doris
J: On your pursuit of ceramics……
L: I have always loved arts and crafts since childhood. Out of sheer coincidence, I read a book called My Soil, My Land in the university library, and found myself in one of the pictures – I was a primary school student who joined an activity at the Hong Kong Wetland Park in Tin Shui Wai. I remember I made a mudskipper with the wetland soils, and that was probably my first encounter with clay.
Later, I enrolled in the Academy of Visual Arts at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), and came across a vast range of mediums. Yet, ceramics remains my go-to medium. Perhaps, my “slow and steady” trait makes a perfect match with the “haste makes waste” characteristic of ceramics.
J: Embroidery and ceramics appear to have nothing in common. How did you come up with the idea of combining the two together, and how is it done?
L: I have always been fond of needlework and fashion since taking home economics classes in secondary school. As embroidery and ceramics gradually become my primary interests, I wanted to try blending these two crafts together for my final year work in university.
For materials, I first mix tissue fibre with clay, to make it more mouldable. Then, dip the thread into the clay mixture, before doing the embroidery on gauze. As such, clay thins down, while the texture of the thread is retained and hardened. After kiln firing, the gauze is gone, thread and clay becomes one, and the embroidery pattern stands alone. It is not only a process of integration, but also transformation.
As for the concept, it was inspired by the history and culture of embroidery in China. I studied the origin of needlework and the symbolism behind various patterns. At last, I chose a series of common, traditional floral patterns, and presented them with a modern touch. During ancient times, female and embroidery were inseparable like fabric and thread. But once with the addition of clay, thread no longer needs fabric, it becomes independent and boundless – this is a representation for the transformation of modern women that I wish to present.
J: The biggest challenge in the production process is……
L: It is rather difficult to make ceramics as thin as a thread, literally. It breaks easily, and so keeping the work intact after the firing process becomes the biggest challenge. Therefore, I experimented with a variety of clay (such as B & B Clay, High Fire Multipurpose Clay and USA Coleman Porcelain) and threads. Overcoming multiple trials and failures, this set of works is finally completed.
J: Which one is your favourite?
L: I particularly like Chrysanthemum from the Needlework series because it was the most challenging one to create, due to its complicated yet refined pattern. Surprisingly, it turned out to be the best and most complete piece of work in the series. Also, people often mistake the Peach Blossom for cherry blossom as they resemble each other.
J: What is your view on your connection with Needlework and the transformation of modern women?
L: Needlework is a craft passed on from mothers to daughters in Ancient China, and the level of needlework skills may very well determine the life of a woman. While embroidery was their shackle, it was also their primary medium of expression. To empathise this mentality, I shut myself in when creating the Needlework series, trying to imagine lives of women who lived many generations before me, who poured their hearts and souls into embroidery. The work also prompted me to reflect on my relationship with my father. I grew up under the patriarchy of a strict father who always forbade me to go out.
Although times have changed, the ideology of “male superiority” is still noticeable in modern society of China. Females, however, are not constrained by traditions anymore and could express themselves more directly nowadays. Some of the audience did tell me that they saw feminism in my works. But actually, I simply wanted to express the change in the roles of women.
J: Can you share with us your experience at Nagoya Zokei University of Art and Design in Japan? Are there any differences in the arts environment between Hong Kong and Japan?
L: Besides ceramics, I studied Japanese painting and metalworking in Japan. I was most impressed by the spirit of craftsmanship in Japanese art. Artists often specialise in one discipline and pay close attention to detail to achieve perfection. At HKBU, arts education emphasises on diversity, innovation and efficiency, with assignments usually due in one week. Meanwhile in Japan, students may be allowed the luxury of six months just to make a single ring. Their requirements towards the level of craftsmanship and precision, on the other hand, would be much higher.
J: Can you tell us more about “Flow of Stone and Clay”, your upcoming exhibition with Ho Oi-ying at PMQ?
L: “Flow of Stone and Clay” corresponds to our art mediums and materials respectively – my “clay” and her “stone”, ceramics and metal works, bold and beautiful. Despite the difference in style and medium, we partner up and share the same studio to create and develop our works, much like tributaries converge to become a river. Going with the “flow”, this exhibition allows us to express our feelings towards life, in an attempt to narrow the gap between human and nature.
Li Tak-yung, Doris
J: Any plans for the future?
L: I will continue to develop my works that “crossover” embroidery and ceramics, and coming up next I would like to try three-dimensional embroidery, or use ceramics to capture the “essence” of fabric. In addition to artistic creations, teaching ceramics and making handicrafts are on my list as well.