Lau Ching-yee, Cathleen
J: Why did you choose sculpture as your primary medium?
L: I am an active person, and sculpture requires manual labour that often gives me a good sweat (chuckles). Although at the start of my career I was not familiar with sculpture and had briefly considered studying photography. I decided against the latter due to my poor eyesight. Fortunately, it turned out sculpture is the right medium for me.
In contrast to the fast pace of city life, I enjoy the slow carving process, and savour the primitive relationship between human, body and environment that sculpture offers. There may not be many people engaging in sculpture in Hong Kong due to lack of space. However, this makes every single opportunity to sculpt even more precious to me.
J: How did you come up with the idea of using sawdust for your works? What are the differences between sculptures made by sawdust and other materials?
L: I have always wanted to break the preconceived notion that wood could only be assembled or carved. I noticed that the large amount of sawdust left from wood carving is in fact a renewable material. Not only could it be used for growing mushrooms, but also for creating artworks via molding. In a time when natural resources are dwindling, I keep thinking about the need to utilise different materials wisely and therefore have been actively exploring various possibilities.
Sculpture done by carving is the art of subtraction, while molding sawdust is an art of addition. I have always enjoyed playing at the beach since I was a kid, and my method of molding sawdust kind of resembles building sandcastles, as apparent in my graduation work Temple of a Million of Years.
Banyan tree (sawdust), Phoebe zhennan wood pillar (burnt), light bulbs, mineral pigments, natural lacquer | 2019
J: In addition to wood sculpture, have you worked on other mediums?
L: I have built scaffolds with bamboo and created a series of art installations with plants and balloons. Compared with wood sculpture, my mixed media works tend to be more conceptual and larger in scale. I feel that the introduction of other elements or mediums helps to intervene space for allowing certain ideas to be expressed.
Balloon, bronze, wood, hose | 2017
J: Where do you tend to find your inspiration?
L: In the face of frequent failures and unexpected turn of events, I often also find amusement. To me, the so-called failed works are organic. Art creation, like nature, is often unpredictable. Therefore, I will continue to challenge the norms and spark clashes, and allow accidents and surprises to be a part of my works.
Sawdust, wood, lacquer, clay model | 2021
J: How do you view the relationship between nature and the city? Why do tenement buildings interest you?
L: I look for sight of the natural amid the urbane of Hong Kong’s densely packed high-rises. To some extent, those plants that survive in the concrete jungle resemble our state of living. I therefore try to tell stories about our city through the use of natural materials.
I have a soft spot for old things and tenement buildings, especially shophouses. They do not belong to our era, but managed to stand the test of time and space in the bustling city of Hong Kong. In my eyes, the beauty of tenement buildings is in the details – terrazzo stairs, smooth corners and window grilles. They are utilitarian, but still truly reflective of culture, living and quality. I have visited old tenement buildings in Yau Tsim Mong district and North Point. In the future, I would also like to check out those in To Kwa Wan and Sham Shui Po. Hopefully, these soon-to-be-buried memories from yesteryears can be preserved in my works.
J: Your most memorable work is…
L: The award-winning Wildness in Pawn. It was created in late 2018, when I was feeling anxious about the tense situation reported in the news. I picked some weeds from the roadside and tried growing them at home, but found that as wild and free things they simply withered and died. To me, it mirrors how I feel about Hong Kong and the way the city survives with tenacity like weeds between the cracks.
Weeds, neon light, scaffold, water pipe | 2018
J: Could you tell us more about your upcoming exhibition at PMQ?
L: The exhibition was initially titled “Wood Mound”, as my works made from sawdust resemble buried archaeological relics. But it felt too heavy, so I changed it to “The Chewing”.
The theme echoes how my wood sculptures were made in a way as if they had been chewed by insects. It also reminds me of how my father’s study was damaged by termites which left behind organic patterns and deep marks on the wood furniture. The creation of wood sculptures from sawdust is not unlike how we devour the past and reform our memories, or how we need to chip much away from things to start anew in this era .
I hope viewers can feel my works with their hearts. Perhaps, the fragility of my works will resonate with their own vulnerabilities.
J: Why do your works tend to be long and slender?
L: My works are often block-like or strip-like, probably influenced by artists like Antony Gormley and Alberto Giacometti. The former creates human sculpture by assembling wooden blocks, while the latter makes slender figures from clay infused with copper. Both of their works show different forms of human existence.
Sawdust, iron, mirrors | 2018
Lau Ching-yee, Cathleen
J: Any new creative direction for the future?
L: I have considered combining wood sculpture with knots, weaving and new media to add new dimensions to my work. I would also like to try my hand at video production to keep up with the digital era, and present my sculptures and stories from more diverse perspectives.
Wood | 2021