In my artworks, I seek to tell the stories of the past by reinterpreting ancient art. I hope to modernize ancient handicrafts, thereby sharing their stories to preserve the cultural traditions they represent. By infusing them with aspects of modern life and introducing ancient arts to more people, I believe that I can help tangible evidence of our past to survive and be transmitted to future generations. I believe that this act of preservation is crucial to safeguarding the most important stories and memories of our existence.
My portfolio explores the transformation of ancient Asian art into accessible contemporary styles. This exploration is important to me because the intrinsic drive for inheritance strikes me as the fuel of cultural memory. The word inheritance drives my aspiration to share the wisdom of ancient civilizations with people through my artwork.
I. Enlightenment of Art Inheritance and The First Attempt
It all started at the age of fifteen when I was watching a grey-haired monk in Tibet replenish the color of a faded statue of Buddha. A question came out of my mind as I watched: “Why would you choose to dedicate yourself to painting Buddha figures at the age of seventy-nine?” I expected a long narration of his life, but he uttered a single word: inheritance. He painted so that visitors from outside and people in the future would learn stories about the past from his artwork. In fact, most handicraft masters nowadays live in remote areas, and cultures that rely on generational transmission are on the brink of extinction, and therefore in the future, we may know nothing about our ancestors as if they had never existed. Inheritance through art unites us with our ancestors and connects us with future generations.
When I went back to Beijing, my hometown, I decided to follow the monk’s example. That summer, I made my first attempt at crafting inheritance by modifying Tibetan yak skin boots. Deeply fascinated by the history behind them, I was struck by the idea of taking these handicrafts with such a profound history to a wider audience. To adapt them to the local weather, I added a breathable net on the boot surface and a thick layer of rubber on their soles so that the boots could be worn on both rainy and snowy days in modern city streets.
Also, considering the varied aesthetic tastes of my potential consumers, I further modified the boots with personalized features. Back in high school, I used the metal studio to explore more ways of weaving stories into artworks and presenting them to the local public. For example, I added onto my hand-made hairpin a woven stream of tiny chain links to symbolize the invisible constraints of females under a traditional patriarchal society. I shared my thoughts with the visitors in my high school art show.
II. Continuation of Artmakings and New Exploration
My pursuit of cultural questions through art continued throughout college. My belief in using art to connect people from different backgrounds drives me to apply my knowledge to art-making and research in public aesthetic taste. After I took the Japanese art history course in the first semester of my sophomore year in college, I was engrossed in the expression of Zen Buddhism in Japanese rock gardens. As a place for serene pleasure, Japanese rock gardens are characterized by green bushes, rough standing stones, meandering streams and ripples in the ponds. Inspired by the gardens, I sought to preserve the beauty of nature and epitomize the garden features in my metal piece Afternoon Bathing in Karesansui 伏案·枯山水, which I made during the last winter break. It’s a reduced size landscape which aims to convey the feelings of bathing in bird songs and water-running sounds. People can meditate on this work to clear their minds from their daily routines and gain a sense of relief and self-affirmation when the incense filters through their minds. I put all these components together to create a uniformity of colors and shapes, and showcase the Zen Buddhist belief in understanding the essence of life.
Besides applying my newly acquired art historical knowledge to creating art, I explore new combinations of materials and their chemical and physical properties. During the last winter break, I sought to start up my own experiment on the performative nature of different artistic materials. The low melting point of pewter enables me to turn it into liquid form and to explore its automatism. I let it flow on the surface and drip into the water with different temperatures by the gravity effect, and form into natural shapes to exhibit the inherent qualities of pewter as a medium. I relinquished conscious control and let the form emerge from unconsciousness. The life force of pewter shined through the art pieces, such as the pewter necklaces Little Angels in my portfolio.
As I continue to study, I hope I will acquire more art historical knowledge while continuing to explore the properties of materials. Art is the channel for conveying ideas. Through art, we can see that the artist’s soul is shining, seeking expression and the resolution of understanding and contradictions in such a vast universe.
This is me, an explorer who seeks to use her artworks to narrate ancient stories and cultures to the public and raise people’s longing for inheritance.
“Ars Longa, Vita Brevis.”