Jun 8 – Jul 8
Christine Chan Chiu
Touch Ceramics, in Hong Kong’s newest centre for heritage and arts, Tai Kwun, kicked off with an inaugural show of Sara Tse’s newest works. An artist long fascinated by the transience of time and the impermanence of life, Tse is known as much for her tactile abilities in modelling and manipulating clay as for the sentimental content of her pieces. The exhibition was not only a tribute to technique and craftsmanship but also a timely throwback to things past.
Tse discovered her signature method by chance, when the cloth used to clean her ceramic work table had hardened along with the clay. Experimenting by heating up the cloth, she discovered that while the cloth itself had been incinerated, what remained after the process was the exact replica of the cloth, but in porcelain, creating something that will last forever.
Tse applies this method faithfully to her latest works, where she has turned her attention to cartography to highlight how Hong Kong has evolved. The exhibition is well timed for its revitalised venue, formerly the Central Police Station compound, which has been granted a new lease of life. Indeed, Re Visit was conceptualised to pay homage to the historical buildings and their surroundings. Tse’s creative process involved referencing old hand-painted maps, using Chinese calligraphy brushes to meticulously trace along the lines of these maps onto expendable rice paper, then subjecting the latter to her signature transformative treatment, leaving only porcelain replicas remarkably similar to the real maps. Some of these were then cut and displayed in the form of slides through a projector, their enlarged images intentionally revealing the nuanced imperfections of the firing process.
On view are also items for which Tse is better known: a pair of socks, a young girl’s qipao, a toddler’s crocheted cardigan, even a plush teddy bear – all reconstructions of actual items but in porcelain, and amazingly real in their uncanny, detailed reproduction. Having been lovingly reincarnated into their new bodies, they are as durable as they are delicate.
The theme of nostagia has always been central to Tse’s works. Her art-making process is a cathartic one: in recreating the past, she succeeds not only in reliving it, but ultimately also in preserving it. While her maps provide an unbiased look into Hong Kong’s changing geographical landscape, the other more intimate pieces offer a glimpse into past experiences and relationships – metaphors for long-buried memories.
Re Visit was as much the artist’s personal story as it was Tai Kwun’s, with her intricate, unique approach to porcelain-making taking centre stage. The exhibition prompted the viewer to question the role and form of traditional porcelain, and to re-examine the significance that such everyday items hold in our lives, be they perishable or durable. It also shone a much-deserved spotlight on porcelain as an art form, reminding us that this traditional craft is very much alive.