Ceramics maker and LUMP Studio owner Liz Lau talks about three works by local artists in her collection.
Chris Lo Sze Lim became my ceramics teacher when I moved back to Hong Kong from London in 2015. He was a generous and invaluable advisor when I was planning the opening of my own workshop, LUMP Studio, and we have worked closely since then on the Hong Kong Dragon Kiln Concern Group, which is dedicated to the preservation of an 80-year-old, 20-metre-long outdoor ceramic kiln in Tuen Mun.
I love Chris’s works because they are full of the ebb and flow of emotion. This piece was made for his last solo exhibition in Hong Kong, in 2016. It tells a beautiful, bittersweet story of Ah Bo the stuffed koala bear. Chris used to take Ah Bo everywhere and loved pressing his face into its round head. One day, more tired and stressed then usual, his mom was tidying around the house when she found Ah Bo under the couch. Frustrated by the mess, she ripped Ah Bo’s head clean off its body, right in front of Chris. Chris was devastated, burst into tears and stayed mad at his mom all afternoon. That night, before going to bed, Chris’s mom returned Ah Bo to him, the head already sewn back on. His mom’s gesture filled Chris with sorrow. While Ah Bo and his mom are both now gone, Chris remembers his childhood and commemorates his mom’s hard life with a ceramic rendition of Ah Bo. Each thread connecting the head to the body is a symbol of his mom’s love for him. Given Ah Bo’s tough history, I make sure ceramic Ah Bo always has pride of place in a home. He hangs in my hallway, across from my bedroom, a constant reminder that family relationships are complicated.
I met Yeung Yuk Kan last year at my studio. Now residing in the Netherlands, she was back in her hometown of Hong Kong for a visit, and it was my great pleasure to meet her and learn more about the process of this quiet, self-effacing artist. It is exceedingly hard to buy her works in Hong Kong, but a handful of pieces were available at the recent opening of the bookshop in the newly renovated Hong Kong Museum of Art in Tsim Sha Tsui. My eyes locked in on one and I snapped it up immediately.
Since I love making ceramics, I find myself fascinated by artists’ techniques and methods. I love Yeung’s works because her process is complex and layered but the result is thin and light – a wonderful juxtaposition. It’s a bit hard to describe her process with words, but it goes something like this. Yeung rolls out almost paper-thin sheets of porcelain and assembles them like a seamstress while the clay is slightly dry but still pliable. Her forms are soft and organic, seams are sometimes left partially open and she pushes and pulls on the clay to create warping and distortion. Instead of a straight cylinder, the result is interesting ripples and waves when you look at it from different angles. Yeung then starts on the surface decoration, crossing the boundary into Chinese calligraphy and etching. She covers pieces of paper with black slip (liquid clay) and then uses a pencil to write or etch a Chinese poetry into the dark ink. Before the slip dries, she cuts the lines of poem into long, vertical strips, and then “prints” them – literally, sticks them – onto the outside of the vase. As the porcelain is quite dry by now, it soaks up the black slip. The paper strips are then removed, and wherever these strips were applied the porcelain become jet black – except where the poem was etched, where the bright white porcelain comes through. In the case of this vase, Yeung then added pink slip and some additional decoration to the inside of the vase before taking it to fire.
Can a spoon be art? Not some old antique spoon that goes into a display case or stays wrapped up in storage, but one that I use every day for my soup and cereal and congee, that was only made at the beginning of 2019? This spoon by Hikki Lau Wai Shan, a ceramic artist who is also the studio manager at LUMP, is shaped by hand and with simple pottery tools. Its form is a cross between a Chinese ceramic spoon and the straighter stainless steel version, slightly decorative but nonetheless highly functional.
It might seem weird that I choose to put something as mundane as a ceramic spoon into my list of favourite works I’ve collected. But that’s really what I think it is. In fact, I would say that in my home, most of my art works are found in my kitchen cupboard. It is filled to the brim with unique, one-off pieces of varying shapes and sizes by artists from Hong Kong and abroad.
I get to pull some of them out whenever we have company for dinner, and I try my best to pair the food and the tableware. But my favourite pieces are the ones I use and touch and sip from every day: a coffee tumbler made by a Japanese ceramic artist friend, a wheel-thrown bowl by my partner that I eat my instant noodles in, and this wonderful, quirky spoon. It’s art that is just a partof my day-to-day life, a unique privilege for those of us who are partial to collecting ceramics.