Studio
Leave a Comment

LeeLee Chan 陳麗同

By Caroline Ha Thuc /

Born in 1984 in Hong Kong, LeeLee Chan is well known for sculptural installations that transform discarded mass-produced objects from daily life into hybrid and often organic forms. For Chan, there is no discontinuity between the human, natural and technological spheres; she has developed a holistic approach to the world and to society. Art allows her to connect these realms creatively, opening up new and sometimes surprising perspectives on our urban environment.

LeeLee Chan. Courtesy Stiftung Skulpturenpark Köln.

Caroline Ha Thuc: You left Hong Kong at the age of 17 to study in the United States and you spent 13 years abroad, including two in the UK, before coming back in 2015. How did this journey shape your work?LeeLee Chan: I guess it changed my perspective on Hong Kong and how I now appreciate my family’s heritage. My parents are antique dealers, and I grew up surrounded by Chinese antiques, yet I did not fully appreciate them until I came back. I am also more open to the urban environment I am now living in, in Kwai Chung, and I have been reflecting on its specificities.

Besides, it was with my move back to Hong Kong that sculpture became my primary medium, and my practice has gone through drastic development ever since. My first studio in Hong Kong was located in Fotan, an industrial neighbourhood with lots of warehouses and small, family-owned craft shops. I came across all kinds of objects on the side streets and in dumpsters on the way to my studio. I simply could not help saving the most interesting ones. Having these objects in my studio, in turn, has given me the impulse to make something out of them.

I am interested in people’s desire to mimic nature in urban environments. This interest was, again, sparked by my return to Hong Kong. This place is extremely urbanised, although its people live, in fact, close to nature. Hong Kong also fundamentally influenced the way I perceive space. As one of the densest cities in the world, Hong Kong has layered and hidden spaces everywhere. This compression of space is reflected in my sculptures, which often contain multiple micro-spaces that can be discovered when one walks around them. Sculpture making has become a journey to discover and explore the city again.

CHT: Most of your sculptural installations, as you call them, are indeed based on objects collected from the streets or building sites. How do you select them? LLC: The objects I collect need to open up my imaginary and to trigger my curiosity. This is mainly intuitive. I am not interested in everything, for instance vintage items or objects that have memorable value. The objects I select usually tend to be mass-produced, mundane, industrial and household objects that are overlooked and have an anonymous quality because they offer room for my freewheeling imagination. There are a few pieces in the studio that haven’t found their place yet, but usually I know straight away if a piece will be relevant or not.

Blindfold Receptor (Gulf Frit. Orange) by LeeLee Chan, KölnSkulptur #10, detail view at Cologne Sculpture Park, 2020. Courtesy the artist.

CHT: I can see plastic pallets, polystyrene packaging and lots of boxes with various objects inside. How do you connect these found materials to your working process? LLC: I always start from the object itself, from my personal connection to it, and then I develop ideas and think of new forms and association of materials and forms. I usually move things around, try different positions to change my perspective on the material, being extremely aware of its materiality and hidden potential. It implies a series of experimentations and going through a process of unlearning and relearning. For example, when I moved these plastic pallets vertically, 

I suddenly saw stained glass windows instead, which opened up new possibilities to work with them. For me, the best works come usually from mistakes that I make, and new ideas that are generated from those mistakes. Ultimately, this is why I do not define myself as a conceptual artist: ideas are important, but they do not guide my practice.

CHT: You already used these pallets in the installation Pallet in Repose (Marine) (2019), but they didn’t look like windows at that time. LLC: That’s right, and I also used bigger ones. These are Japanese pallets that are not so easy to find in Hong Kong. When I put one upright, its intricate structure brought back a memory of a stained glass window. Since the pallet already had blue buttons encrusted on its surface, I decided to create a stained glass prism effect with various shades of blue resin. 

However, I felt that the pallet itself wasn’t interesting enough, and remained too literal, so I incorporated some polystyrene car packaging together with concrete and metal components. It changed the physical presence of the pallet, giving it a heavy, bulky quality that transformed it into a kind of mechanical device. It made me think of an underwater archaeological artefact such as a shipwreck that would rest quietly deep down in water.

CHT: Reverse Conductor (2018) was a site-specific sculptural installation commissioned byTai Kwun and made from the lamps you found on the work site before the opening of the exhibition space. How did you connect with these objects, and why? LLC: I found these lamps when I visited the site at the time of its construction. They were used to light up the work and were attached to makeshift metal stands made by the workers for purely practical reasons. 

For me, they were like the guardians of the site, illuminating its dark construction space. I asked the workers to keep a few of them, and I replicated others, although I mixed up some original pieces with new pieces so that, in the end, they had all something in common. I wanted to recreate this feeling of a group. In fact, like humans, they are all different, but they form a kind of community, like members of an orchestra. Inside their structure, the light changes constantly and, now that they do not serve as lights for the building site any more, they light up their own inner landscape. The hues of green respond to the different shades from the Tai Kwun environment: the basketball court, the street neon lights, the trees. Most of the sculptures were installed next to the spiral staircase inside the gallery space, which is surrounded by glass walls, while others were placed outside, on the balcony. They were thus connecting and blurring the boundary between the interior and exterior spaces. For me, it is important that the sculptures respond to their surrounding environments: when viewers look at the artwork, they not only look at what is in front of them but also at what is behind and around the sculptures, bringing awareness of their surroundings.  

Pallet in Repose (Marine) by LeeLee Chan, Core sample installation view at Capsule Shanghai, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Capsule Shanghai.

CHT: When you talk about your work or about these objects, you seem very attached to them, as if they were living entities. LLC: Yes, I am attached to them. Like my father, I consider objects as living entities. When I came back to Hong Kong, he taught me how to evaluate antiques, mainly ceramic pieces, by touching and feeling them, and it opened new horizons to me as to how I could consider them. What I like the most is to unlearn what I know about an object and rediscover it from another perspective. When I work with existing material, I do not aim at erasing it but at reviving its identity from a different perspective.

CHT: Your last exhibition, Up Close – Hollywood Road, was a group show in an antique shop on Hollywood Road that aimed to revive antiques by creating a dialogue between ancient artefacts and contemporary art. How did you approach these historical collections? LLC: This exhibition was very important because of my family’s history. In Hong Kong, there is no link between antiques and contemporary art practices, and I wanted to create this link by showing how they can respond to each other, and how antiquities can be revived through a contemporary perspective. 

I worked from ceramic shards in different shades of green dating from the Song (AD 960-1279) to the Ming (AD 1368-1644) dynasties that my father helped me to gather. I wanted to be sure they were authentic. I polished the shards into oval discs and embedded them in silver bezels, which were then connected to chainmail that was draped over a freestanding structure, resembling a piece of fabric flowing over a clothes rack. This installation was displayed along with the antique shop owner’s collection of textiles and a Ming dynasty clothes rack, so I tried to create a sculpture that would connect to the fluidity of textiles. I displayed the sculpture under daylight so that the ceramic surface would change according to the light. I read that in the Song dynasty, the literati looked at ceramics only at a specific time of day, since the natural light enhanced the sedate beauty of the monochromatic glaze.

CHT: What was your own relationship with these valuable pieces? LLC: For me, there is no hierarchy between various materials, and normally I do not make any distinction between them. However, this time I felt a responsibility because these ceramic shards and fragmented pottery figures are a part of history and are also bound to my personal upbringing. I am very much inspired by the art philosophy of the Song dynasty, how even a humble ceramic bowl or a stone pebble could become more than an object: a mirror of the universe. It is a reflection of an overarching worldview that speaks to me.

CHT: Evolution and transformation are at the core of your recent series of caterpillar sculptures, Blindfold Receptor (2020). They seem to reflect on the evolution of both species and technique. LLC: I was inspired by an article dealing with how caterpillars adapt to the changing environment. At that time, I was installing some steel structures in my studio to create storage. The column structures echoed the buildings I can see from my studio’s windows, and they recalled the image of peppered moth caterpillars straightening their bodies to mimic the straws for a scientific experiment depicted in that article. I wondered how a caterpillar would look in the urban environment of Hong Kong. Therefore, the steel columns in the Blindfold Receptor series function as a metaphor for the skyscrapers in Hong Kong. I wanted to create an impression of movement to reflect on this feeling of adaptation, a sense of evolving, even though the columns are rock solid. So I incorporated multi-directional rollers, or omni-wheels, and manipulated some of them by transforming them with a marbled pattern, camouflaging the colour of the surrounding wheels. Here the caterpillars morph into multiple omni-wheels, which, like the caterpillar’s variegated ways of seeing and changing colour, evolved from a long lineage of wheels, dating back to the Stone Age, to move in all directions in smooth-rolling motions. Omni-wheels have since been widely adapted in robotics, manufacturing and logistics to improve productivity and efficiency. This continues my ongoing interest in the coexistence between nature and human inhabitants in an extreme urban environment.

CHT: You’ve said that, as an artist, you feel like a mediator. What do you mean by that? LLC: I don’t think my role is to fully control the objects and material I am working with: it is a back and forth conversation between what I set out to do and what the materials and objects can do. I try to push their limitations and potential as far as I can. They are not a tool to illustrate. The work is not about me either, yet the creation process enables me to materialise my thoughts, visions, ideas and imagination, reflecting my experience and my feeling about my surroundings.

For me, it is important to be surprised by the sculptures I create. I think that, above all, I wish to create a mental space, beyond textures and forms, that would provoke thoughts and create a sense of wonder.

Celadon Weaver by LeeLee Chan, Installation view of Up Close – Hollywood Road at Gallery149, Hong Kong, 2020. Courtesy the organizer of Up Close – Hollywood Road.

CHT: Tell us about your BMW Art Journey Award-winning research project Tokens from Time (2020), for which you travelled in Europe, looking for traditional and futurist materials that could inspire you. LLC: I mainly aimed at discovering the stories behind essential and very ancient materials such as marble, copper, iron, silver and crystals, and at investigating on how they had evolved through time. Regarding marble, for instance, I went to Carrara in Italy and found that most of the marble used today is transformed into powder for chemical products. The part used for art is very minimal. I also went to Ravenna and Sicily to learn about Roman and Byzantine mosaics.

However, my journey is not a survey of ancient craft; I want to capture material culture in different times and explore the polar opposite experience of spending time with the artisans and scientists who dedicate their life working with everyday materials. It makes me realise how fascinating it is that we are still living in a world in which both of these two things coexist. The concrete, polystyrene packaging and plastic that I use in my sculptures inspired my research on sustainable alternatives to these materials. This led me to my research on low-carbon-emission cement in Lausanne, as well as mycelium in the Netherlands, a type of fungus that can be grown as a replacement for plastic and polystyrene.

CHT: Your sculptural installations, so far, do not include any new technologies, yet you are very much interested in science. Is this a path you would like to explore in the future? What role does science play in your practice? LLC: I would say I am not a science geek, but I like to listen to some science podcasts and read National Geographic magazine in my spare time. One of the goals of my art journey is to leave my comfort zone and expand my understanding of materials by meeting with engineers and material scientists. We discussed some potential collaborations, and I am excited to see where this might lead in the future.


文:Caroline Ha Thuc

陳麗同,於1984年在香港出生。她以創作雕塑裝置馳名,這些裝置把遭拋棄的大量生產產品,從日常功用轉化成多元有機的形態。她認為人類、大自然和科技各領域間有著緊密的連繫,因此採取一種全面的方法去理解世界和社會狀況。藝術賦予她創造力,讓她能富創意地把這些領域串聯一起,開創出新穎、常出乎意料的視角,去看待我們身邊的城市風貌。

你17歲離開香港,到美國讀書。你在外國生活了整整13年,其中在英國待了兩年。直到2015年,你回到香港。這些國外的歷程如何影響你的創作?這段歷程改變了我對香港的看法,讓我更珍惜家族的遺產。我的父母是古董商,從小我就在古董堆裡長大。在回來香港之前,我覺得自己並沒有真正欣賞這些古董。同時,我亦學會以開放的態度去看待我所居住的地方——葵涌,並思考其特色。

而且,是在我回港後,雕塑才成為我主要的創作媒介,此後作品經歷很大的發展。我在香港的第一個工作室位於火炭,那是一個工業區,滿佈著各式各樣的倉庫和家庭營運的小型手工店。每次在往工作室的途上都會看到路邊、垃圾桶裡堆放著各種雜物,我總是忍不住收集當大中最有趣的物件。它們在我的工作室裡,驅使我去進行再創作。 

我對人試圖在城市中模擬大自然的慾望感到興趣。這個興趣也是因我回港而被激發。這座城市卻極度都市化,雖然居民生活得與大自然非常接近。香港亦影響到我對空間的基本概念。香港是世界上人口最密集的城市之一,到處有著層層疊疊、隱藏起來的空間。我的雕塑體現這種空間上的壓縮,當你圍繞作品走一圈,你會發現內裡包含多重、微細的空間;雕塑製作成為我再次發現和探索這座城市的途徑。

你大部份你稱為雕塑裝置的作品,都源自於你在路邊或建築物旁撿拾的雜物,你怎樣挑選它們?我搜集的物件需提高我的想像力,及激發我的好奇心,這主要出於直覺。我並不是對所有物品都感興趣,我不會挑選懷舊的、具有紀念意義的物件,我通常選擇的都是經大量生產、沉悶的、具工業用途和家用的物件,通常被忽視,帶有一份無名且耐人尋味的身份,讓我隨心所欲地去發揮想像。雖然工作室裡還有一些物件沒被用進作品裡,但我總是能直接感覺到一件物件是否與我的創作有關。

我看到塑膠托盤、發泡膠包裝和許多裝有各種各樣東西的盒子,你怎麼將這些現成物和你的創作過程聯繫起來?我總是由物件本身出發,從我與物件的個人連繫開始,再建立新想法,思考物件的新形式,以及材料和形式之間的聯繫。我經常移動物件,嘗試不同的擺放位置去改變我對材料的固有看法,這也令我能敏感地去意識到這些物件的質感和隱藏的潛質。這意味著一系列的實驗,以及一個經歷遺忘和再學習的過程。舉例說,當我垂直移動這些塑膠托盤時,我看到的不再是塑膠托盤,而是彩色玻璃窗,這帶來了新的可能性。對我來說,最好的作品常來自我作的錯誤,以及從這些錯誤中產生的新想法。所以,這就是為什麼我不把自己定義為觀念藝術家:觀念固然重要,但不能束縛我的實踐。

你的作品《凝伫之盘 (海洋)》(2019年),也使用了這些塑膠托盤,但當時它們看起來並不像窗戶。你說得對,創作那件作品的時候,我用了較大的托盤。這些托盤是日本製造,在香港並不容易找到。當我把一個托盤豎立起來,它的複雜結構讓我想起一扇彩色玻璃窗。這些塑膠托盤表面鑲有藍色鈕扣狀物,於是我決定用不同藍色色調的樹脂,製造一種彩色玻璃稜鏡的效果。然而,我覺得托盤本身不夠有趣、且過於死板,所以,我把一些用於汽車包裝的發泡膠物與混凝土和金屬元件放在一起,這改變了托盤的物理存在,給它一種厚重的質感,把它變成了一種機械裝置。這讓我想到一件懸浮在水中的考古文物,猶如一隻寂靜地躺在水底深處的沉船。

《「倒」電體》(2018年)是一件場域特定的雕塑裝置,由大館委託創作。在大館的展覽場地開放前,你從場地拾到一些燈管來創作這件作品,你如何將這些物件聯繫起來?為什麼這樣做?場地經翻新時,我從地盤裡發現這些燈管。工人為純粹實際的原因,把這些燈管安裝在臨時的金屬支架上用以照明。 對我來說,燈就像守護者,照亮了漆黑的地盤。工人為我保存了幾枝,然後我也複製作了幾枝類似的燈管。雖然我將新舊燈管混合在一起,但到頭來它們都有共通之處。我想重新創造這份集體的感覺;其實它們就像人一樣,每枝燈管都是不一樣的個體,就如管弦樂團中的成員,形成一個群體。在整個裝置結構中,光線不斷變化。此刻,它們不再是在地盤用作照明的燈管,卻照亮內裡的風景。燈管的綠色色調,與大館顏色濃淡不一的環境:籃球場、街上的霓虹燈和樹木,互相映照。大部份裝置被安装在展廳内的螺旋形樓梯旁,被玻璃牆包圍著,其餘的裝置則放在陽台上。因此,這些裝置連接了室內外的空間,並使內外之間的邊界變得模糊。我覺得雕塑和附近的環境的呼應十分重要:當觀眾欣賞藝術品時,他們不僅看到眼前的作品,也會注意到雕塑背後和周遭的環境,更能感知身邊的景物。

當你談論你的作品或這些物件時,你似乎對它們很投入,就好像它們具有生命似的。是的,我對它們是很投入的。我就像我的父親,認為這些物件都具有生命。回港後,父親教會我如何透過觸摸和感覺去鑑賞古董,尤其是陶瓷,這打開了我對古董新的認知。我最喜歡的是忘掉自己對一個物件的固有了解,再從另一角度重新認識它。當我接觸這些材料時,我的目的不是去抹掉它的存在,而是透過不同的角度來重振它的身份。

你最近期的展覽《走近——荷李活道》是在荷李活道的一家古董店舉辦的一場群展,透過建立古代手工藝品和當代藝術的橋樑,從而燃起古董的生機。你是如何利用這些歷史藏品創作?由於我的家族歷史,這個展覽對我非常重要。在香港,古董和當代藝術的創作手段並沒有任何聯繫,但我想展示它們之間的關聯,以及古董如何透過當代視角得以復興。於是,我接觸從宋朝(公元960-1279)到明朝(公元1368-1644)間製作、具有不同綠色色調的陶瓷片,這些都是父親替我收集的,因為我想確認它們是真品。我把碎片打磨成橢圓形的圓塊,鑲嵌在銀色底座上,再把底座與掛在獨立結構上的鏈甲連接一起,就像一件掛在衣架上的織物。該雕塑與古董店老闆的紡織收藏品和一個明朝製的晾衣架並置展出,我試圖創造一件與紡織品流動性有關的雕塑作品。我在日光下展出此作品,讓陶瓷表面隨光線變化。我曾讀過,宋朝的文人只在一天的某個時間內觀賞陶瓷,因為自然光會增強單色釉的沉靜之美。

能講講你和這些珍貴物件間的聯繫嗎?我認為材料是不分貴賤的,因此我不會對這些物件進行區分。可是,這些陶瓷片和零碎的陶器是歷史的一部分,也與我的個人成長息息相關,所以我對這些物件抱有一份責任感。宋朝的藝術哲學對我啟發很大,即使是一個不起眼的陶碗或鵝卵石也不僅僅是一件物件:它是一面反映宇宙的鏡子,也向我反映了一種總體的世界觀。

進化和轉變是你最近期的毛蟲雕塑系列《蒙眼感知器》(2020年)的主題核心,它們似乎反映了物種和技術的進化。 我被一篇關於毛蟲如何適應常變環境的文章深深啟發。當時,我正在工作室安裝一些鋼質結構來創建存儲空間。作品中的圓柱體結構,與我從工作室窗外看到的建築外形呼應。這讓我想起,文中描述一張呈現一項科學實驗的圖片,圖中的一些斑點蛾毛蟲為了模仿稻草的體態而拉直身體。我在想,若牠們生長在香港的城市環境會是什麼樣子?因此,《蒙眼感知器》系列中的鋼柱,事實上寓意香港的高樓大厦,即使它們看來如岩石般堅硬,但我想要創造一個具動感的印象,反映出一份關乎適應、進化的感知。因此,我加入了多向滾輪或全向輪,將部份滾輪轉換成大理石紋理去掩藏其餘輪子的顏色。在作品中,這些斑點蛾毛蟲蛻變成各種全向輪,這些輪子就像斑點蛾毛蟲以各種形態去看見和轉變顏色。這些全向輪從悠久的滾輪歷史演變而來,可追溯到石器時代,它們也被廣泛應用來提高機械人、製造業以及物流的生產力和效率。這也延續我對大自然與人類在極度都市化環境下共存的狀況的興趣。

你曾說過,作為藝術家,你覺得自己像是一位調和者,能解釋一下這句話的意思嗎?我的角色不是要完全掌控我所使用的物體或材料:創作過程,更像是一番關於我想要製造什麼、材料物體可以創造什麼的對話。我盡可能地去嘗試將物料本身的局限和潛力發揮到極致:它們不是用來闡釋問題的工具,也不是一個用來表達我自己的作品,但創作的過程使我的思想、願景、想法和想像具體地呈現出來,反映出我的經歷及我對周遭的感覺。

我創作出來的雕塑能否讓我感到驚奇,對我來說十分重要。總而言之,我希望創造一個超越質感和形式的精神空間,它能激發思考和建立一種奇妙的感覺。

可以分享一下你的「寶馬藝術之旅」獲獎研究項目《Tokens from Time》(2020年) 嗎?為此項目,你曾前往歐洲尋找能啟發你的傳統及未來主義的材料。我主要的目的是去發掘如大理石、銅、鐵、銀、水晶等非常古老的材料背後的故事,以及研究它們如何隨著時間而演變。以大理石為例,我到意大利的卡拉拉作研究,發現現今大部份被使用的大理石,都轉化成粉末來用於化工產品中,卻很少用在藝術品;我還去了拉文納和西西里島,探究羅馬和拜占庭的馬賽克藝術品。

然而,我的旅程並不是要考察古代工藝,我想捕捉不同時代的物質文化,及與那些畢生鑽研日常物件材料的工匠和科學家交流,工匠和科學家兩者的體驗是截然相反的。這讓我發現,我們仍然生活在這兩者共存的世界裡,這是多麼引人入勝呢。我在雕塑中使用的混凝土、發泡膠包裝材料和塑膠,激發了我研究去尋找一些可代替這些物件的環保物料。這讓我開始研究洛桑的低碳排放水泥及荷蘭的菌絲體,那是一種可用來代替塑膠和發泡膠的真菌。

你的雕塑裝置到目前為止沒有包含任何新科技,但其實你對科學卻有著濃厚興趣。你將來會探索這領域嗎?科學在你的作品中扮演一個怎樣的角色?我不是一個科學迷,但我閒時喜歡收聽一些與科學有關的錄音節目及閱讀《國家地理》雜誌。在我的藝術創作旅程中,其中一個目的是要走出舒適圈,及透過與工程師和物料學家交流,繼而擴闊自己對各種材料的了解。我們亦討論到一些合作機會,對於這領域在未來能夠引領我走多遠,我拭目以待。

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.