Published: 16:34, March 27, 2024 | Updated: 16:34, March 27, 2024
Yarn-ing for more
By Gennady Oreshkin

Viewers are invited to walk through Joana Vasconcelos’s "Enchanted Forest", an immersive and illuminated sitespecific installation at ArtisTree. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

This year, Hong Kong Art Week has turned out to be a celebration of the yarn. 

Striking pieces of woven or textile-based art figure in both Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK) and Art Central — the two major international art fairs running concurrently in the city. Other components of Hong Kong’s art eco-system, such as art galleries, museums and cultural heritage institutions, are also showcasing what artists can do with a piece of cloth. 

Art Basel Hong Kong visitors at the Hanart TZ gallery booth. (EDMOND TANG / CHINA DAILY)

Examples cover a wide range, from Maryn Varbanov’s anthropomorphic tapestries, brought to ABHK by Shanghai’s Bank Gallery to Joana Vasconcelos’s Enchanted Forest — an immersive installation that combines textiles and lights to spectacular effect — unveiled last week at ArtisTree. Unsurprisingly, the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT) is at the forefront of nurturing and showcasing artistic forays into exploring the aesthetic potential of fiber. According to its executive director and chief curator, Mizuki Takahashi, the 19 artists and art collectives of Asian backgrounds featured in its newly opened Factory of Tomorrow exhibition demonstrate “their takes on textile technology and materials, diversity, climate change and our future”. 

“Textile was one of the major driving forces of Hong Kong’s economy,” Takahashi goes on to explain. “The exhibition bridges the past with the present and maintains the legacy of Hong Kong textile industry.”

Textile was one of the major driving forces of Hong Kong’s economy ... The exhibition bridges the past with the present and maintains the legacy of Hong Kong textile industry.

Mizuki Takahashi, executive director and chief curator at the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT) 

Scarlett Yang, who made waves with a biodegradable algae-fiber dress a few years ago, has crafted a sculpture using oyster shells, seaweed and plant extracts for the exhibition. “It may look like plastic, but can dissolve in certain environmental conditions,” Takahashi points out. 

Ade Darmawan’s Patchwork Regulation is a collage of carpets from Hong Kong and Indonesia. The Jakarta-based artist explains that the piece is concerned with “social-political and economic changes in ’60s and ’70s Indonesia, Hong Kong and the region”. It embodies “the collective memory of such changes in the form of secondhand carpets, historical images, statistical figures and poetic texts brought to life by using handtufted carpet-making technique”. 

A number of textile-based artworks in Art Central, which opens on Thursday, were created following sustainable practices. Some of these figure in Neo — a section dedicated to “cutting-edge or undiscovered artists”, curated by Enoch Cheng.

“I think the tactile quality of fabric speaks directly to the audience because we all know how fabric feels,” says the curator, who was keen to include pieces created with recycled fabrics and found objects. 

Ade Darmawan’s "Patchwork Regulation", a collage of carpets from Hong Kong and Indonesia, are on show at the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Enoch Cheng is the curator of Neo, a section dedicated to “cuttingedge or undiscovered artists” at Art Central. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Scarlett Yang’s piece at the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile exhibition is made up of oyster shells, seaweed and plant extracts. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

“And it has a long tradition in delivering concepts and technique at the same time. Fabric carries stories, and it has the potential to have a sculptural quality or even become monumental.” 

The artworks curated by Cheng include Colony, an installation by Thai artist Jarupatcha Achavasmit. It’s a piece for which Achavasmit recycled a gigantic photographic canvas discarded by a fellow artist, Sakarin Krue-On. In order to create its stiff petal-like shapes, Achavasmit “completely transformed the flat canvas into a sculptural hanging artwork”. The original photographic image of a partly blue sky and an earthy mountain is visible on one side of the work, while the bit that didn’t work for Achavasmit has been covered with copper powder “to give the hanging sculpture a pleasing aesthetic”.

This undated file photo shows Thai artist Jarupatcha Achavasmit, who recycled an artwork discarded by a fellow artist to create her piece "Colony" for Art Central. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Thai artist Jarupatcha Achavasmit recycled an artwork discarded by a fellow artist to create her piece "Colony" for Art Central. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Mending is making 

Found fabric is also the mainstay of Japanese artist Junko Oki, who is showcasing her piece The Hours at ABHK, which opens on Thursday as well. Using recycled textiles and unique embroidery, Oki stitches together histories, chronologies, narratives and sentiments. Her technique is completely at odds with the norms of stitching and embroidery. Pieces of recycled boro (mended or patched textiles), furoshiki (antique wrapping cloths), window frames, ancient gold-washed wooden pans and vintage designer clothes have found their way into her artworks. She is inspired by traditional Japanese craft techniques such as yobitsugi (patching together pieces of broken vessels) and kintsugi (use of lacquer and gold leaf to mend ceramic items). 

Junko Oki’s practice involves skewering the conventional methods of stitching and embroidery. A selection of her works are on show at Art Basel Hong Kong. (EDMOND TANG / CHINA DAILY)

The artist reveals that The Hours contains bits and pieces of “around 7,000 spools of thread I gathered from all across Japan".

“These threads contain stories of women’s lives, for some of these belonged to a deceased mother, some others to a mother-in-law who made a living from sewing, and yet others were part of an item a mother gave to her offspring when they started living on their own in Tokyo.”

Alexie Glass-Kantor curated the large-scale pieces featured in Art Basel Hong Kong’s "Encounters" sector. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Encounters, the art fair’s large-scale installation program, “feels very material, textured and layered this year,” says its curator, Alexie Glass-Kantor. “It possesses a visible generosity of spirit and an exuberance.” She adds that the current edition explores how artists are absorbing “the cultural, social and historical signifiers, as well as movements and ideas, as they travel through time”, to be used as aids to contemplate the future. 

Haegue Yang’s monumental "Contingent Spheres" is a highlight of the "Encounters" sector of Art Basel Hong Kong 2024. (JANICE JIANG / CHINA DAILY)

South Korean installation artist Haegue Yang’s Contingent Spheres is a highlight of the Encounters sector. A colorful piece made out of woven reeds and other fibers, it also binds Filipino and Korean heritages. The artist has put together a pair of rattan sculptures she made in the Philippines, and added woven appendages made of bells and fabric. Glass-Kantor adds that the piece pays homage to a traditional Filipino weaving pattern known as binakael, which involves creating spherical shapes. While its color scheme brings to mind op art, which originated in the West in the ’60s, the interlocking geometric pattern representing waves that are expected to keep malevolent spirits away is a nod to Filipino folk heritage. 

“I love that Contingent Spheres draws from Filipino culture and the Korean fairy tale about Sister Sun and Brother Moon’s heavenly escape. It also references shamanism, animism, fairy tales and mythic narratives,” says Glass-Kantor. She points out that Yang’s work appreciates different cultures without appropriating them, while also possessing “a high degree of conceptual resolve and material generosity”.

On show at Hong Kong’s Flowers Gallery, Movana Chen’s "Love Letters" is crafted out of the numerous letters she had exchanged with friends and family. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Weaving a tapestry of stories

Hong Kong was a leading exporter of the fabrics produced in its mills in the ’60s and ’70s. Between them the weavers, seamstresses, tailors and textile factory workers from that time are the custodians of a wealth of stories. Among the Hong Kong artists trying to channel the collective spirit of these people into their practices is Movana Chen. In February, her installation plus performance piece, Knitting Conversations, opened at M+. 

Chen works mainly with recycled printed paper, shredded into fine yarns. The process of knitting these into works of art makes her feel intimately connected to those people who had contributed to Hong Kong’s once-flourishing garments-manufacturing industry. 

She started Knitting Conversations in 2014, and is still at it. “Over the past decade, I’ve collaborated with 150 people, from family and friends to people I met during my travels,” she says. 

Her new work, Love Letters, will be unveiled at the Hong Kong branch of Flowers Gallery on Thursday. For this piece, Chen used the letters she had exchanged with friends and family from 1989 up until 2023. “I had this idea of transforming all my memories into an installation piece comprising 1,415 letters. Both Love Letters and Knitting Conversations are about humans making connections and how real friendship can touch people’s hearts.” 

This undated file photo shows Mak2 (Mak Ying-tung), whose works were created through collaborations with professional copyists and are displayed in the form of a “woven” tapestry at Art Basel Hong Kong. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The works of Mak2 (Mak Ying-tung), created through collaborations with professional copyists, are displayed in the form of a “woven” tapestry at Art Basel Hong Kong. (JANICE JIANG / CHINA DAILY)

Though Mak2 (Mak Ying-tung) does not work directly with fabrics or yarns, the display of her works at the de Sarthe Gallery booth in ABHK reminds Glass-Kantor of “a large textile work, with paintings, sculpture and timber elements”. The inverted garden setting “has a very material feel,” she adds.

Mak2’s new work Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy was created with contributions from the public. She works with feng shui masters to create simulations of interiors that amplify the vibes of love and shame inside a metaverse space. These are then turned into images and posted on the online shopping platform Taobao, where artisans receive commissions to produce replicas. The results are posted online, to be copied by another set of artisans, and so the cycle continues. 

In her ABHK showcase, several of these copies, made by multiple artisans, are “woven” together into a single narrative, like a metaphorical patchwork blanket. 

Tsherin Sherpa draws on the carpetmaking heritage of his homeland of Nepal to create his tapestry work "Stairways to Heaven". The piece is on show at Art Basel Hong Kong. (EDMOND TANG / CHINA DAILY)

Nepalese artist Tsherin Sherpa, whose new work Stairways to Heaven is also in Encounters, regularly collaborates with craftspeople living in the Himalayan region. For this piece, the artist partnered with rugmakers from Kathmandu, in order to “draw on the long tradition of Nepalese carpet making”. The 10-meter-long piece depicts a dragon spiraling upwards. The artist says it’s an attempt to “reimagine the most common elements depicted in Himalayan rugs”. The dragon’s scales, for instance, have been replaced with a vibrant swirling pattern that takes inspiration from traditional tantric motifs, symbols, colors and gestures. “The pattern signifies the boundless energy of the chaotic world, providing a scope for reading into Nepalese material and ancestral cultures.”