Published: 14:32, May 23, 2024
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Woodworking artisan strengthens cultural ties
By Cheng Yuezhu

Hua Yong wins recognition with Sino-French crafts exchange program award, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

A toast is raised at the 2024 award ceremony of Hand of Wisdom, a Sino-French handicraft exchange program, held on April 20, 2024. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

After graduating from Tsinghua University's Academy of Arts and Design, Hua Yong arrived in Nantong, Jiangsu province, in 2008 to follow her passion for traditional Chinese handicrafts by studying woodworking.

There, she learned hands-on skills from veteran artisans and visited collectors of wooden furniture, delving deeper into the structures of antique pieces and the wisdom behind traditional Chinese woodworking craftsmanship.

I look forward to seeing new vitality injected into traditional Chinese craftsmanship, embodied by the medium of wood, through Sino-French exchanges.

Hua Yong, woodworking artist

"For ancient Chinese, objects were considered carriers of wisdom. Because the users would constantly interact with them, the selection of materials followed a certain pattern, allowing the objects to exhibit vitality over time," Hua says.

"Wood, for example, can develop patina over time, resulting in a fine, smooth texture when it's touched, which can instantly bring people and objects closer to each other."

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The 41-year-old artisan now owns a woodworking brand that aims to bring traditional Chinese furniture back as a part of contemporary life — a quiet companion for everyday use, with philosophical connotations that nurture people from afar.

A chair from Hua Yong's New-Chi furniture series centers around octagonal shapes. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Her efforts were recognized on April 20 with the Hand of Wisdom prize, a Sino-French crafts exchange program.

Founded in 2019 by the Golden Phoenix Science and Art Fund, and Yishu 8 Association, an art platform that boosts Sino-French cultural exchange, and sponsored by French cognac brand Hennessy since 2020, the program annually highlights a genre of craftsmanship and selects a Chinese artisan as the winner.

Following the previous years' themes of felt, metal and lacquer, this year's program highlighted woodworking. The nomination and selection process began in January, with 19 nominated artists and three short-listed by a jury comprised of Chinese and French art experts and professors.

"I like the idea of a cultural route between China and France having mutual enrichment. There is no better way to learn than by immersing yourself in a different culture — that's naturally how we began sponsoring the Yishu 8," says Laurent Boillot, CEO of Hennessy.

"We are not selecting the themes of the program. We follow Yishu 8's decisions. But I think we'll cover all the handicrafts that exist in China one after another. I hope to see great works in other forms and that the program will continue to feature the bridge between craftsmanship and creation."

The World via a Fish-Eye standing cabinet by Hua adopts the eggshell inlay technique. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Hua says that at the award ceremony on April 20, when Boillot announced that she won, she felt a bit dazed.

"On the 60th anniversary of China-France diplomatic ties, as an artisan of the new era, I'm very honored to be granted the Hand of Wisdom prize," she says.

"I look forward to seeing new vitality injected into traditional Chinese craftsmanship, embodied by the medium of wood, through Sino-French exchanges. I also hope that handicrafts, as a language unrestrained by borders, will translate ancient Eastern wisdom into contemporary life through design."

In 2016, Hua visited straw marquetry, lacquer and fine wood furniture workshops in Paris. She was amazed by the French artisans' application of design and color, as well as the seamless integration of craftsmanship with contemporary lifestyles.

Hua Yong, woodworking artist. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Inspired by her observations, she has adopted diverse materials and intangible cultural heritage techniques into her woodworking designs to create an interplay of colors and textures, breaking away from the stereotypical solemn impression of traditional mahogany furniture among the younger generation.

According to the exchange program's regulations, the award-winners are granted a prize and a two-month residency at the artist-in-residence complex, the International City of the Arts in Paris, and one week in Cognac, southwestern France.

During their stay in Paris, they will host a studio open day or salon exhibition and later will host a solo exhibition at the Yishu 8 space in Beijing.

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"I believe the residency will be a journey of endless possibilities. I hope to visit sculptors and architects who will enlighten me to think and create from a broader perspective, and transform philosophical thinking into tangible usage," Hua adds.

"For my solo exhibition, I will experiment with more geometric expressions but still incorporate the essence of traditional Chinese culture into the details. In addition to wooden furniture and furnishings, I'd like to explore my interest in creating everyday ornaments."

Contact the writer at chengyuezhu@chinadaily.com.cn