Forging lifelong bonds

There is a long history of artists learning via hands-on experience. That’s why it is always worth discussing when something happens to Crafts on Peel, a socially engaged institution that aims to be a creative space for contemporary interpretations of traditional crafts gained from apprenticeships.

For its inaugural exhibition last year, Crafts Interwoven: Past and Present, the apprenticeship involved six artists who spent a year learning from local craftsmen how traditional crafts and techniques can be reinterpreted in contemporary artworks.

The apprenticeship, exhibition and subsequent workshops show how different the forms of participation can be.

Crafts on Peel’s art practice turns it into education art – the master and apprentice cooperate to complete the final works.

After that, the apprentice becomes the master and leads the creative participation in workshops, teaching the public how to complete a craft work, with moments of direct participation such as teaching how to bend bamboo.

Crafts on Peel’s creative director Penelope Luk believes this leads to a win-win situation. Contemporary artists enhance their works through this experience, while craftsmen feel validated.

However, it is a pity that after the inaugural exhibition, the concept looks to have been diluted. Only traces of this master-apprentice partnership were seen in the subsequent exhibition, which showed how bamboo products were used throughout Chinese history, from farming to lifestyle products.

Now, it’s gratifying to see that after two years of research and three months of planning, the second thematic exhibition, Creations Enlivened: Metal, has brought back the concept of apprenticeships.

The show brings together six collaborative metal craft collections created by traditional craftsmen and contemporary artisans in Hong Kong, as well as three solo metalwork collections by Japanese craftsmen.

The curatorial team took a trip to Japan in early 2020 right before its first Covid outbreak after a year of research here, visited 18 craftsmens’ studios, homes and the institutions and organizations that support them for a complete understanding of the industry.

“It took us a lot more time to understand each artist, curate the show and video and hopefully this time audiences will have a sense of the craft, craftsmanship and history,” said Luk.

Despite Covid-19, everything seems to be back on the right track, including the artist residency program.

“Our mission and vision never ended even due to the pandemic, so instead of waiting for the border to open, we already started the virtual craft exchange program back in September,” Luk said.

The organization has arranged interpreters, cameramen and assistants to help the three artists involved.

For the current exhibition running until October 29, Luk’s favorite work is Yuen, an installation of galvanized iron consisting of 12 components assembled into a set of three accordion-shaped pieces.

Made by traditional craftsman Michael Yu and contemporary artisan Gamzar, the rectangular-shaped metals are connected to form numerous imperfect circles.

“Sometimes things could be imperfect, but if you look at it in another way, it could be perfect in the end,” said Luk.

Using this philosophy as a metaphor for the ongoing pandemic, she said: “The pandemic is definitely a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity that inspires our team to go further, be curious and embrace what we are facing. It’s a perfect moment for us to slow down.”

(This article was published at The Standard on July 2, 2021: Weekend Glitz: Forging lifelong bonds )

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