Wang Shang and The Fabrick Lab: An Exploration of Jewellery and Textile

Weave Product
Weave Product
Weave Product
Cypholuris Tridio. White Diamond, Pink Sapphire and Gold. By Wang Shang.
Cypholuris carditriata. White Diamond, Ping Sapphire and Gold. By Wang Shang
Umbocera Alexabile, white and yellow diamond, tsavoulite and gold
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Two exhibitions at Loupe—a boutique, residency, workshop, exhibition space and teahouse located in art and design hub, PMQ, Hong Kong, —draw attention to the duality of keeping tradition alive and embracing contemporaneity in textile and jewellery design.

Text: Denise Tsui
Images: Courtesy of Loupe and Tracy Wong

 

Meticulously displayed in glass cabinets, beautiful and sophisticated pieces of jewellery, weaved bookmarks, bespoke shoes and more make up the design prototypes of a collaborative project between four Loupe resident designers and The Fabrick Lab. The exhibition, titled “Weave”, is the latest outcome in a heritage craft research initiative attempting to bring renewed interest and create sustainability for traditional textiles in the rural Chinese village of Guizhou.

It all began when Elaine Yan Ling Ng, founder of The Fabrick Lab, was living in Beijing and had the opportunity to visit Guizhou with a university professor. For the British-born and raised textiles designer and materialologist, it was a trip that would leave a deeply lasting impression. “For the first time, I saw the textiles not behind the glass of the V&A but in its true form. It’s not so glamorous and exciting.” Seeing first hand, the low income factory workers and the disheartening reality faced by the villagers motivated Ng to start a sustainability project to revive and elevate the under-appreciated traditional textiles craft from Guizhou, which include batik, weaving and embroidery of culturally significant patterns.

It is now a project running in its sixth year and has so far resulted in a permanent atelier in the village, hub facilities for visiting artisans, greater employment opportunities for local villagers, a bespoke collection of home and lifestyle products with a supply chain and more. For “Weave”, Ng worked closely with four designers, providing them with a brief which encompassed some of the challenges she faced in her project thus far, including how to open up the potential market in our modern lifestyles, elevate the value of textiles and influence how it is perceived. Seth Michael Carlson and Mima Pejoska each took one aspect of the Guizhou tradition and reinvented it into contemporary jewellery. For Carlson, a batik motif became the basis for several pieces including a multi-wear necklace. Pejoska found inspiration in the women, creating etched silhouettes of them holding the finished textiles. Working more directly with the textile weaved by the villagers, Iting Hsieh created bookmarks, while Carrie Yang, inspired by fabric swatches, designed accessible accessories for our fashion lifestyle from pins to shoe tags. 

 

Weave Product
Weave Product
Weave Product

 

Adding a personal touch to the collection, Ng herself adapted the design of traditional cloth shoes worn by the villagers revitalizing them into fashionable sneakers and sandals. “I’m very passionate about it and I want to inspire the locals. We don’t own them. The women work with us as well as for us. In the end, I’m not from Guizhou, but I want to instil motivation for them to keep going.” a soft-spoken Ng explains. “What you see here is just the scratch of the surface of the amount of work we have put in.”

Diverging from heritage preservation and textile revitalisation, the second exhibition showcases ten jewellery pieces from Beijing-based artist and jewellery designer, Wang Shang, bringing an alternative way to appreciate contemporary jewellery beyond its superficial, glittering beauty. When asked what inspires his jewellery designs, Shang described in precise detail, the opening scene of the 2017 film Aliens: Covenant. “You must see this film!” he excitedly insisted. The original 1986 film is one of his favourites. “It is very parallel to my world view,” he beamed, “as human beings, we have to create.”

 

Cypholuris Tridio. White Diamond, Pink Sapphire and Gold. By Wang Shang.
Cypholuris carditriata. White Diamond, Ping Sapphire and Gold. By Wang Shang
Umbocera Alexabile, white and yellow diamond, tsavoulite and gold

 

Deliberately ascertaining himself equally as an artist and a jewellery designer, Shang refers to this duality like the job of a double agent; never fully committed but nonetheless engaged in a role playing game of identities. “I have multiple sides of me, I like to mix things up and have different personalities in play.” But just being playful in his creations didn’t satisfy the deep-thinking Shang, he sought more meaning to his work. A lifelong interest in geology—influenced by grandparents who were teachers in natural history—motivated him to study at the Gemological Institute of America.

“A Union of Mischief” is Shang’s first jewellery-dedicated exhibition. Describing his glittering pieces as imaginary alien life forms and organisms, the rings, brooches and earrings are more like glorious sculptures than wearable jewellery. Encrusted with diamonds and gemstones, the ten unique pieces sparkle brilliantly inside glass display cabinets which, on the one hand, elevate their status as high-end luxury products, while on the other, highlight Shang’s fascination with the value of jewellery as a fictional construct of mankind. “There really is no difference between a rock and a diamond, but humans have the ability to make that distinction and I think that is truly something special.”

A quest to recognise and acknowledge the role of constructed meanings and values underpin Shang’s jewellery design and multidisciplinary art practice which includes sculpture, installation, painting and video. “My work is about celebrating fiction.” Pointing to his video work, Bullet Chamber (2016), Shang explained , “We need rules. Totally meaningless gestures but somehow humans create meaning to that. This is really what my work is about. We need to believe in something.” Bullet Chamber portrays a sailor and an astronaut caught in a lethal game of Russian roulette where the bet is on guessing the colour of diamonds drawn from a bag. For 15 minutes, we are kept holding our breath, the intensity increasing with every blank round. In an absurd twist, the astronaut continues the game even after the other man is dead. “We do not want to lose all the rules, we need rules. I think this is real life.”

Visually striking, and in strong contrast to the glittering gems on display at Loupe, Shang’s sculptures and installations are often clean-cut, hard-edged and involve industrial materials such as stainless steel and bronze. Through his art practice, Shang often references the geological concept of Anthropocene—the current age where human activity is having a significant impact on Earth’s ecology and geology. Together with the philosophical ideologies surrounding fictitious meaning and fabricated values that inform Shang’s world view, the multiple sides of the artist emerge and come together as one. But is all this also just a deliberate construct on the part of the artist? When asked what he believes, Shang smiled and said; “Art and jewellery are my religion. It’s totally fictional. Do I believe in them? I don’t think so, but do I do them, yes.”

 

 


 

Denise Tsui is a Hong Kong-born Aussie with an addiction to coffee. Her research interests are primarily in the art scene of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, as well as the study of exhibition models, from fairs and festivals to biennales and triennials. Previously she was an editor for ArtAsiaPacific and curator for a private collection of Australian and New Zealand art. A condensed version of her postgraduate curatorial thesis on contemporary Indonesian art was published in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies in 2015.

 

 

 
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