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Tweaking traditional crafts
Updated: 2018-03-17 10:22:14
( China Daily )

The installation The House of Clouds consists of hundreds of pieces of Dai paper suspended from wires on seven rotating brackets. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

The installation The House of Clouds had such a romantic and dreamy atmosphere that a man successfully proposed to his girlfriend in it. It consists of hundreds of pieces of Dai (ethnic group) paper suspended from wires on seven rotating brackets.

When a viewer steps into the room, he enters a dreamy atmosphere surrounded by forest and tranquil music.

You can pull the wire and rotate each bracket, and find the patterns laser-cut on each paper reflected on the wall, their shadows dancing around you.

The artwork by American Chinese artist Juju Wang is on display at Duoyunxuan Art Museum, as part of an exhibition featuring traditional Chinese handicrafts recognized as the intangible cultural heritage of China.

The Duoyunxuan Art Museum launched the annual exhibition featuring traditional handicrafts and intangible cultural heritage in 2016, and ongoing event, which runs through March, is the second installment.

Speaking about the show, Wang Yuqing, the curator, says: "This time we wanted to find the connection between cultural heritage and modern life. We wanted to bring the beauty of traditional handicrafts to people, and hopefully inspire new thoughts on cultural inheritance, creativity and vision."

Juju Wang was invited to take part because of the material she worked with.

She was introduced to Dai paper by Xihan Action, an NPO dedicated to the protection of traditional Chinese handicrafts.

Speaking about her work, the artist says: "I went to Xishuangbanna, and the Manzhao village several times. There, people have been making Dai paper for 800 years in the village of no more than 196 households.

"It was very pure, the people were very nice, and the food was really good. It was like returning to the nature, like back in California. The place is so amazing that I return there every year."

"People used to write Dai scriptures on this kind of paper, but now the paper is only used to wrap Puer tea," she says.

The American Chinese, who graduated from UC Berkeley majoring in civil engineering, returned to Shanghai in 2009, at the prompting of her parents.

Then, she turned from engineering and design work to artistic creation because "I've seen a lot of traditional Chinese handicrafts ... It was kind of a calling to me. They (the handicrafts) are so beautiful," she says.

In ancient times, the Dai people living in the lower parts grew rice for a living, and those who lived higher up used to grow tea, but Manzhao village was "stuck in the middle", and couldn't grow anything well, "so they decided to make paper."

A room lit by bamboo lanterns created by He Hongbing, a craftsman from Dongyang, Zhejiang province, along with Dutch designers Yvonne Lauryssen, Lotte van Laatum and Erik Mantel. [Photos By Zhang Kun/China Daily]

The paper is made from a tree called gou shu.

Wang witnessed the making of the paper - from the cutting of the tree to the grinding and draining.

"You can see a lot of natural fiber in there," she says. "And because the paper is handmade, each sheet has a different thickness and color - some darker, some lighter, like the clouds in the sky. No two clouds are the same."

Besides Juju Wang's installations, the exhibition called Jiangnan Baigong (A hundred Handicrafts of the Yangtze River Delta) also features more than 40 artworks by seven artists and artists' group, making use of traditional handicrafts.

Another part of the exhibition simulates living spaces, created by design studios and Chinese furniture makers.

Speaking about that section, Wang says: "We want viewers to experience the sharp contrast between modern masterpieces and traditional aesthetics of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911)."

One of the spaces created is a room lit by bamboo lanterns created by He Hongbing, a craftsman from Dongyang, in Zhejiang province, along with Dutch designers Yvonne Lauryssen, Lotte van Laatum and Erik Mantel.

The project is presented by the Public Art Coordinating Center of the art college in Shanghai University.

Speaking about the display, Zhang Lili, a representative of PACC, says: "We are engaged in the promotion of handicrafts recognized as China's intangible cultural heritage, and have been providing training for craftsmen since 2015.

"As many of China's craftsmen live in villages, without training in art or design, we provide them with free courses on art basics such as colors and graphic design, and show them around Shanghai."

Separately, PACC introduces them to recognized designers from home and abroad, so that they can create something new and different, says Zhang.

He Hongbing learned traditional bamboo weaving from his father, a national-award winning craftsman named He Fuli. And they used to make bamboo baskets and other containers for food. Today, the containers are not popular in modern households. So, He Hongbing was excited to be working with the Dutch designers to create lanterns of different sizes, shapes and patterns.

Speaking about the lanterns, Zhang says: "You can easily use them in your home as a wall lamp, a table lamp or ceiling lamp. Each one is handmade, and has LED lights.

"The bamboo is dyed, so that it can match different color tones.

"In the past few years, we have done many crossover projects involving established designers and experts in traditional handicrafts. And, we are delighted and eager to introduce the creations to the public."

If you go

Jiangnan Baigong

Duoyunxuan Art Museum

1188 Tianyaoqiao Road, Xuhui district, Shanghai


9 am - 5 pm, Tue-Sun, through March 31

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