Crafts On Peel’s Metal Exhibition Turns Old Craft Into New Art
Crafts on Peel, one of the few galleries dedicated to traditional Asian craft in Hong Kong, reopens after a three-month-long, closed-door preparation for the third thematic exhibition––Creations Enlivened: Metal. Curated by founder Yama Chan, creative director Penelope Luk and operations manager Rachel Man, the exhibition brings together six collaborative metal crafts collections created by traditional craftsmen and contemporary artisans in Hong Kong, and three solo metalwork collections by old and new generations of Japanese craftsmen. It also displays the handmade tools used by the artisans throughout their active years.
Metalworking dates back to the third millennium BC in China when bronze vessels were made for rituals and later on battles. “Metal has always been in our lives: metal gates, pencil boxes, ice buckets and mahjong boxes,” Luk says. “But because we’re so busy looking after our lives, many times we neglect them. We’d like to reintroduce all these wonderful works to our daily lives and to have a heartfelt conversation with traditional craftsmen.”
Some of these metalwork skills, such as melting, hammering, carving and inlaying, have been passed on to today. In tracing the traditional crafts of Hong Kong and Japan, Luk and her team visited local craftsmen and went all the way to Japan right before the pandemic started. The preparation for the exhibition lasted for two years, but what they forged were metal art which carries the historical trade of the older generation and new visions of the younger artists.
Here are a few highlights that may change the way you perceive metal:
Alembic copper still
It all started when Dimple Yuen and Ivan Chang from Two Moons Distillery were looking for someone who could help them fit a thermometer into a Portuguese copper still for gin making. Copper removes the impurities during the distillation process, making it an ideal material for gin making. Luk connected the duo with Ping Kee Copperware in Mong Kok which has been run by coppersmiths Luk Ping and his two sons Luk Shu-choi and Luk Keung-choi for eighty years. The Luks found the still very similar to the giant gourd-shaped vessels in Hong Kong herbal tea shops, which were very common a decade ago. “In the old days, they would fit a tap to the base of the vessel, so the sweet or bitter tea could be poured out easily, and Ping Kee had been making this in the last 60 years,” Luk says. “Now the craftsmen don’t have the strength to create such a big piece anymore.”
But the old masters were excited by Yuen and Chang’s request, and modified the petite Portuguese still. Luk adds, “Two Moon is famous for being the first open distillery in Hong Kong, but they don’t have the vessel in Hong Kong. The small still is not for [mass] production of the alcohol, but it’s apt for experimenting the formula without wasting ingredients.” The two brewers decide to follow the traditional spirits brewing process with an exploration of local herbal ingredients, which is made possible by this bespoke vessel.
Raising is a historic metalworking technique that involves hammering malleable copper, tin or silver sheets into vessels. Yve Chan, who was born into a family of craftsmen, is the contemporary artisan behind the series of whale-shaped sake pitcher and numerical-inspired cups, all hammered by hand. He also collaborates with traditional gem setter Jimmy Hui, who specialises diamonds and semi-precious stone setting for more than 30 years, in creating Re-united, a sterling silver teapot. Apart from blending eastern and western aesthetics, Chan incorporated the clever designs of connecting the handles with delicate 18 karat gold rings, which reduce heat transfer from the boiling water to the silver sterling handles.
Chan embossed the lid with a leaf motif by the chasing and repoussé techniques, and came up with the final touch of inlaying an icy jadeite from Myanmar. “It’s one of the very rare types of jade. It’s translucent, with a clear aquamarine colour and strands as its pattern,” Luk comments.
Calligraphy would not be an unfamiliar art, but rarely is it a common hobby in modern days, let alone practising calligraphy with copper. Calligraphy used to be an important art; businessmen would employ calligraphers to showcase their style, class and status by choosing their favourite handwriting for shop phone numbers or names. Born in 1948, Fung Siu-wah, known as Wah Gor, started attending Chinese calligraphy schools that taught the Ming and Qing dynasties’ styles. For decades, he made his name by writing signs for businesses on doors of lorries and movie props, and subsequently worked exclusively as the calligrapher in the film industry.
Hazel Lee and Nathan Wong are two coppersmiths and interior designers. When they were introduced to Wah Gor by the Crafts on Peel team, the calligrapher was inspired to write 60 Chinese characters with meanings related to gold. Lee and Wong then digitised, printed and pasted on a 1.2mm-thick copper plate before carving the characters out with a fret saw. The coppersmiths had to drill holes on the copper plate for the intricate parts or enclosed areas of the characters, pushing their craftsmanship to the extreme. “Wah Gor was touched,” Luk recalls. Now the copper characters hang from the gallery’s ceiling in floating layers of glitter.
One of the most elaborate works by Japanese craftsmen displayed is the set of incense burners by Susumu Yotsukawa, the brand producer of Kisen. He and his elder brother Motomasa Yotsukawa, the president of Kisendo, are the third-generation successors of the family business founded in 1946 during wartime, when metal was collected from discarded combat vehicles and broken aircrafts to make pots, the most useful and necessary utensil. Half a century later, the brothers adapted the metal business to making delicate craftworks as gifts, such as the lifestyle or religious product of incense burners engraved with swallow patterns.
Incense appreciation was introduced to Japan from China along with flower arrangement, chess, calligraphy and tea appreciation. Gradually, it formed its own culture of incense appreciation with codified conducts which is known as Kōdō, which means “the way of the fragrance”. The set of burners presented is decorated with a phoenix figurine on the lid, which symbolises wealth, and a chrysanthemum crest which represents the Japanese imperial family. The set also comes with lid lifters adorned with four mythological creatures: azure dragon, vermilion bird, white tiger and black tortoise––all auspicious creatures.
Until July 24. Crafts on Peel, 11 Peel Street, Central, Hong Kong. Find out more on craftsonpeel.com