An open way for artists to meet intangible cultural heritage

If the wall is the pattern of the building, then the street is the pattern of the city, and the plant has the pattern of the plant, then the traditional weaving method is also given new life by the artist;

If it is said that dough sculpture is about the body and sculpture, the body is affected by the parents, and the hair embroidery completes the relationship between mother and daughter, then traditional techniques also intervene in women’s expression of body and emotion in another way.

Today, traditional techniques, apart from static protection, are given a new life by the use of artists. VOGUE talked to two female artists, Bi Rongrong and Cai Yaling, about their collision of art and intangible cultural heritage skills, and about the new life in traditional skills.

In her life and work in recent years, Bi Rongrong’s works are closely related to walking and collecting. Whenever I pass through or arrive at an unfamiliar place, or return to a place I once knew, I closely observe and read it in a personal way, including reading the skin of the city. She believes that urban skin can be patterns carved on buildings, patterns of fabrics wrapped around the body, poster messages posted on street walls, vegetation rooted in urban corners, and so on. Bi Rongrong collected them from different time and space, merged them into his unique creative context, and processed them by hand or digitally, and introduced them into cooperation with intangible cultural heritage techniques, thus forming paintings, collages, and fabrics. , video, site-specific installations and other media, a comprehensive creative approach. The fragmented patterns and patterns that appear in her works are separated from the original context, grow by themselves in another way, and are constantly transformed into new image landscapes in new spaces.

Stitched city skin (back view)


©️ Muse, Rolls-Royce Art Project

Photography: Zhang Jing

At the beginning of your creation, what made you capture the “pattern” and “weaving” as important clues in your creation? What stage changes have you experienced in the middle?

The background of my painting study is Chinese landscape painting. Landscape painting has a very long-standing creative method, which is to come to nature to learn from nature. For example, landscape painters in the Song Dynasty would go to see nature, and respect the object according to the scenery. Therefore, for me, observation and recording are naturally an important part of my creation. Later, when I went to study in Europe, the objects of observation I collected gradually expanded. Start paying attention to the surface of the city, I use “skin” to describe it. If the walls are the patterns of buildings, then the streets are the patterns of the city, and the plants are the patterns of nature. I love plants, the veins of which are textured like the skin texture of a city.

To me, “pattern” is a very broad description. In the process of observation and collection, the posters on the street and the surfaces of ancient buildings in the museum all began to enter my observation. I found that fabric and architecture are actually inseparable. For example, patterns on ancient stone walls would be called “stone carpets”, and for nomads, carpets were part of their moving “buildings”, so the fabric became part of the building. In the process of collecting the “skin” of the city, I found that the fabric is a very broad world, and I need to observe it slowly, just like the clothing in the city, it is also the pattern of life.

I am the kind of person who produces the next work with the accumulation of life and experience. It is more interesting not to predict.

Plane Creatures – Landscape III

Oil on canvas, woven with cotton thread, embroidery on canvas

200 × 250cm, 2022

From “patterns” to works, what kind of translation has been experienced?

After capturing the footage, I re-transform it in the studio. These materials are all materials that I create, they are not only patterns, but also part of the emotion, they remind me of people and things that I encounter while traveling. Painting is often the starting point for my translation. Later, it is also possible that because a certain painting needs further development, I may convert the painting into animation or fabric, or because of animation, I may create a new painting, and this process will keep rolling forward.

Plane Creatures – Sketch III

pencils, pens, charcoal pens, ink,

watercolor, thread, embroidery on canvas, paper

92 × 104cm, 2022

How do you understand fabric?

The most interesting thing about the fabric is not the fabric itself, but its working method. It can connect different things together, which has brought great inspiration to my works, including the recent integration of Xiaoshan lace, a non-heritage fabric craft, with Metal bonding, etc. The way fabrics work is very cosmopolitan, very ancient and modern, it has been throughout the history of our lives and has been inseparable from our daily lives. Weaving is a very rational process, because it has a rational arrangement of warp and weft; but it is also very emotional and needs to incorporate a lot of personal content. Therefore, weaving can constantly give birth to new methods, which is a very poetic and cosmopolitan way of working, which runs through different genders and different ethnic groups.

The latitude and longitude lines can form many metaphors. The warp as time, the weft as space, they are interspersed together, and it is a new time and space. Then or if you think of the warp as a language, then the weft may be a way of thinking, and a new thing can be born after weaving. So I think warp and weft are actually very poetic in themselves and can establish a connection between various things.

Flat Creatures – Fabric III

Cotton thread, 41 × 32cm, 2022

In the process of generating the works, what traditional skills were borrowed? Are there any rereads and reconstructions of traditional skills/intangible cultural heritage handicrafts?

In a recent piece, I tried to combine crochet, LED animation, and metal. This is my temporal imagination of relatively static fabrics through animation, and I also want to combine soft and warm texture with hard and cold texture, which is also my understanding of urban skin.

For crocheted fabrics, I found a part of the Rong Design Library, which helped me recommend the intangible cultural heritage inheritance project – Xiaoshan Lace. At that time, Xiaoshan Lace Factory recommended me the best skill among the inheritors of this intangible cultural heritage technology. an old aunt. They only use one type of white thread all their lives, and they have very specific requirements for the texture, hardness, and thickness of the thread, including needlework and patterns. Of course, I couldn’t be satisfied with this established limitation, so I discussed it with my aunt, which is equivalent to breaking the habit of making, repeated communication, and finally persuaded my aunt to try it. As a follow-up, I also have a new collaboration with my aunt. I think after this break-in, they are also more open, and it seems that they can accept using different materials to make some new experiments.

Stitched urban skin (frontal view)


©️ Muse, Rolls-Royce Art Project

Photography: Zhang Jing

Crochet is also very memory of the times. In the process of choosing local crochet patterns and book references in Shanghai, did you consider awakening some memories of the times and visual experience?

Because I have little exposure to this aspect since I was a child, and my family members are not very good at it, I am also clumsy in this aspect. Maybe it’s also because I’m not good at it, so I’m more curious about areas outside my familiarity. In the process of collaborating with different craftsmen, I often get some new inspiration. Like the “Shanghai Crochet Pattern” used this time, the mother of the knitting assistant I worked with turned it out from the cabinet. I will always keep the state in the open mode, and at the same time, from the perspective of painting that I am familiar with, it is like if I want something, I just take it out of the treasure chest.

Plane Creatures – Sketch I

pencil, pen, ink, watercolor,

wire, copper wire, paper

77 × 65cm, 2021

What kind of narration does the new solo exhibition “Planar Creatures” accomplish?

The works in the exhibition hall present my explorations in painting, weaving, and animation in the past two years, as well as my understanding and creation of landscapes, patterns and urban skin. Painting, or animation, in a certain state, is flat, and at the same time similar to living things, there are many dimensions and layers. The changes in my thinking can be seen in the exhibition: at the same time, from painting to animation, from virtual space to landscape and then to nature, there are new transitions and connections in the middle.

Plane Creatures – Fabric VII

Cotton thread, polyester thread, wax thread, cotton cloth, organza

49 × 34cm, 2022

The art of weaving seems to point to a certain natural division of labor in motherhood, and in modern consumption, weaving is gradually separated from the division of labor between gender and family. As a female artist, how do you view it?

I am not starting from a gender stance with regard to the use of weaving as a creative method. I also hear some voices that I think there are some perspectives that are unique to female artists in my work, and I believe this is also a feeling. I believe that female artists are very different from male artists, such as their sensitivity to different things, but this cannot be defined. It can be said that everyone is different. If the same person lives in different lands or In different histories, he/she will be different. This is a wonderful thing. I trust my intuition more, and my characteristics will be gradually revealed with the accumulation of creation.

free helix II

Video, 4’09”, 2022

Ed.5+2AP, Music: Xu Cheng

As an artist, how do you see the re-reading of traditional skills today? What does it mean for traditional skills/non-genetic inheritance today?

Tradition is a foundation and it must be relevant today. If the buildings in my hometown were converted into houses in Berlin, it would still be completely different from Berlin. That’s the tradition, and it’s always in the blood.

Production habits are often one of the reasons why intangible cultural heritage is not passed down in the end, because it is very fixed and stable. Some new attempts are often very difficult for these skills. I think to protect it, you have to use it and make it a part of life. If it is just sealed in a museum and turned into history, it will lose its vitality.

In addition, many traditional crafts require a lot of labor time, which requires complete silence, maybe 10 hours a day doing the same thing. This is more difficult for young people today. We have to figure out how to make them a part of our day and make them fun. As an artist, I use my work style and use it with a small point.

As a post-80s female artist, Cai Yaling is also the mother of two children. In Cai Yaling’s creation, she has always been inspired by her personal life experience, and recorded her most real experience as an ordinary woman, those experiences about women’s private pain. In her identity as a daughter, mother, and herself, her creation is almost instinctive, and she always speaks for the female group. She talks about her body with face sculpting, and her mother sews each other’s hair to record life.

Goddess, 2022

In your works, there is a combination of the traditional technique of “face sculpture” and sculpture. Why did you choose this method in the first place?

I was born in Shanxi, and during the Chinese New Year, the staple food of the New Year’s Eve is dough sculptures. I watched the old grandma knead and knead the white dough, make two strokes with a comb, then cut it with scissors, press two red beans into it, and a white bunny is ready. I would also grab a ball of dough and make one along with it. Put all kinds of doughs in the steamer, and after a while, all the doughs have expanded and the shape is very full. This should be my sculpture enlightenment! Later, I studied traditional clay sculpture in the first studio of the Department of Sculpture of CAFA for five years. I always wanted to make the clay sculpture more realistic and the human body more full. Mr. Sun’s words made me re-acquainted with sculpture. He thinks that the dough sculptures made by the old ladies in the countryside can be made by a pinch and drag, and they are made by a full and vigorous hand. What they make is a good sculpture. Instead of spelling it out a little bit, copy it according to the object.

My good friend Zhang Yi invited me to participate in a group exhibition planned by her, and asked me to use a material that I had never tried before.

In the process of creation, what traces have you traced to traditional dough sculptures? How does this relate to the tradition of dough sculpting in your hometown? How does the act of dough sculpting itself integrate with the physical memory of childhood?

In today’s Shanxi, dough sculpture is still a very important mascot for people during festivals, weddings and funerals. Many people will keep these colorful Yuanbaoshan and Shoutao all the time. It hasn’t dried out for many years, and the color is still bright. I asked a lot of dough craftsmen how to mix the dough and what to put in it. So when I made the first set of dough figurines with Zhang Yi, I added a lot of food coloring, hoping to add the bright feeling of the dough figurines. Like when my grandmother dipped chopsticks in red dots of red water on the flower dough I made when I was a kid.

When I was doing it, I always felt that I was back to my childhood, and the process was very interesting. Because dough sculptures are different from clay sculptures, they need to be squeezed out at once with the strength of both hands, instead of sticking mud up and slicing down. There is no way to modify it. Therefore, the method of making dough sculpting is completely different from the method I am used to clay sculpting, and it is necessary to re-experience the language of dough. Slowly, I found my own method. As soon as I cut, a slightly drooping breast appeared. After steaming for a while, the breast gradually became fuller, just like the real body of a woman. It reminds me of the little white rabbit made by my grandmother in my childhood. After steaming, the shape will be full and vivid, as if the steam has injected life into it. This may be the charm of traditional craftsmanship – dough sculpture.

Likewise, the amount of soda surface, and occasional cracking, can give the dough a yellowish color, skin-like folds and scars. The crumbly state of the dough is very similar to the sagging belly of our old age, and these effects cannot be naturally produced by other materials.

“Mom in 1987” Material: Mom’s hair, really good cloth Size: 100x100x10cm Year: 2016

When did you start to pay attention to the traditional skill of “hair embroidery” and complete it with your mother, what stories can you share with us? How do you see the different perspectives of being a mother and a daughter?

Embroidery with hair is a natural record after pregnancy, and it was not known as “hair embroidery” at that time. Confused about the shelving of artistic dreams after pregnancy, I began to want to keep a diary every day. Hair is own, no fee. I embroider the hair I cut on a piece of white cloth every day. In this way, the fragmented time between sleeping and feeding is convenient to use. The mind has gradually become calmer.

During that time, my mother took care of me. I often saw her pulling out her white hair and throwing it away. I felt sorry for her. Not only do I feel sorry for the silver hair that was thrown away, but more importantly, I feel sorry for the years when my mother passed away. When I looked at my young daughter, I finally began to reminisce about my childhood with my mother. Thinking that my mother is also like me now, devoting everything to take care of the young child day by day, until the gray hair slowly appears. I hope to reconnect us by creating this group of works “Pop Point”, sitting together every day, chatting and sewing works. I listened to my mother tell funny stories about my childhood, stories about my near death when I was born. I gradually understood her better, and it seemed as if I had revisited my own childhood.

“polka dot-white” size: 60x60x6cm material: black really good cloth, mother’s white hair Year: 2014

“polka dot-black” size: 60x60x6cm material: white is really good cloth, my black hair year: 2014

As an artist, how do you view the re-reading of traditional techniques in the present? What does traditional crafts/non-genetic inheritance mean today?

Everyone seems to think that contemporary art should be the most advanced art, displayed with the most high-tech technology. I don’t think so. Many traditional skills are passed down in blood and genes through imitation from generation to generation. It seems that many skills can be realized through industrial production, but what about the emotion? Among them, what about the energy passed on silently through production between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, etc. between generations? These emotions are built into the production, as well as the time spent together across generations. Seeing them brings back those times and memories.

Contemporary art should also re-display these traditional skills or the inheritance of intangible cultural heritage through the hands of our current people. Maybe what we make through these skills is not the flower embroidered by my mother, but maybe a sentence or a face. . There is a line between the two, and there will always be a line that will be passed down slowly.

As a female artist, your creation has always been closely related to women’s standpoint and observation. How do you view the female expression in the creation of your works?

I am a woman and I can only express what I see and feel as a woman of the moment. Many times, it’s not that people don’t see it, it’s that they don’t realize it. As an artist, I hope that through my works, I can throw out the question of thinking or record the current situation. As long as it can be expressed, it must be real, not shouting without confidence, but to show it truthfully, and to subtly lift a corner of the social curtain so that people can glimpse something.

What message and values ​​do you most hope to convey through your work?

Art works often fail to convey any values ​​and are very powerless.

But I hope that through my works, when the audience is dealing with a sexual but numb life state, they are “stung”, a warm current in their hearts, or they suddenly see something clearly, or they think of a memory or a certain person. I am using my works to record my own life, how about you?

Written by: Zhu Fan

Photo courtesy: Bi Rongrong, Cai Yaling

Bi Rongrong (Photography at the exhibition: He Miao; Work photography: Zhang Hong, Cen Su; Artist portrait photography: Zhang Jing)

Design: Xiaoyi