MONO JAPAN Artist in Residence Program 2019 REPORT-Pao Hui Ka

| published by MONO MAKERS MEET

Pao Hui Kao in collaboration with Aizu Shikki in Fukushima

Shikki (lacquerware) are made by applying many coats of resin, harvested from trees such as poison oaks or black trees before the lacquered items are decorated using various techniques. The making of Shikki contains more than thirty processes, which can be roughly divided into three phases; woodwork; lacquering; and decoration. Pao has visited those specialized craftsmen in the region. In addition to visiting various craftsmen, she also had opportunities to visit the urushi tree farm as well as joining a traditional Japanese food gathering to experience 100-year-old tableware lacquered with urushi.

Initially, Pao’s proposal for this residency was to combine Japanese paper and Urushi lacquer, applying her creative research on paper developed over the past years. However, during the residency, Pao and craftsmen found out that 2 months of residency was too short for Pao to work with urushi herself, as the process and techniques are complicated and practically time-consuming. Therefore, Pao changed the direction of her plan and decided to develop design, playing with  ‘perfection and imperfection’ in the traditional urushi technique itself.

One of the outcomes is a tableware series. She asked wood craftsman to make 20 pieces of curved plates, and cut them into smaller pieces. Later she visited urushi decoration craftsmen and asked to decorate each small piece in different decoration techniques. Through the decoration process, the curves of pieces were changed slightly. As each decoration technique has totally different procedure, each piece got a different curve after the decoration. Pao took this uncontrollable reaction of the wood and urushi not as an error but as an interesting quality. She asked another craft master to glue the pieces back to the form of plates, using traditional ‘Kintsugi’ technique. By doing so, the plates get unsmooth surface which makes each plate unique and characteristic. During the process there has been interesting dialogue between the craftsmen who aim for perfection and Pao who embraces the error. 

The other result is a series of mirror which incorporates the specific decorative urushi drawing technique called ‘Makie’. Pao was amazed at how delicately and precisely the Makie craftsman manages to draw a line with urushi. And she came up with an attempt to challenge craftsman. With a wood craftsman, she made a basic square structure for the mirror with a machine, and asked Makie craftsman to draw the thinnest line on the edge of the structure. This attempt resulted in showing slight human trace and error in contrast with the machine cut line of the square structure.

Weekly reports from the designers

Pao Hui Kao has started her exciting research about Urushi lacquer craft in Fukushima. Starting from a visit to Urushi craftsmen, she made a study visit to an Urushi tree farm, a local museum, an Urushi craft fair and wood carving craftsmen. She had also joined a traditional Japanese dinner gathering to actually experience 100 years old urushi lacquer tableware. Translating these diverse inputs, she will develop her own material research further.

Pao Hui Kao had other inspiring meetings with a local Urushi master Mr Igarashi and a wood carving craftsman. Meanwhile, she has also given a lecture to the local Urushi community. Reflecting on what she has seen and learned so far, she is now developing her design proposals to be discussed with the urushi craftsmen. 

Through many design sketches, Pao made a final dimension and shape of the design to be fixed. Based on her design, 20 pieces of wooden plates has been already shaped with a
press machine. She has also visited a craftsman specialized in urushi decoration for finding a possible application to her design.

In Fukushima, Pao is finalizing the design of plates by deciding on colors and textures.

The plates are already on the production process now. Besides the plates making, she is also trying to develop other projects. Urushi craft is such a profound discipline to grasp in two months. Her challenge now is to make the most of the time left and to carry out the ideas.

The 20 wooden plates went through the different decoration application process. The decorated plates create a beautiful harmony of colors and textures. Next to the urushi plates project, Pao has also made three-mirror design proposals.

Related links:
Pao Hui Kao
Aizu Shikki – Sekibikodo

This is a contribution article from MJ AIR 2019 program.
Text by MONO JAPAN FOUNDATION, Photo by Pao Hui Kao


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