Online translation tools sometimes render interesting misinterpretations. “Detect language” in the source text field was left unchecked, and an unexpected result was put forward. “A form of resilience that is not easily noticed” inadvertently became “an unwavering steadfastness”. These mistranslations often draw my attention, probably because of the sensibility in the rearrangement of characters and the fascination in finding the similarities among discrepancies; a stir aroused through understanding.
Born in Taipei in 1987, an architecture graduate of Shih Chien University, Shi-Yu took inspiration from the V-shape tips on carving knives and named her studio VVV Studio.
She took a two-year sabbatical to travel to Cambodia, Indonesia, Tibet and Finland as an artist-in-residence before moving to Taitung. Wandering through landscapes, I asked her about the image that left her the most profound memory. “The scenic memories coming to mind are always the moments when I saw a different terrain. The vast prairie around ancient ruins in Cambodia. The tropical forest and volcanic terrain in Indonesia. The everchanging hues in Tibetan alpine lakes and the winding mountain crests surrounding them. In Finland, the scenery expands across plains, through forests and lakes, reaching the horizon like the sea. Among the rift valleys in Taitung, there are clouds and mountains curling up with each other in various ways.” Shi-Yu said. What we see does not reach as far as what imagination, provoked by place we visit, could bring us to. And the visits leave traces like a thread, uncut, and extends far.
“However complicated and diverse nature is, the experience it offers is pure, and so pure that perhaps I could express it through some simple forms or texture.”
So, mountains, stones and terrains molded in her hands are rustic, and the printmaking paper sculptures, however, show a strong contrast of textures and grains.
“Printmaking paper sculptures mainly consist of two kinds of materials, which is paper and glue. Kraft paper and xuan paper are often used. As for paints, there are natural resin, acid-free base, acid-free framing adhesive and water-proof varnish. To sculpt, I churn up kraft paper, add resin, blend it into a clay-like texture, and layer up until I get the desired form. Then, I print the colour and texture onto xuan paper by printmaking, cut the paper into small pieces and paste them on the paper sculpture, followed by a protective coating and varnish on the outer layer.”
The process of making is so summerised for our easy understanding, simplifying the complexity of every step in the process. Printing graphics on the xuan paper by printmaking in fact means graphic design, engraving the design on a plate with carving knives, rolling the paint or ink onto the plate, and print. Intensity of colour changes layer after layer, and how do you know when to stop? “During the process, I often pause and review the work. When I feel the image is good enough, acceptable and that I can stop working further on it, that is the moment I understand myself better, knowing that is what I desire, and that is what I can make. So, how would I know? I know when it is the time.”
“Why would I do this?”
“Oh, that is what I was thinking.”
Pieces of paper are glued onto the sculpture one by one, forming gentle undulations, and stretching into a broader play of light and shadow. Perhaps it is a unique ambience that xuan paper can create. “Flimsy probably is our general impression towards xuan paper. Yet, xuan paper is often soaked in ink and glue during creative processes, and in such damp and seemingly fragile condition, it can still be used in various kinds of creation. It should be seen as a form of resilience that is not easily noticed.”
“Printmaking, at the beginning, was a slow journey of practice to me. I was perplexed but also fascinated by this indirect medium and mass printing method. It is an ancient yet simple technique adopting dated and mysterious tools, heavy man labour, and in a manual way, over and over again, to make prints of the same visual. Throughout the printing process, I have to constantly adjust the forces applied, and constantly unearth the hidden pictures in my consciousness. By no means is this a high-technology with perfect precision, and more often than not there are mistakes we need to pardon. So, towards my works, I become more and more open-minded, and learn to let the interaction of my body, mind and objects be breathable. Not until the last second, we wouldn’t know what we have completed. Such improvisation and open-mindedness perhaps are the inspiring moments missed in this contemporary time that pursues speed and precision.” We always think that there are things to be done every day, and we are so used to pricking up our ears and be annoyed by the surrounding at our own will. Through simple labour and in repetition, we reach a state of pure focus. Can it also be considered as spacing out?
“I’ve just learnt a new word, flow of mind.” She grins.
“I feel like it is a flowing state that goes in two ways. Flowing along is an experience from Zhuangzi’s idea. Repeatedly experiencing the same situation does not equal to being trapped. Instead, it is to welcome the result of every cause of action with an open body and mind, wrap it up, and then, look forward to welcoming another result.”
The smell of air in countries differs, and you learn the distance between them by just smelling it, and knowing if there is a scene lingering in the heart.
I asked Shi-Yu when she wants to create the most. After breakfast every day.
So steadily, continuously and habitually. “8-hour of sleep, food that I cook, food that mother cooks, pilates that I do not like but still showing up for. Being creative is something that requires both physical and mental effort; the physical part is more controllable, while for the soul, let’s just let it grow up freely.”
It’s not that dramatic after all. A down-to-earth routine, and deep and mindful work that cannot be rushed. “Once a piece of work is completed, I feel that it is capable of expressing myself that it can, agreeably, be displayed or given away. I hope, after leaving my hands, that my work continues to emanate a certain natural feeling. I have this feeling for every piece of work I completed, be it large or small.”
It is like listening to plants drinking up water when we water them. The sound of water flow makes us feel thirsty. Organic things can grow into something beautiful, while there are bugs crawling around. Every day after I wake up, I go to check out my plants to see if the leaves grow or they wither. I take care of them all but how they wither cannot be controlled. What is amusing is, what the manual says is not necessarily accurate. They can just dry up any time. How free.”
It is said that 60,000 thoughts come out from the human brain every day. Out of all of the thoughts there, some stay because we choose to let them to, or they stay because they simply do?