2019年南豐紗廠CHAT六廠展開了「種學織文」(Seed to Textile）的活動，邀請了印度藝術家邁索爾向本地農夫和染匠分享藍染的營運生態圈，最重要的是帶來了藍染的種子——木藍，在香港的土地上發芽。香港潮濕溫暖的天氣特別適合種植木藍，一到春夏季便會快速生長。藝術家加藤泉把這上木藍收割加工後，製作成靛泥。隨後，CHAT邀請大眾木起進行實驗，並探索人與大自然的關係。
How do we define boundaries? Who draws the boundaries between countries, cities, and dwellings? How do we find these invisible dividing lines? Does being within the boundaries create a sense of belonging? With these questions in mind, Beatrix Pang, a visual artist, embarked on a journey to visit the vast boundaries of Hong Kong. Using the locally grown true indigo (indigofera tinctoria) as a medium, she recorded stories of herself, as well as those of Hong Kong.
In 2019, the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT) of The Mills unveiled the community project, Seed to Textile, in which collaborators from Mysore, India were invited to visit Hong Kong to introduce their operation ecosystem to local farmers and dyers; and what’s more, they brought along with them the seeds of true indigo that were subsequently sown on the soil of Hong Kong. The indigo plants must love the humid and warm weather in Hong Kong for they grow so healthily and rapidly during Spring and Summer, which allows the artist Kato Izumi to harvest the leaves and turn them into indigo pigment. Over the years, CHAT has been recruiting inquisitive people to join the project and experiment together to explore the relationship between humans and nature.
As one of the collaborators of this artistic exploration and also an experienced publisher, Beatrix makes use of her skills and experiments with the various possibilities of indigo dyeing; yet instead of dyeing on cloth, she opts for xuan paper. “I consider this project a more personal way for me to approach the subjects of blue, nature, and boundaries. I have experience in making paper, but have never tried dyeing it. I used xuan paper for this project. But strictly speaking, it is not paper as it is made of tree bark. Oxidation matters a lot during the dyeing process. It takes a lot of experimenting and patience to achieve the desired color and shade.” In addition to true indigo, Beatrix also made use of other natural dyes derived from plants to enrich her work. “Natural dyes were used in ancient China. The red from sappanwood (biancaea sappan) and the yellow from turmeric (curcuma longa). I want to use these natural tones to express what I see and how I feel.” Blue reminds us of the sky, ocean, and the Po Toi Islands, which are hidden away in the southernmost part of Hong Kong. The different shades of brown are like the sedimentary rocks that can be seen everywhere in Tung Ping Chau. “I chose these colors based on my impression, and they evolved over time as I further explored and experimented. Each dyed work is unique. When placing them alongside each other, the overlapping and juxtaposition creates new meanings.”
Talking about the concept behind her work, Beatrix quoted from Pottery, a short story by the Japanese writer Shinsuke Numata, which says, “You feel anxious without a sense of belonging.” You might think others are living a peaceful life, but what you don’t know is that they might be putting on a poker face, hiding their feelings and emotions, keeping everything to themselves, and living an uneasy existence. Facing a lack of sense of belonging, finding inner peace might be the only way to calm the anxious soul. For Beatrix, she finds peace spending time with her friends hiking, chatting, and creating. Their stories are intertwined with the places they visited. “At the beginning of the year, my grandfather passed away. He was over 90 years old. He had always been there and I was very close with him. Although it wasn’t the pandemic that killed him, the virus kept me from visiting him at the hospital. When it was time to say goodbye, I couldn’t even see him in person. I could only call his name over the phone. I still feel very sad when I think of it.” Beatrix said that blue is not merely a color. It represents sadness and contemplation. Whether intentional or not, the various shades of blue she created reflects her emotional state. Besides dyed works, Beatrix also produced audio and written records for the project. These records, which include personal reflections on self and Hong Kong, as well as the bits and pieces in life, are all stories of her friends.
“Peaked Hill is a remarkable place. It’s very difficult to get there. The journey starts from Tai O, and then to Yi O. When you finally arrive at the end of the beach, and also when the tide is low, a tombolo will be exposed to the sea level, connecting Peaked Hill to the beach. That day, we arrived at Yi O a bit later than expected. We were afraid that the tide would rise by the time we reached the end of the beach. We were also worried that it would be hard to find our way back when it got dark.” Beatrix picks something up every time she goes hiking. She keeps them as a record of the trip. “Each place has its own unique characteristics. For example, Po Toi Islands are close to the South China Sea. People on the fishing boats that pass by the area sometimes dump their trash in the sea. When I first visited Po Toi Islands, I was surprised that the beaches were covered with garbage. These trashed items present to the world how we humans are affecting the environment.” The sea urchin shell that has a shape of a pumpkin, broken toys, dead branches, and fallen leaves… together they give meaning to a place. Their existence is unique and special.
Upon graduating from university, Beatrix worked as a photographer for several years. Although photography doesn’t work for her as a long-term career, its influences can be seen often in her creations. “For this project, I eco-printed the plants I collected. Eco-printing is a dyeing method that is mostly used on fabric and requires the use of acetic acid. With steaming, stacking, and pressing, the dye found naturally inside the plant is released, leaving a contact print on the fabric. Instead of fabric, I used paper. Indigo dye was also used in the process to better reveal the actual shapes and marks of the plants. The result is similar to that of a line sketch. It’s like a painting, but at the same time, like a photograph. Every print is different. Just like taking a Polaroid.” The faint smell of true indigo fills the air. The essence of time and the sense of touch are captured in the shades of indigo.
“I am more concerned about the relationship between man-made things and nature. My last creation is about the zoological and botanical garden. I drew the animals that live there, trying to reflect their well being and the structure of the cage in which they live, and then I looked at how humans intervene in all of these. In urban space, man-made creations are somehow affecting the existence of living things. This is an issue that I want to further explore.”
The mastermind of Seed to Textile, Wendy once said that the ultimate goal of the project is to explore the relationship between humans and land. While the current chapter of the project focuses on indigo dyeing, what’s next is yet to be decided. With that said, the project will always center on the relationship between man and land and community connection. Seed to Textile not only successfully explored the possibility of harvesting Hong Kong’s locally grown indigo and creating pigment out of it, it also gave us a chance to reflect on how we can connect with Hong Kong’s soil, communities, and the things that we treasure.