The traces of hand
Niko Leung⟨ December 2019 ⟩
I first got to know Niko through her glassware and ceramic in an exhibition in the Pong Ding Gallery in Taipei. I was most impressed by the collaborative work she made with Taiwan Spring Pool Glass that is produced with recycled glass. The waffle pattern plate looks glossy at a close view when seeing from a distance, you can see light reflecting on its surface; such a texture of glass can present the food at its most authentic state. The plate is made using the compression molding technique and features exactly the same pattern as the ceramic ones she made before. The ribbed surface was inspired by her experience when eating toasts, “Placing a slice of hot toast on this plate, the ridges allow moisture to escape so that the toast won’t get soggy.” Good design can solve problems, as well as initiate new ideas, Niko says, “Spring Pool Glass started their business with picking up disposed glass material. The second generation of the company is very young and open-minded, they are willing to collaborate with designers to explore any new possibilities. When I brought to them the mold I use for making ceramics, their artisans were very happy to try it out with me. They’re so relaxed, probably due to the reason that they don’t have much financial pressure!” She laughs and continues saying, “I met some artists when learning pottery in mainland China. They can rent a very big space in a rural area at the cost of four thousand Renminbi a year. This gives them a quiet space to think about what they would like to do, or simply daydream when they have nothing to do. Hong Kong artists need to spend a great amount of money on rent, so they don’t have any extra room to dream. It is so difficult to spark new ideas when someone is too busy or too stressed.” Why is life so repetitive and busy all the time? If we don’t have free time to observe our surroundings, then how can we be creative? “Living an abundant life makes people less inclined to be creative.”
In the beginning, I thought Niko was a potter. It was only until later did I realize she once worked in a construction company; she is also an art teacher at the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity. “Many people see me as a potter, but I found it difficult to bind myself to a single role.” Niko is an interesting person, she is always intrigued by uncertainties, collaborations, and possibilities, “I enjoy exploring materials of different shapes and textures, this makes me wonder what kind of possibilities do they have? I have a strong preference for handmade things. Perhaps it is due to my experience when studying design in the Netherlands, where I spent a lot of time making various objects using the machines in my studio. I also encourage my students to use a chainsaw to cut woodblocks, or to climb up the 10-feet tall ladder; I believe hands-on experience is the only way for us to get to understand the material and process thoroughly.” Niko said, she recently got a new project to design a wall in a nursing home. The idea is to build a jigsaw-like decorative wall entirely made of natural materials, where palm-sized toys will be stored inside. When taking out the toys from the wall compartment, the elderlies can train both their hands and their eyes. “I guess people come to me for their new projects because they like the handmade vibe of my work.” Niko is a practical person who enjoys working with her own hands. The temperature of her palms can bring warmth to the once cold and lonely white wall in the nursing home.
“Clay is my favorite material. It is a very primitive material that forms the ground on which we set foot. This June, I went to Jianshancun in Zhejiang, China, to learn to construct a building with clay. Starting with plowing, me and my classmates spent five days to build a wall. We got to know various characteristics of soil, for instance, the form of the soil before firing. The soil used to build the Great Wall is those that didn’t go through the firing process,” Niko says she began to have an idea to build her own house after this trip, “Cob houses in rural areas are cheap to build. They are so charismatic even without any decorative details. Along with the rapid developments in rural areas, cob houses, which are seen as housing for the poor, are getting less and less popular.” Living in a city where everyone lives an exhausting life chasing the dream of buying a flat, who would have thought of building their own home with their bare hands? Things that were seen as a norm in the old days now become almost an unachievable dream. “If I were to build my own cob house, the most important feature is to have a window that lets me see the changes from dusk till dawn and the changes in four seasons. The day breaks, rays of sunlight can brighten up the room through the window. Through the windows, I can hear the sound of cicadas vibrating their wings, then I know summer has come. Even during the hottest summer days, I wouldn’t switch on the A/C but simply let myself sweat. To me, the best house is the house that can be connected to nature.”