入木三分 | Into the Woods

May 21  -  June 12 2016
@ Run Amok Gallery

入木三分 | Into the Woods was a woodcarving exhibition, which featured selected works from two apprentices – Ong Ching-Yin and Tong Wing Cheong, as well as a piece of splendid virtuosity carved by their mentor, Master Yeap Siew Kay.

Many artisans and artists favour wood as an attractive medium for artistic expression because each organic piece has its own unique character in grain and contour, scent and colour. Some cultures even ascribe certain woods with talismanic qualities. Woodcarving has been widely practised over millennia and across many cultures. It gives joy to artisans and artists in transforming a raw form into a fine piece of woodcarving although wood is not necessarily a forgiving material to work with.

You can see wood carvings virtually everywhere in the heritage areas of George Town: in residential spaces, shops, and places of worship; as architectural features, interior decoration, even utilitarian ware, and as cultural totems. You will find them incised on doors, air vents, Chinese screens, signage and interior trimmings and trappings. In Chinese temples and ancestral halls, many of the deities and ancestral plaques are also carved in wood. However, due to advancements in technology, scarcity in supply, fewer apprentices, and relatively high labour costs, woodcarving has become an unsustainable line of work.

Following George Town’s UNESCO World Heritage status award in 2008, cultural programmes were introduced to cultivate interest in, create a sense of ownership of, and foster the marketing of traditional crafts. Some of these include the Sunday Artisan Market, Little Penang Street Market, which takes place once a month, and the annual Heritage Celebration. PAPA (Penang Apprenticeship Programme for Artisans) was initiated by PHT (Penang Heritage Trust) to encourage local talent to take up these trades. Although both the featured exhibitors were not directly involved in the PAPA programme, they and the public at large, came to know of Penang’s traditional craftsmen through this initiative.

This exhibition features selected works from two apprentices – Ong Ching-Yin and Tong Wing Cheong, as well as a piece of splendid virtuosity carved by their mentor, Master Yeap Siew Kay. Master Yeap is a self-taught traditional woodcarver, informed by Chinese folk beliefs; his woodcarving style shows a pronounced Fu Jian influence. Although he would be considered traditionalist in his aesthetic values, Master Yeap does not restrict his apprentices’ creative processes; on the contrary, he actively supports and tries to overcome technical issues within their capabilities.

Yin has been Master Yeap’s student for almost 6 years and there is cultural bleed-through from her having lived in England for 33 years. She has a cosmopolitan appreciation and her pieces give a sense both of directness and intimacy; they capture her quirky personality and humanist philosophy.

Tong embraces Chinese traditional folk art and his approach is more attuned to Master Yeap’s aesthetic taste and values. He does not see woodcarving as a form of self-expression but rather, a way to form a deeper relationship with Chinese folk belief systems and the meaning behind cultural symbols.

The exhibition aimed to document the mentor-apprentice symbiosis and examine the influences and trajectories of each in their respective practices. It was also an attempt to look at the cultural significance of woodcarving in the context of George Town as a heritage site, and whether woodcarving can be nudged from its traditionalist values to introduce new elements and vitality into the process.

許多文化都有木雕工藝,木--作為許多藝術家與匠師喜愛的創作材料,是一件獨特的有機體,每一塊木料都是獨一無二的紋路、氣味、色澤,一些文化甚至相信:特定木頭具有神奇的能力(如驅邪或好運)。當藝術家和匠師巧妙地將一塊木料化作精緻工藝品時,也正同時在享受著轉化過程中帶來的無比喜悅--當然,木頭並非一個可以輕鬆駕馭的材料。

喬治市中,尤其民宅、店鋪和廟宇,皆可輕易發現木雕藝品,作為建築構件、室內裝飾、或是各種木器到崇拜的聖物。一棟在喬治市中保存良好傳統店屋,木雕更是在當中扮演了重要的元素,如大門上的圖案、雕花的氣窗、屋內的屏風、牌匾和室內裝飾等;而在宗祠與廟宇里,神像和神主牌也都是一件件木雕工藝品。但隨著社會發展與科技進步,木源短缺、缺乏年輕人投入和工資等因素,使木雕逐漸變成一項難以維持的工藝。

自2008年喬治市成功申報為聯合國世界文化遺產後,許多計畫都企圖培養大眾對古蹟文化的興趣、營造對傳統工藝的認同感,並試圖在大眾市場推廣傳統工藝。這些計畫如:包括了每年的世遺節慶、每月的檳城市集和每周的工藝市集。此外更值得一提的是,PHT(檳城古蹟信託會)推動的PAPA計畫(檳城傳統手工藝授徒計畫),用意在幫助傳統工藝培育新的學徒。雖然兩位參展人並非PAPA計畫下的學徒,而是因為此項計畫宣傳了授徒師傅們的名氣後,從而得知了葉師傅在授徒傳藝。

本次展覽展示了兩位學徒-王真賢和董詠祥的部分作品,以及師傅葉壽溪的其中一件傑出作品。葉師傅因為信仰上的需求,成了一位無師自通的雕刻師,但雕刻技法仍然深受福建木雕影響。雖然葉師傅所傳授的審美觀屬於傳統民間美學範疇,但也從不干涉學徒的藝術創作,反之,以他的能力,支持並和學徒一同解決雕刻上的技術困境。

做為資深學徒,王真賢在師傅身邊學了6年。在英國的33年,使她較無文化界線,反而擁有了開闊的藝術眼界,從部分作品流露出她直率又獨特的個性,其他作品又反映了她人生經歷與哲學觀點。 董詠祥則醉心於對傳統民間文化,他在木雕途上的認知相對是比較能與葉師傅契合的。他或許不把木雕當作是抒發自我的藝術表現,對他而言,木雕是一種讓他拉近傳統民間藝術距離的方式,能夠直接在民間與信仰體系之中,實習背後的文化意涵。

這檔展覽除了展示師徒三人的作品,更旨在了解師徒人三間互動與影響的過程,以及兩位學徒將發揮木雕技藝的路線。同時也希望可以探索木雕技藝--作為喬治市的傳統手藝及文化價值,在發展過程中除了保持它原有的傳統藝術價值,又能否注入新元素或新方式。

Exhibition stills