Going back to our origins and exploring the roots of our past is actually where our identity can be found. In this way, Miss Elephant explores and mixes traditional Chinese calligraphy and contemporary art in order to know herself better. This local artist from Hong Kong works in her studio Elephant House.
When I first asked her about the name of her studio she draw the original Chinese character for ‘elephant’ on a piece of paper, which had almost nothing to do with a real elephant. She told me that ancient Chinese interpreted the shape of an elephant based on the bones found underground. That process was based on imagination and abstraction; this is how she came up with her artistic signature, which is a mixture between ancient Chinese calligraphy and how she sees this animal. Miss Elephant has been practising Chinese calligraphy for many years because she considers it an important part of the artistic learning. To her Chinese calligraphy is something strongly related with art practice, especially with her work. She also thinks that this discipline is a good way to connect with her background and is a helpful way to balance mind and body. Another reason why she was fully into calligraphy during her studies was because she compares Chinese characters with abstraction, a process where imagination and creativity play an important role.
In her main work ‘The Root’, she explained how the idea came to her. Apparently it came from the Hong Kong trees located in Hong Kong Island. The roots of those trees are characteristic of that side of the city because of their roots, which grow from the top of walls down to the floor. She brought the idea of these roots in her studio and started to work on it.
Her studio is located in Fotan (North side of Kowloon Tong), a neighbourhood surrounded by mountains and trees. In fact, nature means a lot to her: ‘nature is everything and is part of us’, she said. Once she had ‘The Root’ installed in her studio she observed the shadows of her work projected on the ground and how they change throughout the day. The first exhibition of ‘The Root’ was a cloudy day, so no shadow was projected on the ground. The spectators didn’t understand her work and she could only explain the main idea to them but still was not enough to make them understand her main intention and few people stayed in the studio.
This was the first step to make her work evolve and take a new direction. After that she decided to capture the shadows. She tried to paint them using a pencil, then using a calligraphy brush, but the projected shadow moved in a few minutes. In order to hold the shadow, she took pictures of it and recreated them in large pieces of paper, creating temples of the shadow.
One day a tale of Confucius came to her mind. This tale talks about the power of nature and the flow of the seasons, a cycle always in motion. One day Confucius went to teach a lesson to the students, the only thing he said was: ‘Today I am not saying a work to you guys’. The students were shocked by his words, suddenly one of them spoke up and said: ‘if you don’t speak, how are we supposed to learn?’ Actually, Confucius wanted them to observe the motion of the nature and how the seasons keep flowing although the human being remains static. In order to reproduce how important nature is to her and how true Confucius’ words were, she decided to capture the four seasons on the floor of her studio based on the shadows of ‘The Root’. She created temples in different colors to distinguish one from another. The season’s cycle is also a reflection of the landscape that surrounds her studio and is also a reflection of her conception of art. Something that changes, flows and evolves constantly.
One day a Taoist monk came to visit her studio and suggested she add something growing up, not only growing down. ‘Things that only grow down don’t go anywhere’ the monk said. These words made her think about which direction her work was taken and she decided to include a sort of new roots growing up. In order to achieve this new goal she put some green crystal bottles with some small branches in with some water and let them grow up forming a new kind of roots. Miss Elephant also considers spectators’ participation something indispensable in her work. In the first exhibition of ‘The Root’ she invited the spectators to write on a piece of paper what made them feel happy and hang it on the tree. Apparently, spectators switched the main intention of the artist when they started hanging wishes instead of feelings. This fact shocked the artist but she decided to adapt her work to the spectators’ point of view. During her next exhibition this idea was still in effect but on this occasion she invited them to write down their feelings and put them on a jar next to her work. These examples show that external expressions help her to make her work evolve.
Following the basic principles of Taoism, Miss Elephant starts with a simple idea, which over time becomes complex. For instance, ‘The Root’ was based on an idea that got started by viewing shadows made by the roots of a tree. This simple idea ended up in a complex work based on Confucianism principles, shadows and spectators’ participation. This process is reflective of the journey of her entire gallery: from a simple character for the word ´elephant´, to a studio incorporating ever-evolving artwork, while still holding its roots in the meaning of art, which embraces freeing oneself, and appreciating simplicity.