While visiting Beijing several years ago, I stayed at the elegant Opposite House hotel. In the beautiful minimalistic lobby of the hotel, my attention was attracted to the artwork displayed notably a series of amazing sculptures.
The sculptures made from broken shards of porcelain rearranged into stunning costumes, were placed strategically in different areas of the lobby. The indirect lighting enhanced the stunning visual impact of the floating clothing. As I approached one of the sculptures, a beautiful blue and white women’s dress, to get a closer look, I was in awe of the detailed craftsmanship.
I later learned that the artist Li Xiaofeng, born in Central China, sews together the shards using thin metal wire and each is lined with a leather undergarment. Looking at the artist’s work it is hard not to marvel at the precision and care taken, not only to find the exact shapes to form the curves of the dresses but also how the pattern and color of the porcelain are used to create new shades and silhouettes.
Contemporary artist Li Xiaofeng uses porcelain to make wearable art that pays homage to China’s past while looking toward the future. The artist takes hundreds of shards of porcelain some dating back to the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties and puzzles them into magnificent porcelain dresses, suits, uniforms and accessories.
Porcelain is an ancient traditional Chinese craft. The skillful transformation of ordinary clay into beautiful objects has captivated the imagination of people throughout history and across the globe. Chinese ceramics were made for the imperial court, the domestic market or for export.
For these specific commissions, Li Xiaofeng modified his technique according to the specifications of his clients. He created his own porcelain objects. The objects were then hand painted by the artist and hand sewn on leather transforming them into wearable clothing.
Li Xiaofeng describes the way he creates as follows « Firstly each composition is a process. I must reflect a lot about it. I must make a rough sketch, compose, reject it and redo it. Sometimes I immediately use plasticine or wire to create a model. Next I classify of the color of the patterns and rearrange roughly the shards. Cut and polish each piece. This is a very repetitive process which needs a lot of attention. I then weld the pieces and make the final adjustments»
Discovering the work of Li Xiaofeng during my stay in China was one of the many enriching moments I encountered as I travelled there.
The creative reuse of products by transforming useless or unwanted items into new better quality creations is not new in mainstream art. Pablo Picasso’s “Bull’s Head” (1942), a sculpture made from a discarded bicycle saddle and handlebars, is the Spanish painter’s sly nod to the Dadaists.
Upcycling has never been so classy.