FIONA WONG, Black Mountain, 2014, stoneware, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist. 

Emerging Mountains

Hong Kong

Lumenvisum’s summer show was a poetic one. In a slight deviation from the art space’s focus on photography, “Emerging Mountains”—a solo exhibition of sculptor Fiona Wong—featured a series of ceramics works inspired by the geographic landscape of the artist’s native Hong Kong. Walking through the gallery space, viewers became immersed in a dreamy and free-floating atmosphere created by the dimmed yellow lighting of the space and the glossy surfaces of the works. The show comprised 21 works, displayed on the walls and the ground, that each investigate and pay tribute to the natural world.

Mountains are a common subject explored in two-dimensional art mediums—such as with Ansel Adams’ black-and-white landscape photographs and Guo Xi’s shui-mo paintings. Yet what Wong has in mind for this particular subject is something different. Borrowing the texture stroke technique of traditional Chinese ink painting (shui-mo), Wong explores the idea of mountains, space and dimensions, which are usually compressed in the mediums of drawing and photography. At Lumenvisum, installed on one wall was Black Mountain (all works 2014), a small sculpture of a mountain covered in an opaque, black glaze. Observed from a distance, viewers might become momentarily confused that they are looking at a drawing instead of a sculpture. The pressure applied in sculpting the shape of the black mountain mimics that of painting such an image with a brush, creating angular yet fluid surfaces that—when responding to light—generate shadows and highlights that remind viewers of the black-to-white gradient commonly found in traditional shui-mo paintings. The opaque surface of Black Mountain contrasts with the shiny, transparent surfaces of an adjacent, smaller mountain figure, accentuating the humility and greatness that the former sculpture embodies. Almost a sister work to Black Mountain, Spiritual Mountain was hung on another wall of the gallery. They have been created in a similar manner, but Spiritual is painted in a dark-red glaze with a more delicate and cragged surface. Viewed together, the two pieces spell out the characteristics that mountains embody in Chinese culture—namely, sacredness and magnificence.

FIONA WONG,Tai Long (2), 2014, glazed porcelain, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist. 

FIONA WONG, In the Mountain (2), 2014, glazed stoneware, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist. 

While the physical form of works such as Black Mountain and Spiritual Mountain reference the lines and strokes of traditional Chinese painting, hints of shui-mo are also found in the glaze design of works such as Tai Long (2). Using clay as her “ink” and making use of the chemical reactions between clay and glaze, Wong has painted brown mountains on the surface of Tai Long (2). Using a particular firing temperature and thickness of glaze, Wong brings scents of Chinese shui-mo to ceramics, by creating a bleeding effect, in which the color of the clay spreads out in a manner similar to when ink touches water. Mountains drawn on the interior sides of the ceramic, with its loose strokes and fading colors, draw viewers into a dream-like world, where they could imagine and recall their own versions of one of nature’s greatest landforms.

At the corner of the gallery was a pair of upside-down cone-shaped vessels, In the Mountain (1) and In the Mountain (2). Standing on the edge of being functional objects, the pair is complementary in the sense that the exterior and interior designs of the two vessels are opposite to each other. In the Mountain (1), which sits on top of a cylinder-shaped wooden stool, is coated with multiple layers of dark brown glaze on the outside, and thicker glazes have been applied near its lip so that they drip down towards the bottom of the vessel. The thin, delicate and irregular lip-line of the two ceramic objects—which is, in fact, a recurring motif in Wong’s works—draw viewers to look into the interior of the vessels, which, for In the Mountain (1), comprises a white surface decorated with an upside-down triangle near one side of the lip, and an outline of a mountain on the other. For In the Mountain (2) the two sides are flipped inside-out. While the exterior of In the Mountain (1) presents mountains in their most natural and realistic form, the milky-white outside surface of In the Mountain (2) encourages viewers to explore the philosophical and symbolic meanings of the geographic forms. As the works’ titles suggest, what really is in the mountains?

FIONA WONG, Lantau, 2014, glazed porcelain, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist. 

The center piece of this exhibition was Lantau, a large plate with a group of three-dimensional mountains placed in the middle and forming a combination of sculptural and functional objects. Named after Hong Kong’s largest outlying island, and sculpted in its shape, Lantau is representative of the philosophical inquiry and attention given to nature (and Hong Kong’s landscapes) by Wong’s works in the show. The fading of brown and gray colors from the center to the lip of the ceramic was created by layering glazes that resemble sea waves splashing onto the shores of an island. The choice of using fantastical hues of gray and white color, instead of true-to-life dark brown and blacks, stirs the imagination of the viewer upon seeing the sculpture.  

Besides works exploring the idea of mountains, the exhibition also consisted of many other interesting pieces aimed at breaking from or developing beyond the conventional ways of using clay as an artistic medium, and presenting new options for engaging with ceramics. Mountains in the Drawer is a presentation of 21 miniature porcelain mountain figures in a wooden, wall-mounted display cabinet. Stone Mountain carries real soil and leaves. Tai Long (1)Kau Sai and Double Haven (1) are re-makes of pictures of Hong Kong’s landscape (taken from the government-published photo book Hong Kong Now and Then, 2014), onto which Wong has placed her ceramic mountain figures and then photographed with the original print.

In the small and cozy gallery space of Lumenvisum, Wong took viewers well beyond the context of what is visible and what is real; as she indicated in her artist statement, “I use clay to explore the manifestation of three dimensional imagery of mountains. In the process of object-making, reality is gradually perceived through recurring memory and imagination.”

Installation view of FIONA WONG’s Spiritual Mountain (left), 2014, and Mountain in the Drawer (right), 2014, in “Emerging Mountains,” at Lumenvisum, Hong Kong. Courtesy the artist. 

“Emerging Mountains” was on view at Lumenvisum, Hong Kong, from July 5 to Aug 17, 2014.