Happy Birthday to Tree
2021 | Natural Dye Installation & Workshops | The Mills
Have you touched a leaf with your eyes closed and tried to imagine it transforming from a crisp indigo at infancy to a mature, vibrant green and, finally, a withering, pale yellow? Every shade illustrates its remarkable existence; and every hue is its effort in communicating to us its story.
The Mills has invited designer-artist UUendy Lau, UU to present an exhibition on natural dye, titled “Happy Birthday to Tree”, of which she created three installation pieces with natural dyes and conducts experiments on natural colours. UU takes inspiration from her upbringing in Tsuen Wan and tells a story about a girl and a tree. The narrative inspires artistic observation and explores the colours of the Earth through the lenses of flowers, leaves and branches. Her artwork includes pre-exhibition workshops conducted with different organisations including Ebenezer School & Home for the Visually Impaired and St. James’ Settlement Project Care Neighbourhood Elderly Centre. The activities welcome community members to explore the impeccable relationship between man and nature, and how nature speaks to us in her beautiful swashes.
Nature introduces us beautiful, countless shades and intensity of colour. We may not have intentionally made regular observations, but the colours evolved in nature constantly change and transform at every moment in response to the surrounding environment, including both the landscape and the territory largely constructed with concrete and plastic that most of us are inhabiting. Taking creative examinations on natural colours from multiple lens and at different stages of their cycle, we start to learn, question and motivate distinctive connections (formed naturally, artificially or technologically) and stakeholders (for instance, farmers, conservators, artists and cultural institutions) along the process to develop more meaningful and critical insights into our relationship with nature.
Set within a warm-hearted and whimsical scenario with humanised nature characters – flowers, leaves and branches, the project looks into our interaction with the environment and encourages positive expressions to share gratitude, blessing and protection. These concepts are artistically developed and demonstrated through research, communal workshops and art installations. While having inceptive speculations on nature hues, the experiments conducted however do not solely invite visual inquiries but also engage our senses of sound and tactile touch, and ultimately our thoughts and emotions. The project hopes to inspire alternative ways to understand and show respect for our environment through colour exploration and art creations, and thus foster more conscious approach of (co-)living in (and with) nature.
In this project, three art installations are created, with some of the inspirations coming from the art deliverables of two pre-workshops conducted with Ebenezer School & Home for the Visually Impaired and St. James’ Settlement Project Care Neighbourhood Elderly Centre, to explore different colours of our earth and nature from various perspectives and artistic experiments.
Leafscape (UUendy Lau, 2021)
Materials: Cotton cloth (natural dyed with gardenia fruit and indigofera tinctoria), thread, padded textile, bamboo
“This is a gift to (and from) nature that shows our gratitude”, says Leaf Fairy.
Looking at the leaves up in the sky under the sun, we see different shades and gradient of green and their shadow, and sometimes yellow and brown, or even red when autumn comes. The moment when the leaves fall down slowly and naturally, as if a painting brush adding colours to a beautiful landscape drawing, becomes so poetic and artistically inspiring. The artwork Leafscape hopes to ‘freeze’ the time of a particular second and encourages us to pay more attention to our interaction with nature. The site-specific installation shows a whimsical collection of leaves created in peculiar size, shapes and colours which are playfully suspended on bamboo tubes that reminisces the traditional Hong Kong ways of drying laundry in the old days – a daily scenario just as much ordinary as how we often encounter nature every day.
The colour spectrum, from yellow and green to blue, is achieved by natural dyeing with mainly indigofera tinctoria and gardenia fruits. The shades of green are the results from mixed-dyeing of the two ingredients in varying time and solution density. The design and embroidered keywords of the installation are inspired by the art deliverables from the pre-workshop conducted with P3 & P4 students from Ebenezer School & Home for the Visually Impaired.
Giant Bouquet (UUendy Lau, 2021)
Materials: Cotton cloth (natural dyed with madder root, gardenia fruit and indigofera tinctoria), thread
“This is a gift to (and from) nature that expresses our blessings”, says Flower Fairy.
We send flowers to share blessings with people we care about. Every flower carries a specific meaning which are often inspired by its origin, colour, shapes and personal stories (e.g. Poinciana represents youth, Camellia symbolises humbleness). The artwork Giant Bouquet tries to decode flowers from various perspectives into layers of shades, forms and messages. Through a convergent visual angle centering on the heart of the bouquet, the installation invites thoughts and creative dialogues on flowers, and thus stimulates a more positive reflection and relationship with nature.
The colour hue, from beige and red to purple and blue, is obtained by natural dyeing with mainly madder root, and followed up a mixed-dyeing with gardenia fruits and indigofera tinctoria. The design and embroidered keywords of the installation are inspired by the art deliverables from the pre-workshop conducted with senior members of St. James’ Project Care Neighbourhood Elderly Centre in Tsuen Wan.
Dreamcatcher (UUendy Lau, 2021)
Materials: Cotton cloth, rope (natural dyed with Indigofera tinctoria), bamboo, plants, paper
“This is a gift to (and from) nature that symbolises protection”, says Branch Fairy.
Branches represent strength and reliability. They bring leaves and flowers up towards the sun for more nutrients and maintaining sustainable growths. They may look raw and rough but they can make sophisticated bird nests and durable furniture for us that can last for many centuries. They are selfless supporters and protectors. The artwork Dreamcatcher takes inspiration from the ancient version and evolves a contemporary and artistic exploration on its concept of protection that communicates empowering messages. The installation is constructed by a few weaving sculptures which demonstrate an alternative balance and collaboration between natural materials and man-made creations that carry the spirit of safeguarding and care. The artwork enquires into cross-contextual interventions and aesthetic expressions on branches and other natural resources, and thus prompts more speculations and innovative creations in and with nature.
The traditional culture of dreamcatcher is believed to be originated in Native American. The object is a handmade web woven with willow and ropes, and decorated with sacred items like beads that represents unique power including courage, truth, love, humility, wisdom, respect and honour. It serves as a ‘tunnel’ that guides the good dreams to sleepers and filtered out the bad ones. While every culture has its own on aesthetic expression, different colours are often applied to illustrate specific emotions – yellow is usually for optimism, orange for friendliness, red for excitement, purple for creativity, blue for trust and green for peacefulness.
The coloured fabric strips weaved between branches are natural dyed with indigofera tinctoria. The poems shown in the installation are written by the artist.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO TREE” STORY
“This is a story about the girl and Tree.”
“The girl and Tree are good friends. She likes to visit Tree who always waits at the same spot to give his greetings. They share the same birthday. Every year, they stay together to exchange wishes, and Tree often gives her a red flower.
This year, the girl didn’t come to meet Tree. Tree is disappointed and he cries. Many leaves and flowers fall off. On the next day, the girl notices the fallen plants on the ground. She feels sad too. She wants Tree to be happy again and she has decided to make a birthday gift for him. The girl wanders around for ideas. Three fairies come to her and they agree to help prepare the gift together.
Flower Fairy instructs her to make a ‘giant bouquet’ to send blessings.
Leaf Fairy shows her how to capture a beautiful ‘leafscape image’ to show gratitude.
Branch Fairy teaches her to weave a ‘dreamcatcher’ which symbolises protection.
Tree receives the gifts and he is very touched. Leaves and flowers start to grow again. The girl promises Tree that she will never abandon him, and she will take care of him like how he always does for her. She leans on Tree, and they smile happily at each other.”
(The story is written by UUendy Lau who is inspired by a Poinciana Tree located on Sai Lau Kok Road in Tsuen Wan that the artist walked by every day on her way to school when she was young.)
Designer-artist UUendy Lau conducted two pre-workshops and invited the participants to create works that explored the theme on natural materials. The workshop deliverables became the artist’s inspiration of which she incorporated the individual insights and ideas with her installation making.
Pre-Workshop #01 - Leaf
Participating partner: Ebenezer School & Home for the Visually Impaired
Date: 7 Jul 2021
The artist organised a pre-workshop with a group of P3 & P4 students from the School. Interesting dialogues and exploration on shapes, colours and emotions of leaves were made to investigate different views on nature from the children’s perspective. Through tactile experiences, sounds, crafts and discussions, the pre-workshop led the participants to re-experience nature and her colours in a different way, and thus inspired more imagination and questions towards the natural landscape.
Pre-Workshop #02 - Flower
Participating partner: St. James’ Settlement Project Care Neighbourhood Elderly Centre
Date: 26 Jul 2021
During the workshop, the artist instructed the participants to create flowers in different forms and colours and welcomed everyone to share their stories and knowledge on particular flowers. The artist learned more about different ideas of the natural environment in the community from perspectives of the elderly and Tsuen Wan residents. Through images and crafts, the workshop encouraged the participants to rethink about nature and initiated more discussions and positive thoughts on our environment.
We also conducted a public workshop upon the opening of the Exhibition to teach participants how to make a customised dreamcatcher with natural materials and textile dyed with indigo.
Public Workshop #03 - Branch
Within the “In Time Of” concept, The Mills has launched the project “Colour of the Earth” to uncover the myriad hues through which nature communicates with us, hoping to curate a story that belongs to humans and nature.
In her first work themed on plant dyes, designer-artist UUendy Lau has mixed gardenia fruit (in yellow) and the common madder root (in red) with indigo (in blue), prepared by Giants Tie Dye who is also her dyeing mentor in this project, to create a swash of colour unique to the artist in the three art installation pieces.
Natural dyeing has long been in our history books and underscores cultural tales from around the world. It’s not just an environmentally friendly way of dying our fabrics, but each dexter has a different craft, meaning every product is a unique art piece that illustrates our story with nature.
A book of a visual diary was made by UUendy Lau that documented research and experiments on natural dye, tips, sketches, fabric sample and interesting things that inspired her during her year-long trial & error and engagement in the project "Colours of the Earth" for her exhibition "Happy Birthday to Tree".
Copyright © 2021 by UUendy Lau. All rights reserved.