"Made in China" is an art installation encompassing our documentary, photographs of Leicester's Chinese community and two large-scale structural art pieces, "Life Stories" and "Imperial Dragon".
Our photography exhibit is by Ly Yoong. Ly left Penang, Malaysia, in 1976. He arrived in the UK with little English but quickly found his true calling as a professional photographer. Now retired from the commercial world, Ly uses his talent to document the life of the city around him, particularly his beloved Chinese Elder's Club.
The first of our structural works is "Life Stories". It features four panels of intricately-cut illustration housed within a bespoke structure milled from plywood and treated with wood-stains, wax and water-based paint. The structure is modular and can be configured as multiple bays or as a single Hexagon.
Here Exhibition Designer/Lead Artist, Tom Cleaver, explains the concept behind "Life Stories" and the role played by our "Young Consultants", the school students who assisted with the project:
"My first task was to meet with the Young Consultants and discuss their ideas. Traditional Chinese architecture and paper-cut art were popular themes and we decided to use modern interpretations of these techniques to realise our characters' stories.
I met with the four people whose stories inspired us the most then, using interview transcripts and personal photographs, we re-imagined their experiences as movie-style posters. In some cases, elapsed time and difficult circumstances meant original photographs simply weren't available, so we filled in the gaps with research and artistic interpretation. At all times, though, we tried to stay true to the spirit of our interview transcripts, occasionally adding a little historical background. Mrs Chan, for example, has lived through some profound events and I felt it would be contextually negligent not to include them.
I took our illustrations, redrew them digitally and had the files lasercut. I then designed a wooden-framed exhibition stand inspired by the angular pagoda artwork that fascinated our Young Consultants.
Choosing a suitable colour for this stand proved a surprising challenge. By convention, gallery fixtures and fittings are white. White, however, is unlucky in Chinese culture, symbolising death. We felt a visually-interesting solution to this would be to underpaint areas of the wood with traditional hues, coat them with candle wax, then overpaint with white. Sanding the wax lifts the white, revealing the reds and greens beneath. The Young Consultants felt it was a perfect metaphor for our characters. They have embraced our plain English cities but the passion and colour of their homelands remains within them, just beneath the surface."
Our final exhibition piece was also built by Tom. Originally commissioned for our 2017 Chinese New Year celebrations,"Imperial Dragon" is his tribute to China's most enduring icon. Tom feels many modern dragons are stylised beyond recognition. To counter this, he conducted extensive research and his colossal 5 metre-long creature takes its design-cues from sources over a thousand years old.