Kum Chi Keung
When Dior approached Kum Chi Keung for the Lady Dior As Seen By exhibition, he thought it was a joke. It wasn’t until the emails kept coming from Paris, with photos and information flooding his inbox, that he realised it was for real.
Born in 1965, Kum is one of this city’s eminent artists, specialising in the traditional Chinese practice of handmade birdcages. His work has been exhibited around the world – from Seoul to Sydney, Berlin to Beijing. So what attracted him to such an unusual project?
“When they first gave me the bag, I noticed how simple it was,” he says. “The pattern consisted of horizontal and vertical lines. I like lines like that because it matches the lines in my birdcages. In fact, the whole form matched. So I started to think about this bag…”
From there, the thoughts turned into computer drawings, which in turn transformed into the bamboo reality we saw at the specially constructed Central Pier gallery. The whole process took nearly a month to complete. “All the measurements had to be completely precise. Every joint had to be perfect because the craftsmen that make it for me follow it exactly. Also, the bag is so soft that in order for it to support the wings and the tail, we had to add interior supports. So I had to consider what materials to use. In the end, we used pieces of plastic inside.”
As for the subject matter, Kum chose the shape of a bird to represent the exhibition itself as it visited different countries along the way. “Flying, flight, birds – that was my thought process.”
Walking into the giant handbag that was the Lady Dior As Seen By showroom, the eye was instantly drawn to a white bag sitting on a plinth near the entrance. At first glance, it appeared to be an ordinary Lady Dior, albeit in pristine condition. But closer inspection revealed that the bag was made not from leather but from porcelain, and it was entirely reversed.
“If you notice, all the details are flipped like a mirror image,” says Wan. “[Moulding] is not like casting, because I just press the porcelain directly onto the surface so it captures all the details. I press each side, and then I join them together like the craftsmen who make the [original]. It means that this object sits somewhere in between familiarity and unfamiliarity.”
This delicate balance between literal and figurative is something that Wan has perfected over the course of her career. Having obtained her master’s degree from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1999, Wan has been prolific in making her mark in the art world. “I wanted to do something meaningful with my life.”
Speaking about the Lady Dior As Seen By exhibition, Wan elaborated on her inspirations. “When I make mouldings,” says Wan, “I’m usually thinking about the differences between the original and the copy – especially if it’s a man-made product. I like to think about the significance of man-made objects and how they will change [over time].”
Despite Wan’s work being neither loud nor provocative, it made quiet waves with its eyecatching purity. How fitting, therefore, that the piece was titled, Lady Dior Impressed.
“When I first thought about the project, it was the handbag’s unique diamond pattern and stitches that caught my attention,” says Pittsburgh-based artist Bovey Lee. “I also liked the contrast between the soft, supple leather and the strong, metal hardware. Overall, [it was] the combination of design, materials, details, and craftsmanship [that] inspired me.” Born in Hong Kong in 1969, Lee has practiced Chinese calligraphy since she was 10. After completing her BA at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, she moved to America, where she continued her fine-art studies. A fascination with traditional practices has been an integral aspect of Lee’s work from the start. It was this same ethos she saw reflected in Dior. “Craftsmanship is not only valuable but also important, especially in today’s society where we are too willing to trade quality for efficiency.”
Lee’s cut-paper take on the Lady Dior is both a technical triumph and a visual delight. Using only a knife and a sheet of rice paper, she was able to recreate the distinctive outline of the Lady Dior handbag. It’s a time-consuming process, taking up to eight times longer than drawing the object.
Not that Lee would have it any other way. “Through my hand-cut paper works,” she says, “I want to remind us of our humanity and ability to create. There’s something very authentic, intimate and rewarding about things that we spend the time necessary to make with our hands, [paying] great attention to detail.” It’s an admirable sentiment, and one no doubt shared by Dior itself.