In her studio in the depths of Kowloon, Elaine Yan Ling Ng weaves magic out of materials. The British-born, Hong Kong-based textile designer is the brains behind The Fabrick Lab, a modern-day Willy Wonka’s workshop that combines fabrics and technology to create pioneering products, installations and interiors.
Ng has previously worked with brands including Nissan and Nokia, and is currently collaborating with Swarovski on an installation for the Art Central fair in Hong Kong this year.
This installation is an expansion of one of Ng’s existing pieces, Sundew, which she unveiled at the Design Miami / Basel fair in June 2015. In articles published since, Sundew has been described as a “sound-interactive kinetic textile installation,” but even that mouthful doesn’t quite convey the intricacy of the work.
Sundew currently encompasses three jellyfish-like forms that are made from strips of a unique “crystal fabric” that Ng has created. Each of these shapes is attached to a pole, which it slowly coils and curls its way around in response to the sound and movement being generated around it. These languid, mesmerising movements are designed to mimic the actions of the carnivorous Sundew plant as it devours its prey. For Art Central, Ng is adding two new forms to the existing three.
When did you first become interested in textiles?
I have been interested in textiles since I was very young. My grandma taught me how to stitch; she’s the person who taught me how to make my first paper wallet. It’s actually really simple – you fold papers together and then stitch with needles. Suddenly, after that, I fell in love with needlework.
When Swarovski first approached you I understand that they showed you around a “crystal room”, which is filled with crystals of all different sorts and sizes. Were you immediately inspired?
There were so many samples and applications that I had not seen before– I was overwhelmed and very inspired. There were hundreds of ideas firing through my head but at the time, I didn’t know how to really turn them into reality.
So did it take you some time to decide whether you could work with the material?
It did take some for sure, but we didn’t have much time to think about it. It was quite challenging because there were too many materials that we wanted to work with but it wasn’t easy because I wasn’t familiar with the Swarovski crystal characteristics.
What difficulties did you encounter in making the installation?
Understanding the behavior of the crystal was very important to me, and learning how to apply the crystals on to a surface that I had been building was really important. And then after studying that, finding out how I could make crystal look like a structural element rather than an embellished element was key because [I wanted to show] how sophisticated it is and not to use it as a decorative material.
Why did you decide to make the installation interactive?
I think I really enjoy creating engagement between the visitors and the space. It’s a spatial installation – it’s about how we invite people to engage with the installation without intruding on them specifically or intervening with the activity. I want the visitor to own a moment of their own, to create a dialogue. And I also want to make the design more human and encourage people to use their five senses. That’s how we live naturally.