Since the rise of Modernist design, our lives have become inundated with the concept of material wealth. Simple geometric shapes are emblematic of such design, constituting everything from small cups to large buildings, with many such objects being mass produced at great speed and low cost. The Modernist design process often removes all unnecessary decorations, focusing on functionality over aesthetic; brands such as IKEA and Apple have adopted these simple shapes and clean lines to great effect when designing their products.
Although for many in the Western world, basic material needs in life are easily met, mass production and design continues because of a fundamental and overriding belief that we could and should always own more. As a result, human society must constantly mobilize materials from the natural world so that mass production can continue. Commodities are generally recognized as products that can be exchanged and that meet people’s needs. If products are useless and nobody wants to buy them, they cannot become commodities. When designing, manufacturing, and selling items made from natural materials in conditions of rapid mass production, the priority is acquiring saleable products quickly and efficiently. This means that only the central part of materials such as leather is refined and used to make products. The offcuts of these materials, which are usually deemed obsolete and thus abandoned, are scarcely seen, used, or acknowledged. However, it is my belief that these neglected marginal materials have a unique energy and symbolic significance.
With this in mind, I chose leather as the subject of my research. Once the central part of a piece of leather has been used to make products, irregular shapes made up of edge pieces remain.
As leather is animal-derived, it can be deemed a natural material. After cutting down the central part, the scrapped leather is formed of cutting lines and natural lines. This kind of leather provokes questions of margins, while also prompting an immense emotional response, at least for me personally. Some scrapped leather cannot be used for mass production, because this part of the leather is more textured. This texture is formulated as lines, which are caused by the high frequency of movement in the area close to the limbs of animals.
As I have already said, Modernist design makes regular use of straight lines and rectangular shapes – a feature that is especially evident in Modernist architecture. Simple shapes such as these are particularly convenient for mass production in factories, with steel, glass, concrete and other materials being widely used in building design to ensure rapid production. These processes often lead to the rejection of whole, naturally occurring materials, with parts cut away to leave only central pieces, which are pristine and ready to use immediately. Yet this is an incomplete creative process. The marginal leather extracted from the central part by human beings, having been abandoned by human society, cannot be returned to its source and admired for what it is, as it is no longer in its natural, uncut form.
A piece of scraped leather has two edges which tell two different stories. One edge has a very straight line left behind my industrial production – this is the side to which the central piece of leather was once attached. It can be thought of as a symbol of modern human civilization. The other edge, however, is often far more irregular, an uneven shape representing animal growth and the natural world. Between these two edges and two worlds are a myriad of flaws that have not been accepted or offered meaningful and sustained attention. In my opinion, the morphology and pattern of this marginal space between two worlds has often been ignored. There is a wealth of content and value just waiting to be discovered.
My work uses leather stains to highlight traces of the scraped leather, revealing hidden images and patterns which symbolize lines on the skin produced by the natural growth of animals. This process can be thought of as a new means of image production.
Mineral colours, as some of the earliest colours used by human beings, are extracted from natural ores. In my work, such colours symbolize a particular mode of thinking and of art production, as they conform to palettes used in traditional Chinese paintings and murals, and in Eastern art more generally. The combination of mineral color and leather is also a means of combining human and natural worlds.
The lines on the edge leather are formed through the growth of animals. From birth to death, a cow, a sheep, and a horse all record wind, water, vegetation and the natural world’s processes within one piece of leather. As such, leather is not so much a material as a notebook bearing nature’s stories - an unfolding picture scroll recording natural life.
Unfortunately, all too often people only notice the smoothest (and to my mind the most boring!) part of the leather, using a cutting line to separate these interesting stories completely from human civilization. As a result, these leather edges and corners become fragments of stories left by nature in human society, free-flowing between the world of nature and human society. I depict the rich lines on these corners of leather, which adds human consciousness to natural things. I do this not only as a means to use nature to express humanity’s subjectivity, but also to express natural processes through human behaviours.
Animal skin records many stories, and various lines within it form images. These images lie somewhere between representation and abstraction, as if they were created during the formation of the earth, through cracks in rocks, sandstorms blown by the wind, meteorites burning in the universe, lightning breaking through the night sky - as if they were some kind of unknown monster. The lines on marginal leather, left as a natural trace, are unpredictable, which distinguishes them from artificially designed patterns, leaving much more room for imagination.
This work is intended to draw attention to the stories hidden on the edge leather. I do not undertake this process in order to erase these patterns; rather, through painting, I add my own understanding and interpretation of the edge leather’s stories, making them more easily visible to others. At the same time, these lines, as naturally formed images, are highlighted through painting, creating an originally twofold image to interpret.