Thu, Jun 02, 2005 - Page 13 News List

The way of 'liuli'

The man and the woman behind the liuli phenomenon left the film industry to find spiritual inspiration through making glass

By Diana Freundl  /  STAFF REPORTER

Carving and polishing

Success, however, did not come easy -- or cheap. Chang estimated an initial investment of US$5,000 and six months would produce results, but in the end it took three years and cost them more than US$1 million, Yang said, adding that the expenses required them to mortgage everything, including her mother's home.

"Liuligongfang is here because of the support of our friends and family. It is like a child, that has grown up and matured into a big cultural enterprise," she said.

"Of course we became frustrated, but we started at ground zero so to give up and try something else meant we would have to start at zero again. We just considered each part a learning experience, even our failures."

In the beginning, most of their expenses were a result of the technique they use, known as pate-de-verre or lost-wax casting. It is considered the most costly and time-consuming method because it involves several molds and casting stages in addition to 12 steps for carving and polishing. Glass blowing and casting procedures were introduced to China from Europe during the Tang dynasty, but for various reasons they disappeared and were not reintroduced until the 19th century.

There are many simple and economical techniques used for glass craft, but each is limited in the amount of detail it can achieve. For tableware or jewelry, glass blowing is favored because one re-useable mold can be utilized. In art pieces that require a lot of detail, lost-wax is the only technique available. This is the case for Yang's Chinese designs and religious motifs.

Although Chang is also a skilled glass craftsman, he took on the administration side of the venture near the beginning and left Yang to produce the artwork. Yang considers herself shy, and during interviews where both are present, Chang will do most of the talking. In 1997, he suffered a heart attack and Yang was forced to learn more about the business responsibilities. This, she explained, was why Chang stayed outside the room until the end of our interview. "He thinks I need practice. If he was here I would just let him answer all the questions."

She has no difficultly speaking about the fame and fortune Liuligongfang has brought to her life, but insists that her real passion rests in the hands-on aspect of the job. "Without that I don't think I would still be interested in this work."

ESOTERIC ART

When Yang started sculpting, she said she had no idea what to make, and it was Chang who suggested she start with a Buddha statue. From then until now, she has continued to sculpt Buddhist figures. Initially, she had no religious ties with Buddhism, but over the years her work has brought her closer to the religion. Now, the way she speaks suggests that creating Buddhist iconography is like an esoteric form of religious practice to her.

"When I am sculpting Buddha's face I try to feel his attributes, his calmness and clear mindedness. Just like in meditation, it is a form of meditation for me. I comprehend the teachings of the Buddha now and I also realize there are some teachings that provide me with direction in life, she said, reciting scripture from a Buddhist sutra. "`When the moment comes and I attend the enlightenment my body and my soul become like crystal -- transparent, pure and flawless.' When I first read this I began to think it would be possible for me to use glass as a medium to teach the philosophy of Buddhism."

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