Chang Yi (張毅), creative director of glass art workshop Liuligongfang (琉璃工房), isn’t a populist.
“The problem is that the more you educate yourself, the farther away you will be from the audience,” said Chang, who in 1986 abruptly left his career as a film director to focus instead on glass art.
True to its founder, Liuligongfang has just launched a major art exhibition that is uninterested in courting a mainstream audience. No subject is contemporary; everything is spiritual.
Only With Compassion (唯有慈悲) is divided into two parts, both tied to the Buddhist faith. One section takes flowers as its theme, a symbol of purity and life.
The other is based purely on Buddha. Created mostly by Yang Hui-shan (楊惠珊), they are serene sculptures with a melancholy undercurrent.
Formless, But Not Without Form (無相無無相, 1998) is a series of clear, ice-like blocks. Trapped inside are sculptures of Buddha, frozen and preserved in time like a woolly mammoth.
The Enlightenment (更見菩提) series was completed in 2010. They are intricately conceived figures: glass Buddhas fused to billowing wings of stainless steel, which behave as a metaphor for human misery.
Young people are always striving to avoid suffering, but suffering should be welcomed as a “significant part of life,” Chang said.
“Here, you can still see the Buddha through the steel, yet the Buddha form embraces and harmonizes with it.”
Like all Liuligongfang works, the glass Buddhas were created with an expensive and technically difficult pate-de-verre method, or “lost-wax casting.”
In this method, a mound of wax is carved in the shape of the desired sculpture. The artist encases the wax form with plastic and then steams out the wax to create an empty mold. This mold is packed with crushed glass paste — the pate — and heated in a kiln. After cooling, the glass sculpture is dusted off and sand-etched.
If you are Chang, the process can be completed in a matter of months. His sketches are light and simple. He delegates tasks and doesn’t hover. “I just say, ‘do this, I will come back later,’” he said.
At the exhibition, Chang is showing his own series of Buddhist deities, which date to 2001. They are statuettes created by blending crushed glass of every color. The resulting shade is black. Edges are left unfinished, so that the Buddhas, a re-imagining of an abstract godly form, are shockingly imperfect, animated by an aggressive claim to reality.
Yang’s technical acumen is different. Her plans are grand and their realization is precisely controlled.
The exhibition houses three of her Guanyin (觀音) sculptures; each was subjected to a tireless scrutiny. At the show opening last week, Yang was still putting the finishing touches on her latest Guanyin, an elaborate glass sculpture with many pairs of arms, each pair delicately suspended in a gesture different from the rest.
Planning for the sculpture began four years ago; just the heating and cooling took one year and two months, Yang said. At two meters tall, it’s currently the world’s tallest glass Buddha.
In the flower gallery, Yang is showing Springtime Dance (春之舞), a large crystal flower with stamens tapering delicately into the shape of dancers. It is Yang’s breakout work — a limited edition that’s now part of the collection of the Corning Museum of Glass and Denmark’s Glasmuseet Ebeltof.