updated 15 Feb 2011, 16:50
user id password
Thu, Feb 10, 2011
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
The art of silence
by Cynthia Loh

It's been 24 years since Loretta Yang and partner Chang Yi pursued their love of liuli, an ancient Chinese art of glass-blowing. They have come a long way from incurring a crushing debt to finance their venture and share the lessons they learnt along the way.

Loretta also talks about her new collection, Silence Within Fire, as the founders celebrate a new store opening at Marina Bay Sands.

Diva: What is different about Silence Within Fire from your previous series of glass art?

Loretta: Like the famous glass artist Emilé Gallé who existed a century ago, it certainly was no mean feat creating blown glass with three-dimensional flowers.

Similarly, in this collection, Silence Within Fire, the works of art were created from glass blown over a long period of time (viz., many hours) before the pâte-de-verre flowers are being joint on the vessels. This method requires great precision as well as an eye for colour (viz., to be able to fine-tune the alchemy of elements like temperature, raw materials, the exact amount of time needed to arrive at the correct colour/s). As such, backed by 23 years of hard work in liuli, [prior] experience in film as well as the resources and technical backup of a large team governed by a company, LIULIGONGFANG has become very successful and adept at precision in craft and colour.

During the last two decades, we have challenged ourselves by creating works that push the  boundaries in magnitude and richness of colour. Therefore, pushing the boundaries of technique is a natural progression.

Working on the R&D behind the technique of combining pâte-de-verre (glass paste) with glass- blowing for the Silence Within Fire collection took us close to three years. Due to the challenges of combining both techniques in production, it is very rare in the world of glass art.

During the experimentation, we noticed that if the flowers and vessels are not joined together at the appropriate temperature, they will break apart when sent to the kiln the next day. The work of glass blowing tests the craftsman’s strength, endurance and patience as these vessels are huge, weighing in at about 30 kilograms each. These vessels need to be formed pretty swiftly and risk deformation if not set (i.e. formed) quickly enough.

The process of joining the flower together with the bottle takes place very quickly in that split moment and requires good teamwork, rapport and chemistry to succeed.

The highlight of our work? The results are supremely rewarding. Silence Within Fire is a collection of 7 superbly beautiful works. Like a beautiful Chinese ink painting featuring languid landscapes of mountains, waterfalls and florals, the vases in the Silence Within Fire collection are like mountains – a canvas , a albeit a very beautiful one – from which hardy flowers appear in their delicate and elegant state, creating a highly stylized and poetic piece of work.

The motif of flowers in Silence Within Fire has been a very powerful source of inspiration for us in the past 23 years. Consider our ‘The Flowers are Beautiful and The Moon is Full’ collection (i.e. the beautiful and perfect life – there is a sense of regularity and permanence); ‘Proof of Awareness’ collection (i.e. the transience and the ephemeral qualities of life – a strong juxtaposition against the earlier collection) and the Silence Within Fire collection (i.e. the intrinsic quality of life, viz., the highly-challenging technique involved could be likened to human procreation and the sanctity of nature. Such is the level of challenge experienced in creating this collection that it brings to mind the complexity of nature’s creation.). If you consider these works in the context of life as we know it, you’d find that life is imbued with a tenacious quality.

"Moon is full" "Flowers are beautiful"

Diva: I believe you have been working on your glass art a long time. What have you learnt about yourself in your time making glass art?

Loretta & Chang Yi: Yes, we have been working on glass for 24 years since 1987.

While making glass art, we have travelled to meet other glass makers in the likes of Brittanique and Murano (in Venice), for example. We travel never for vacations but always for liuli  (liuli=Chinese glass art). In travelling and getting to know ourselves, we are closer to knowing who we are, our environment and the meaning of life.

Diva: Both of you have branched into setting up an art animation studio and a restaurant in Shanghai. Why did you choose to go into these industries?

Loretta & Chang Yi: TMSK restaurant in Xintiandi, Shanghai – it is a way to showcase how liuli can be used in more everyday ways. Like tableware in the homes. It is so attractive that we get tourists making TMSK a regular stop when they visit Xintiandi.

Diva: Do you believe you are any closer to sharing Chinese culture with the world and the Chinese population?

Loretta & Chang Yi: Certainly. We think of ourselves as being in the business of communication – to communicate Chinese culture and values like benevolence, kindness, goodness. Liuli is a medium for us to communicate the culture, values and messages. This will be a mission for life and we will continue to work hard in this regard.

Diva: Both of you took out a NT$160m loan in 1987 to set up your glass studio and create your works of art.  How did it feel when you had to bear up such a heavy burden?

Loretta & Chang Yi: We mortgaged our houses as well as the property of our relatives. We lived in a debt of USD3 million for more than 10 years! We try not to think about it though the worry of bankruptcy crossed our mind very frequently during those years when we were starting out. Thankfully, we cleared the debt in 5 to 6 years [since 1987, when we started].

Diva: Does being partners in life help your relationship as business partners? Can you
describe some of the highs and lows of your relationship?

Liuligongfang opens at Marina Bay Sands

Chang Yi: Certainly. With company [companionship], you are able to go further in that
journey/mission of creating liuli and communicating Chinese culture and values. I run the management and business side of things while Loretta is the artist who drives the creativity.

The downside of it all is that, what happens when we have disagreements or when we don’t see eye-to-eye?

Loretta admits that she has a real knack for the art of persuasion. She’d still be reminding me of something she wanted me to do 3 years later and hoping her persuasion works.

She’s really patient.

Diva: Can you share any business lessons that you have learnt as you work on your glass art?

Chang Yi: Learning about management, how to run a company and how to communicate Chinese values effectively through our creatives and communications – that’s probably been the greatest lesson for me on the business side of things.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2011 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.