2015 National Mature Media Award WINNER

2015 National Mature Media Award WINNER
The Creative Landscape of Aging Wins a NMMA Award!

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Friday, August 9, 2013

An Interview with ED BING LEE: Never Not Knotting Fiber Art

Photographer: Ken Yanoviak
 
As a child of Chinese immigrants, Ed has taken his craft to the art world. He creates hand knotted small artful objects and the series “Delectable” is a charming and beautifully crafted replication of American junk food.


As a child of Chinese immigrants whose father died young and mother worked in a sewing factory, your roots were humble. You were fortunately recognized for your artistic talent in grade school and later went on to earn two Master Degrees and become a successful fiber artist.  Do you reflect on your achievement and the roads that paved the path to where you are now?

As I look back on the 50 odd years of working in the "arts", the experience has afforded me with much pleasure, some surprises, few disappointments and even regrets.   One regret is that I never took the time to explore a large scale knotted pieces,  a point of view undergoing revision in my current work as well as in future projects.


Your creative experience using knotting began around 1970 while you were teaching off loom techniques. What you say about knotting is that “You can go two-dimensional, three-dimensional, or you can do both at the same time. And there’s no machinery.” Certainly knotting does not require any machinery and it does not require tools either.  Since it is relegated to your hands only, do you treat your hands with special creams, gloves, or exercises to keep them nimble and able to handle all your creative ideas?

I have been fortunate in that I have not experienced any extreme trauma with the use of my hands. I don't have any special routine for their care. Of late I try to minimize any straining motions and have slowed my pace considerably. Mostly, I rest frequently and try to vary hand actions so that I'm not repeating the same motion endlessly.


Is all your work entirely fiber? That is to say, you primarily work with waxed linen, embroidery floss and synthetic ribbons although you have included paper and shoelaces in your Chawan series. Do you often explore using other linear or fibrous elements?

Linen and embroidery floss were the only materials I used when I started knotting. The two dimensional pieces as in the PICNIC series and as in the art history inspired figural pieces were made exclusively in these two materials. The warp was linen and embroidery floss and served to create the pictorial images, all in an effort to simulate a tapestry.

I started using waxed linen in my EARTHCRUST series because it allowed me to incorporate three dimensional projections as in a bas-relief. The structural character of the waxed linen also facilitated the making of free standing sculptural images which I  combined with the richer palette of the embroidery floss, the wellspring of the DELECTABLE series.

The CHAWAN series was a period of learning and experimentation for me.  I started to use new materials: ribbons, shoe laces, costume trimming and paper cords and ribbons. More importantly, I started to use a wider variety of knots and combined materials of different weights and textures within a single piece. To date the CHAWAN was my largest series numbering some fifty items.


In developing your art, you appear to have launched yourself from your knowledge as a painter and skill as a fiber architect. By interpreting the pointillism of Seurat, you created a knotted translation. In your “Delectables” series, your work is an interpretation of popular iconic American foods.  Each one is a series to build upon and consider. Are you currently working on another thematic project?

Currently I'm considering two distinct series. In the works are large sculptural pieces which contain aspects from the DELECTABLE series. The treatment is more abstract. The form, color and texture of the images in the DELECTABLES relied heavily on their actual counterparts. But in the new food series, I'm trying to center my attention on the elements of design and composition.   I would like these new pieces to have a presence as Art independent of their source.

The second series exists mostly in my imagination but I am beginning to see definable outlines. Possibly a series of miniatures combining art historical and contemporary images within a single pictorial format.


In the process of creating a new piece, do you plan for it by rendering sketches? If so, do you include structural elements?

As a preface to this question, the actual making of a knotted object is a long (emphasize long) process. Several months is not out of the question and a few select pieces require a more substantial block of time. My process is to picture the finished piece in my mind; consider the construction (materials, size, color and most importantly, the starting point); followed by visualizations in drawings with appropriate remarks and notations; then start knotting. It is very rare that the completed piece is like what I had imagined. A large part of the cause for rethink and adjustments is precipitated by the fact that all my sculptural pieces are hollow, which affects the design, the type of material and certainly the construction.  A case in point, I like my pieces to be self supporting which may entail reinforcing the walls.

Common practice for most sculptural knotters is to use a supporting form around which they knot. When finished, the support would be completely covered. This practice renders a much smoother and uniform surface.


You were honored to receive the Pew Fellowships in the Arts award, exhibited widely and your art is in esteemed collections. Does this success fuel your creative energy?

This question gave me a pause. All too often achievements are measured as a linear unfolding. as one milestone after another. However I feel the term achievement is bit too formal for me, preferring to think of the different stages as beads of different sizes, significances and magnitude of importance being strung together, representing the whole of my work while continue to I add beads. The following lines by Rudyard Kipling in his poem IF captures my sentiments very succinctly:
     "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
     And treat those two impostors just the same:…”


You say that “challenge moves my work forward”. You have certainly used challenge to move your life forward; now at 80 what creative challenge lies ahead?

I believe that what I have done in the past is an integral part of what I am doing now.  When starting a new series I seek to present these selfsame "borrowings" in a different light, it is a process of deconstructing and revitalizing my artistic vision.

Another aspect that I would like to see embodied in my work is what has been described by Hanneke Grootenboor  in his RHETORIC OF PERSPECTIVE that Art is capable of presenting complex thoughts that are often contradictory, so Art can represent..."thinking in a way that is superficial and profound, empty and meaningful, playful and serious."

Finally, I would like to have enough work for a solo in my mid 80's.  Is it possible to have it all?



 

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