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Friday, September 06, 2019, 11:11
Binding textiles, art and people
By Chitralekha Basu
Friday, September 06, 2019, 11:11 By Chitralekha Basu

Editor’s Note: Art curator Mizuki Takahashi moved to Hong Kong from Tokyo in 2016 to co-direct Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile — the cultural and community outreach wing of The Mills. In an interview with China Daily Hong Kong, she shares her excitement about finding new audiences for art that celebrates the city’s textile heritage. Excerpts:

Mizuki Takahashi, CO-director, Centre for Heritage, Arts & Textile. (CALVIN NG / CHINA DAILY)

You worked for high-profile art institutions in Tokyo as a curator. What prompted your move to Hong Kong? 

I was curious. The reason I moved to Hong Kong is because the art and culture industry here is going through a phase of growth. 

I was associated with Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum when it was being conceptualized. Then I worked for the prestigious Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito, the first hardcore contemporary art institution in Japan, as senior curator. I was on a sabbatical in London when I got a call to join The Mills. I didn’t think much before saying yes. Now I am enjoying the job’s many challenges. 

You took a degree in Italian renaissance art…

It was my first MA degree, followed by a second in Japanese girls’ comics (shojo manga). I like jumping from theme to theme and exploring orthodox ideas and subcultures. 

I am also interested in the hierarchy of art genres in the existing framework — whether handicraft qualifies as art, for example.

What are some of the challenges faced by you in your current role?

Since Centre for Heritage, Arts & Textile (CHAT) is a part of The Mills, people immediately assume we are a textiles museum — that we hang up pieces of expensive fabric, showcase gowns worn by aristocrats, etc. This is a notion I am here to challenge. 

People often ask if I’ve gone from being an art curator to a textile curator. The answer is I am enjoying art through the lens of textile, and also trying to investigate the great divide that seems to exist between fine art and textile art.   

Tell us about the ongoing Gathering Delights by N.S. Harsha. How does the show tie in with CHAT’s objectives?

CHAT’s objective is to explore the interaction between textiles, subjects, materials and artists. I think Harsha is an artist who fulfills CHAT’s objective in this regard.   

Why choose an Indian artist over someone from Hong Kong or the Chinese mainland for CHAT’s first major solo show? 

CHAT’s focus is on Asia. As a curator I usually don’t select artists on the basis of nationality. I found Harsha’s work interesting and I thought it might be possible to create an interesting synergy by getting him to present his work in CHAT’s framework.   

The range of ancillary events planned around Gathering Delights has much to do with sustainable farming and lifestyle practices. How is the story of textile heritage, which CHAT seeks to memorialize and celebrate, related to organic farming?

The textile industry is the second-worst industry when it comes to negative impact on the environment. Processes such as dyeing and spinning, along with garment waste, are responsible for a substantial portion of global carbon emissions. Harsha is hugely interested in the ecosystem and how nature inspires an artist’s practice. So he included Juli and Vivek Cariappa of Krac-A-Dawna Organic Farm in India in the show. 

We wanted to let the audience know that what we wear is strongly related to farming and sustainability. For example, although genetically controlled seeds remain a serious global issue, many people may not be conscious of where the material of the shirt on their back comes from.

What was the nature of the collaboration between organic farmers from India and their counterparts from Hong Kong? 

We wanted to create a platform for dialogue. Surviving as organic farmers is not easy these days. The idea was to have the Indian farmers share the knowledge and skills that have kept their business running. 

They collaborated with O-Veg, a vegetarian restaurant and farm in Yuen Long, to create recipes for the food served at our opening.   

What’s the idea behind the Future Parade event on October 18, featuring a public march by primary school children?

Harsha launched the Future Parade series in Taipei, followed by Tokyo. I think it’s a great idea to have Hong Kong kids imagine their future and express it in art. They will paint on white shirts and other objects and wear their creations in the parade. 

I’m told you get a lot of young visitors since The Mills opened to the public in March. 

Yes, a very wide range of people, including very small children, come to this space to enjoy it in their own ways. Sometimes I bump into families of three generations and hear grandparents reminisce about their time as workers, explaining the machinery on display to their grandchildren. Then they proceed to see the contemporary art exhibition.  

Are you satisfied with the public response to the various community outreach programs CHAT has been hosting? 

Tsuen Wan does not have a contemporary art gallery or museum, so I was a little unsure about the response before the opening of CHAT. But now I see that visitors are really curious and enthusiastic to learn. The exhibits in our interactive Welcome to the Spinning Factory exhibition come with lengthy descriptions. I see many people taking the time to read the literature and then going back to check out the exhibits. We invited people from the community to participate in the inaugural show, Performance in Pieces and Parts, designed by Heidi Voet from Taiwan. I really appreciate the public’s curiosity and openness to understand an art form that’s new to them.      

Alma Quinto, who was CHAT’s artist-in-residence, did a fabric sculpture-making project with Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers. Do you plan to continue collaborating with foreign maids? 

We are still in conversation with the workshop participants. There are certain constraints when it comes to foreign domestic workers. They get only one day off every week. Many of them are also based far away from Tsuen Wan, meaning that it costs them time and money to travel all the way here. Luckily, for Alma’s project, we were able to collaborate with a university professor and an NGO with plenty of experience working with foreign domestic workers. They provided the kind of mutual trust and understanding that is crucial and takes time to build.

The idea of migration is linked strongly to Hong Kong’s textile history. Does being a recent migrant yourself help you to relate better with this part of the city’s heritage? 

Sometimes when I work late at night in my office, which used to be part of a factory environment, I think about the textile workers who worked in this compound many years back and how they also worked late hours. 

If you go

N.S. Harsha: Gathering Delights

Curated by Mizuki Takahashi

Date: Until Nov 3

Venue: Centre for Heritage, Arts & Textile, The Mills, 45 Pak Tin Par Street, Tsuen Wan

www.mill6chat.org/event/n-s-harsha-gathering-delights/

Interviewed by Chitralekha Basu


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