When two worlds collide

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am


Contemporary jewellery design and traditional Chinese arts such as calligraphy and seal carving are not the likeliest of combinations.

But father-daughter team Tang Cheong-shing and Tricia Tang Tsz-chong have put those disparate art forms together in a new exhibition this month.

The small show is called 'Huh?!' - a nod to the odd pairing of themes. Tang Cheong-shing is a traditional Chinese arts teacher with more than 40 years of experience in calligraphy, martial arts and seal engraving. His daughter is an overseas-educated jewellery designer.

When Tricia first approached her dad with the idea of showcasing their work jointly, he had his doubts. 'He liked the idea, but was worried about connecting such contrasting concepts,' she says.

But the end result is an eclectic series highlighting the common denominator between their two crafts and a cultural bridge between two generations.

Tricia came up with her works by producing variations on the pieces created by her father. For instance, she combined pages from a Bible she owned and a Buddhist sutra from her father to form a paper necklace, and created bulky triangular-shaped rings to mimic the shape of the mountains in a scenic scroll painting by her dad.

'I wanted to respond, rather than putting out previous works or creating concepts out of nowhere,' Tricia says with a slight Australian accent, the result of 5?years spent living in Sydney. She completed a degree in visual arts there before coming back to do a master's in design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. After working as a commercial jewellery designer, she now runs her own contemporary jewellery business.

Tang's only child also confesses that she's not very good at Chinese. In fact, it's one of the reasons she left Hong Kong to go abroad. 'I have never really been interested in Chinese characters,' she says.

'Tradition ... Chinese tradition requires a long time to study and it's quite boring, right?' Tang senior says, looking every bit the martial arts master in black tracksuit pants and a loose, unbuttoned white shirt.

Surprising words from a man who makes a living teaching precisely that: he runs classes in his Wan Chai studio and also teaches calligraphy at HKU Space.

But while Tang is deeply devoted to Chinese heritage, it was he who wanted Tricia to go overseas for high school. He wanted her to have a global education, without the intense pressures of the Hong Kong examination system.

Tang is also remarkably frank about the level of appeal his craft has to younger generations. 'Only a small population is willing to learn this. It's difficult.'

He points out one of his exhibition works - a hanging calligraphy scroll of the Heart Sutra, one of the best-known Buddhist scriptures. It took him six hours to complete. The entire scripture has to be written out in one sitting, he says, in a quiet place and with a still mind.

Nevertheless, Tricia says she takes after her father in her own way. Watching him hone his skills while growing up led her to study art, albeit a different genre. And although she's not a practitioner of Chinese kung fu like her father, she dabbles in other fighting styles.

'I'm interested in learning different martial arts from other countries,' she says. 'I used to learn taekwondo and kendo instead of Chinese martial arts. My father's influence is subtle but strong; and it's never quite the same.'

When asked what they have planned for Father's Day, they look at each other and share a small smile. Tricia says: 'We usually just go home and have dinner together. It's too crowded and expensive these days. Even for our birthdays, we prefer to keep it simple.'

Huh?! Traditional Chinese Art vs Contemporary Jewellery is at Bishop Lei International House Lobby and Terrace Room, 4 Robinson Road, Mid-Levels. Mon-Sun 7am-11pm until June 30. Pieces from the exhibition are for sale. Call 6050 2634 for details