I don't do the traditional filigree but the one I want. Filigree Face

Published: 21.02.2020
Felicia Li Felicia Li
Felicia Li
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In the Spring Festival of 2020, while the fire of “the battle against Novel Coronavirus” is spreading across the country, I just stay in quiet Beijing and do my works. During this unexpected free time, I conduct new contemplation and return to the trivial details of life.

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When tiding up the works I have made, straggling as they are, I find that they are actually many enough to fill up a whole wall cabinet. From my first work, a jewelry called Fun Inside a Crack, to the present ones, I always feel that there is always a growing line around me, or in another word, leading me. Just like the fancy stone that lined around the hero - Kim Ki-woo in Bong Joon ho’s Parasite (2019). You never know if it will bring you luck or risk. I think it is the same with my line, which has made me sink into the dark hole as well as pulled me up to see the bright and clear lake.

Felicia Li, Fun Inside a Crack series, 2014, Pecan shell, silver

Felicia Li, Fun Inside a Crack series, 2014, Pecan shell, silver

Felicia Li, Fun Inside a Crack series, 2014, Pecan shell, silver

That “line” is “insisting on exploring the innovative direction of combining the contemporary art with traditional Chinese craft and culture”. It has trapped me in the same place over and over. I don’t know what is the purpose and significance of these works that I have pondered over, and what time these failed material experiments can be carried on. I keep asking myself and the colleagues of my studio about these issues and the conversation always ends with the words from Teacher Feng that "You needn’t to worry about what they are, just do it first before thinking about any other problems." I have to say that he can always throw a wet blanket on me in time. Before long, I could make something new.
There was also a period of time when I hated to see the works of filigree because they were either too complex or put in an untimely position, the skill-showing of which ruined their beauty to me. Even when someone said that I can do the filigree craft, I would explain that "I don't do the traditional filigree but the one I want.” But what I forget was that, I copied and imitated quite many traditional patterns of filigree (royal ones or folk ones) in those years of studying filigree craft. I can't deny their existence, without which I would never be able to refine or improve the filigree technology when carrying out experiments on the material of my works.

Filigree Hairpin of the Shui nationality, 2014

Research in the Shui nationality, 2014 & 2016

The purpose of studying filigree craft at the very beginning was only to know how to do it. Later on, however, more personal thoughts have appeared in my mind: If I want to teach others this craft, I have to create works which are more complicated so as to make myself more persuasive; Again, in the lessons, I need to explain to students how the filigree's styles changed in the history from the court to the folk, and how the filigree craft rose again gradually among the folk after state-owned modern filigree factories closing down, as well as to think about how to reply to the students' questions (for example, how to charge for a gram of filigree after finishing his study.); When making high-end customized products, aiming to satisfy the "collection value" of customers, I have to measure and compare every material and pattern back and forth; In order to make the filigree of "Laurel of the Mind" series more high-end, I integrated the concept of Shui nationality's Horsetail Embroidery into it, etc. I hope I can forget all these things and go back to the very beginning. When I saw the real filigree works for the first time in my life: I was attracted by the even but non-mechanical texture surface.. Although I didn't know how to make those tiny bumps at that time, the pure white silver filigree reminded me of the texture sewed by grandma’s needles and threads when I was a child.

 Left: weaved silver filigree during my practice, 2013; Right: experimental mold-turnover of material, 2019

Testing the material of Filigree Face

So, I do the mold-turnover for the surface texture of the previous filigree works, thinking that now I can truly express the most charming part of the filigree and its significance to me. With only the visual part left, it seems that the psychological interference of how expensive and how complicated they are can be reduced. I think the feedback that most artists or designers really want is "How this special work of yours being was created", rather than "Wow, how long did it take you to make it".

Left: mold-turnover of material experimental, 2019; Right: filigree pendant, 2016

Left: a sample of filigree sachet for course, 2018; Right: mold-turnover of material experimental, 2019

Redundant filigree parts, 2015

Material experiment: from filigree mold → casting silver → firing enamel,  2019

On the one hand, I remind myself of the importance of crafts because without all the previous practice in filigree, how could I get the visual enjoyment of these filigree casting products? On the other hand, whether the crafts during the production can be replaced with other crafts at will? If so, whether this kind of replacement results from the problem of our design language? (I asked many traditional designers this question because when they described their works, they always said that some parts can be made both of filigree or jade carving or any craft) I think this problem is solved in my work this time by the combination of molding-turnover casting and enamel, and the visual effect and texture I want could be retained.

 Felicia Li, Laurel of the Mind Necklace, 2016

Material test, 2019; Parts of the enamel to be fired (Filigree Face earrings 4), 2020

Material test, 2019; Parts of the enamel to be fired (Filigree Face earrings 4), 2020

When it comes to whether the crafts can be replaced, there is another phenomenon: A large number of cold-molded enamel (fake enamel made of resin) on the market has replaced the real enamel, and their workmanship is becoming more and more exquisite with increasingly better quality, which, although attracts controversy, it is a feature of the times which I do not reject. Even designers use fake enamel on real filigree and create an integration of two crafts with unmatched values, what I care more about is the designer's intention or design concept (the explanation of merely reducing the cost seems not well-founded). What is irony is that I use "fake filigree, real enamel" in my experiment. Every jewelry I made with the familiar and commercial look is actually a unique new work that can be traced back to a work created six or seven years ago. The aim of this experiment, in fact, is to break the complicated and over-grand design language of previous works and to bring more self-reflection through Filigree Face.

Color Test of enamel, 2019

Left: material experiment; Right: ear studs of Filigree Face 8; 2020

Details of the surface of Filigree Face

Filigree Face is a new concept formed by taking away the traditional cognition of technology. It could be expressed by various patterns presented by materials, or by people's pursuit of the beauty of art. Although there are different understandings of craft, the consensus we hope to reach is that the value of it should not only be limited to the "selling" of its historical value and the efforts of predecessors but also to create a deeper inner beauty by the later generations.

Felicia Li, Necklace, Filigree face, 2020, Silver, enamel, natural silk, Photo by: Sunmo

About the author

Felicia Li is a contemporary art jewelry designer, She has been exploring the innovation direction in which contemporary art jewelry design and the traditional Chinese crafts are integrated. She formally established the Vonmo personal studio in 2016.