This article appeared in Baccarat’s March 2016 issue as part of ‘Back to the Future’, a photo profile on five young individuals and duos who are reinventing traditional arts for a modern audience.
STICKYLINE: MIC LEONG & SOILWORM LAI
While a childhood pastime would have made for a rather neat if not poignant narrative, Mic Leong and Soilworm Lai deny having any obsession with folding paper when they were young. “We folded paper planes, but who didn’t?” says 30-year-old Leong, who met Lai when they were both industrial design students at Polytechnic University. Leong later went into toy design while Lai worked at a packaging company. It was at the latter’s office that the idea for stickyline germinated. “We had all these paper-cutting machines around us, so we thought: why not experiment?” Leong explains.
An invitation to exhibit at Design Mart in 2011, where they transformed outlines of iconic Hong Kong buildings into paper helmets, was followed by the participatory exhibition Coast Modules/Polygon Landfilling at the 2012 edition of deTour, where viewers were invited to ‘reclaim’ the room with folding polygons.
Their obsession with paper – and folding it – is connected to an affinity for polygons. “We’re fascinated with the interplay of two- and three-dimensional objects. Paper is flexible,” says 32-year-old Lai with a shrug. “Not only can it be cut up and twisted into a myriad of forms, it also comes in whatever colour you like.”
“We also wanted to work with a material that would allow a quicker development process, so the focus will be on the craftsmanship rather than function, as opposed to product design, which can take ages,” Lai adds. The paper that stickyline uses, averaging at least 250 gsm (grams per square metre), is sourced from two shops in Sham Shui Po and Cheung Sha Wan.
“Not really,” says Leong when asked whether he has a favourite paper type. “I’m more concerned with whether a project is interesting or not.” Meanwhile, Lai notes, “If it was up to me, I’d want something that looks as plain and neutral as possible. Graphics have never been our strength, so I want to focus on the architecture of the piece.”
There’s no denying that a child in your typical metropolis like Hong Kong is more likely to turn to a smartphone than a piece of paper for entertainment. Beyond pure aesthetics, stickyline also wants to provoke thinking about the ways this traditional craft can appeal to a modern audience.
While a gigantic polar bear polygon for Lane Crawford Shanghai in 2013 touched on the theme of virtual reality, walking on the paper saw the duo furnish the entrance of last year’s Affordable Art Fair with vibrant paper blooms.
At Hong Kong: Constant Change, a participatory installation first exhibited at Milan Design Week 2014 that was also brought to PMQ in Hong Kong, the duo had viewers draw on pieces of paper before attaching them to a cornstalk. “It was during Occupy Central so we were surprised that there weren’t more provocative messages,” Leong recalls. “A lot just said ‘to health’, though it is true that the younger ones are more creative.”
The duo is participating in Singapore’s SingaPlural design festival this month, from March 10 to 15, where they will fill a room with paper cockroaches. It sounds like a nightmare reminiscent of Tam Wai-ping’s inflatable cockroach at Mobile M+: Inflation! at the West Kowloon waterfront promenade two years ago, though Lai denies any association. “It’s going to be great. Originally we wanted the cockroaches to die one after another; in other words, to flip them upside down during the course of the fair. But the curator thought it might be too scary,” he says before pausing. “We’ve yet to figure out what to do with the legs though.”