|In the second half of the 19th century, due to the rise of the Industrial Revolution, traditional handicraft manufacturers in Europe were outraced by factories, where large machines were used. Crude machines mass-produced cheap but less-qualified products. People who were obsessed with fine and exquisite handwork became worried that traditional techniques and creativity might vanish someday, and a number of artists and intellectuals started looking for a style that was unique. And the Arts and Crafts Movement began in England. John Ruskin (1819-1900, British writer, artist, and critic), a chief spokesman of the movement, made his efforts in The Stones of Venice linking the ethical and social wellness of a country to the quality of its architectures and art.|
In the second half of the 19th century, due to the rise of the Industrial Revolution, traditional handicraft manufacturers in Europe were outraced by factories, where large machines were used. Crude machines mass-produced cheap but less-qualified products. People who were obsessed with fine and exquisite handwork became worried that traditional techniques and creativity might vanish someday, and a number of artists and intellectuals started looking for a style that was unique. And the Arts and Crafts Movement began in England. John Ruskin (1819-1900, British writer, artist, and critic), a chief spokesman of the movement, made his efforts in The Stones of Venice linking the ethical and social wellness of a country to the quality of its architectures and art. He believed that the techniques and creativity of mankind should be respected and highlighted in a healthy society. Ruskin’s idea projected a far-reaching influence then, and even went beyond the domain of art. He was depicted by Tolstoy as one of the few who thought with their souls. Wilde and Proust were also passionate about Ruskin’s philosophy with the latter translating his works into French. As a prelude to Modernism, the movement had a sweeping impact on the Art Nouveau, De Stijl in the Netherlands, and the Vienna Secession; the result was the birth of Bauhaus, a new school of artistic design that had a profound influence on people’s life in terms of architecture, industrial design, modern theater, and fine arts.
In fact, the world today is no different. The booming electronic and information technology makes it difficult for people to feel anything is worth cherishing. It used to take us a long time to pose in front of the camera before a picture was taken, and all that is replaced with an easy succession of snapshots. Music and movies, old or new, are downloaded at ease, and those old collections become anything but precious. Time progresses at an unpredictable pace. It seems that it is jeering at people who are nostalgic: you have nothing but a mobile phone that would soon become out of style and some sentiment that may be gone any moment.
There is nothing revolutionary in a conversation with Kang Jian-Fei. Nor will you feel bitter radical emotions when seeing his new works. He seems to quietly put forward a question without aiming at IKEA or any other industrial or electronic products. Even his attitude in raising the question is not aggressive at all, but with certain warmth and tenderness. The materials employed in his new works are no longer two-dimensional; he uses products of IKEA, a famous international brand. He engraves images and words on daily consumer goods with his sophisticated and expressive gravers, endowing them with an unexpected poetic quality.
Since it was founded in 1948, the Sweden-based IKEA has grown into a global manufacturer with approximately 300 stores in 36 different countries. The largest consumer group is located in Germany, a country smaller than Sichuan Province, where there are 45 IKEA stores. Apparently the simple, practical aspect of IKEA products appeal to Germans. The hot business also gives rise to acrimonious jealousy and there goes the German interpretation of “IKEA”: Idiot Kaufen Eben Alles! (Idiots Buys It All!) People often go crazy shopping at IKEA: you start out wanting to get a quilt, and then you get some covers, then you get some pillow cases, some candles, some plates, some photo frames, and then an ice cream and a pack of Swedish meat balls on your way out. When you’re ready to leave the store, you realize all you really needed was a cup. Why do people become idiots and want to buy whatever there is when they go into IKEA? Actually IKEA is a beneficiary of the Arts and Crafts Movement. By taking the advantages and abandon the shortcomings of industrialization, IKEA produces a variety of goods in high quality at lower costs, combined with modern design concepts. The famous Bauhaus design of Freischwinger, a type of chair without rear legs, has been one of the best-selling products of IKEA. IKEA’s machine-based production and plate-type packaging help reduce labor and transportation costs.
There are two sides to everything, however. What is good may become bad someday and vice versa. At a time of excessive consumption, the environment is seriously damaged and environmental protection has been an important matter in every country. Cheap goods from mass production will generate more garbage and a lot more energy would be consumed in dealing with recyclable waste.
Kang Jian-Fei is good at bidirectional thinking. He is an idealist without renouncement of the world and a materialist who attaches equal importance to spiritual growth. He acknowledges that mass production may result in cheap, democratic art, but at the same time regards mass production as a threat to creativity and individuality. Engraving and mechanical manufacturing are different in approach but similar in purpose. Both can be duplicated in a large number for wide distribution and are relatively less expensive. The new works by Kang Jian-Fei are still traditional in techniques: the engravings on chopping boards are produced with techniques similar to those of traditional wood carving. What distinguishes Kang’s engravings is a way of thinking. The individuality and humanity of the artist becomes more outstanding in Kang’s work than in traditional art. With his new works, Kang Jian-Fei seems to be asking: shall we slow down a little in a time of great changes and think about how we should balance creation and life?
Tattoos are popular in both the East and the West. Young people object to uniformity, hoping to be unique and different. Kang’s engravings are like tattoos, and these “tattoos” are different from the ones we usually see; there is no defiance in these works. He transforms life with traditional wood carving in a good will and in a constructive manner, not rebelling against mechanical products that are “free of souls,” but subtly endowing them with grace.