Artist UUendy Lau Works With Nature Through Natural Dye

“Man’s relationship with nature doesn’t have to be one of destruction; we can work with nature, too,” Growing up, local artist UUendy Lau has been passionate about animals and about getting close to them, which in turns inspires her artistic practice. Recently, she has been experimenting with animal characters and their relationship with humans. UU came to the realisation that everything boils down to nature. As environmental protection becomes the new norm, we foster in our young an appreciation of preserving our natural environment. In reality, though, it’s easier said than done, “The lack of proximity between ourselves and nature creates the illusion that it’s got nothing to do with us. Humans are selfish; we need to learn to act from the bottom of our hearts,” Reflecting on her own connection with nature, UU believes that self-initiated environmental protection begins with empathy.

Up close and personal with nature in Peng Chau

Three years ago, UU moved from Tsuen Wan to Peng Chau to get closer to nature. “Nature has been on my doorstep ever since,” Slow living on Lantau and being immersed in nature have inspired her to observe her surroundings more closely, “I used to take things at face value whilst living in the city. Now I have more time to observe and explore the little things that have until now eluded me, like the waltz of falling leaves. One of my works actually took inspiration from this observation in particular,” At the heart of UU’s work is the personification of elements of nature, conferring on plants the bodies of fairies and a full spectrum of personalities from the unconfident to the impatient. Occasionally, she would project her own on nature, “I like looking at stones, because no two stones are ever the same. They may not attract others’ attention, but for me, they are a reminder that each person has their own place and value in this world. It’s an incredible blessing and pride to be able to find someone who appreciates you, and who shares the same goal as you,” Branches, too, are the subject of UU’s study. UU sees their sunward limbs as a metaphor for her own indecisiveness and imagination. Stretching into the sky, they bring her a lot of positivity, “For me, nature is full of positivity. The slow pace of living in Peng Chau has this calming effect on me, too.”

Working with nature through natural dye

With “Colours of the Earth”, UU gains a whole new understanding of nature. Colours of the earth refer to the changing seasons, manifested this time in the technique of natural dye. Natural dyes are colourants derived from plant sources, typically treated in a pot of water and heated, “cooked”, or soaked to extract the dye compounds into solution with the water. The process can be repeated to achieve the desired pigmentation, colour fastness, and stability on the fabric. On display in the exhibition, “Leaves Like Painting” derived its green from the same repetitive process of merging yellow and blue, resulting in a colour that is rooted in nature but also displaced from it, “We always hear stories about how man destroy nature when in reality, there are so many ways we can work creatively with nature,” In the cradle of life, plants follow a cycle of blooming and wilting. Colours, too, are transient. There are, however, many ways enabled by a proper and empathetic use of our creativity and wisdom to preserve these beautiful colours of the earth – to share them, treasure them, protect them.

Whereas red and yellow dyes are derived from heating madder root and gardenia fruit, blue is derived from processing Indigofera tinctoria, “I used to work in product design, which involved mass production but also precision with colours and angles. Back then, precision equalled perfection,” The shift from being a perfectionist product designer to an artist working with nature was equal parts transformative and educational, “In nature, nothing is ever the same. The Indigofera tinctoria you will harvest tomorrow will not be the same as the Indigofera tinctoria you harvested today. The resulting natural dyes will also be different. The art of natural dye is about celebrating these nuances. It’s about embracing the uncertainty of the seeds, of temperature, of the water quality,” With natural dye, UU hopes to find ways to continue the beauty of uncertainty in appreciation of the uniqueness of each moment, and to convey the message that the colours of the earth can, in fact, find manifestation in man’s creative expression.