What do we need to know about the work you are exhibiting at Not Applicable?
The use of fish skin for the construction of garments and accessories is an ancient tradition shared by coastal Arctic societies. A subsistence lifestyle developed depending on aquatic resources for food and clothing. Arctic indigenous peoples need formidable resourcefulness to thrive in inhospitable ecosystems; fish skin provide them physical and spiritual protection. During the last century, Arctic indigenous peoples resisted both colonization and repression by humans and dramatic ecological changes in seafood security. Fish skin craft became a way to communicate traditional knowledge combined with cultural resilience. As market goods have replaced traditional fish skin clothing, the need for the skills required to create these items have diminished. The decrease of local natural resources also threatens the craft. The film focus is primarily to identify the historical, cultural, environmental and socio-economic importance of fish skin as an innovative sustainable material. Secondarily, it proposes a vision of sustainability as an anthropological study of the resourcefulness and resilience of the Arctic indigenous peoples, their lifestyles and fish skin practices; and thirdly, it can help to preserve them. The application of the craft to fashion has been tested through a participatory workshop with fashion students from Central Saint Martins taught by Hezhen craftspeople to investigate how this material and the transmission of fish skin skills can contribute to sustainability practices in fashion. The Hezhen are one of China’s smallest ethnic minorities living in north eastern China by the Amur river basin. In 2006, the Hezhen method of making clothes with fish skin was listed as intangible cultural heritage, and Wenfeng You – our main craftsperson during this workshop – was appointed its heir.
Foning Bao participated in the Hezhen fish skin workshop during the summer of her industry year out. The experience of working with the Hezhen ethnic minority was invaluable for her and they provided her both the raw material, techniques and inspiration for her final year CSM BA Knitwear collection. As a sustainable knitwear designer, she restricted herself to the use fish skin and ‘fully fashion’ knit skills to build her entire final collection. Zero fabric, zero cut and zero waste were the key points of her work. She used the fish skins in combination with crochet both in garments and accessories. The very humble material became all of a sudden fun and playful, full of colour.
How do you interpret the term ‘Not Applicable’?
'Not Applicable' especially in the post-pandemic period inspire me to rethink things happening around me. I think it’s important to find your root, where you come from and who you are. That helps me focus on my art practice and made this film as well.
What’s the best part about your practice?
I’m a social innovator which means I work around a lot with people. I feel really lucky to get to interact with different groups of people, I just love share and exchange experiences with people. There’s a Chinese saying: Three people walking together, at least one person could teach you something. This sentence motivates me all the time.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m a Chinese born UK based artist and social innovator. I use multidiscipline research methods such as image making, writing and performance as research to discuss culture and identity. I’ve been focusing on hezhen fish skin culture and tradition for three years and has held multiple workshops to teach such technique in University of the Arts London, Beijing Institute of Fashion and Technology and other organizations.
How is an artist copping through the pandemic?
During the pandemic I fly back to China and reunited with my family. Being immersed in both British and Chinese culture make me thing identity more. It feels like suddenly you are lift out of cold water and put in the hot one.
What’s a non-negotiable in your life and way of working?
Be curious and ask questions.
What title would you give to this chapter of your life?
Which things you remind yourself every morning?
Be open, breath.
What’s your strongest memory of your childhood?
Seaside town, sea wind, wharf, broken furniture and grass.
Name something you love, and why.
The world, the mother earth, the air I breath, people I meet and people I haven’t meet, all the living creatures. They gave me the good energy.