Man Yau Under Glass

Interview by Matilda Kivelä. Photography by Bryan Saragosa.

Marble, glass, stone and wood become sculptures in the hands of Man Yau, Helsinki-based sculptor and artist. She used waste glass and marble to create a bespoke sculpture for Iittala.

When we first sat down with artist Man Yau at the beginning of our collaboration, our light conversation quickly turned into a discussion about the multiplicity of sustainability: what the word itself means and how far it stretches. As a matter of principle, we wanted to grant Yau free hands to explore the topic and navigate her way through it. We only gave her one rule: use only recycled materials. During the project, she reflected upon her role as an artist and creator, she travelled to the Iittala Glass Factory to source materials and dove into research. We met up with her after the project to discuss the process.

How is the influence of an ‘online presence’ visible in contemporary art?
Since artists find that their online presence is a reliable and worthy context in which to present their art, they gravitate towards creating something a lot easier and faster in terms of production, which in turn allows them to maximise the number of art objects, profit or audience reach. 

If the artwork reaches a wider audience through its online pre-sence, does it increase the level of democratisation in art?
The works that artists create for online purposes are far more accessible than the ones created and presented in site-specific locations, so in a way that kind of work makes it much easier to get in into the very elitist art world. Online gives the freedom to create outside of the financial goals of galleries, and the freedom to create contexts which can be whatever, since the spatial and temporal limitations no longer exist. However, what may seem more democratic in this context also creates a situation where we start to value more meaningless things.

Sensually rich art objects don’t exist if there is no understanding of time or space—which are very human parameters. The problem isn’t that online artworks are more accessible, but that ‘experiencing art’ has become ‘viewing art’ which just drives artists to make more photogenic artworks. The artworks then assume a product-like nature because of the values that we are transferring from a mass production-orientated lifestyle onto the presentation of art. This is what I’m curious about: values are the crucial factor here. Without the idea of time and environment, the work of art loses its context and so becomes rootless. If we value this way of making by choosing to play along with it, we prefer the meaningless but aesthetic outcomes. Then what separates the artwork from any other object?


How does the final sculpture reflect these musings?
I’m not proposing a resolution one way or another, but rather outlining the idea of value and its intensity. The final piece is almost like an installation that gathers my research and thoughts on the topic. The sculpture itself remains very aesthetically pleasing and ‘online-friendly’, while at the same time, due to its mirrored parts, reflects a fraction of the real moment. The relationship between the piece’s visuality and its three-dimensionality is key: the sculpture flirts with the camera’s lens, yet its three-dimensionality can only be experienced in real life. The different hues, thicknesses and qualities of the Tiffany glass can only be observed in person; the softness of the marble can’t be felt without actually touching it.

I also wanted to make a piece on which I’d have to spend a lot of time; one that would connect me with time and space. Spending time on an object like this allows you to build a rapport with it. Take, for instance, the marble in the piece: it is a time-consuming material to work with. You can’t polish it in a hurry since it breaks easily. Through the use of marble or Tiffany glass, I formed a process in which I built a connection with the piece. The sculpture is imbued with connections. Every piece of it is somehow recycled: waste glass, marble gifted to me years ago and so on. So, in a sense, the sculpture is an amalgamation of multiple stories, connections and bonds.