Chapter 5 Twilight

(2016 – 2019)

“I stand in the twilight, not knowing what is coming next, the light of dawn or endless of darkness.”

In 2016, the rising rents and the need for large space forced me to move from the downtown to the suburbs. I have been visiting my parents even less since then. This evasive attitude became a new excuse for my father to accuse me of being “ungrateful” and “unfilial”.

On the other hand, after moving to the suburbs, I finally had my own sewing room rather than sew in the bedroom as before. To me, clothing design is as or more important than sculpting.

With the upgrade in doll style, my focus point gradually shifted from decoration only to a balanced diversity of silhouette, pattern, tailoring and decoration. Since 2015, I have been preparing costumes and accessories intermittently for the Queen of Hearts and Chapter 5 Alice.

Early attempt on pattern making, 2015

But my ability at that time was not enough. I realized that I needed more knowledge of tailoring if I wanted to take my work to the next level. The initial design of the Queen of Hearts dress was intended to be the rococo style, so I decided to make a practice work, “Rococo”, first, to learn cutting and sewing 18th century rococo dresses through actual hands-on working.

Although this learn by doing work, which was originally planned to take a month to complete, went very well at the beginning, it eventually stalled on the overwhelming amount of embroidery.

The first corset I had ever made, 2017

Mini straw hat inspired by jewelry filigree inlay technique, 2017

Mules in Rococo-style, 2017

Cotton sample dress made according to 18th century Rococo dress patterns, 2017

In order to make the miniature have the illusion of realistic life-size,

the proportion of the details is very important.

Louis XVI style Daybed, my second 3D modeling furniture work

The miniature embroidery on the formal dress was stalled

because it was too time-consuming.

The eyes of doll is as large as a rice.

I had to stop the embroidery due to an old injury to my right thumb from a long term strain, but the goal of learning by doing was achieved.

After a short break, I returned to work on the Queen of Hearts. There was one problem that kept bothering me at the time: the original design was to insert heart-shaped flytraps above the neck, however, this made her look just like a “headless doll with flytraps above the neck”, lacking the breath of life. What I want was that even without a head or a face, people can still feel HER existence and HER emotions.

One night, after a shower with my hair still dripping, I sat in the small sewing room with no lights on, looking worriedly at the Queen on the table by the light from the window, thinking how to solve this problem. Didn’t know how long it had been passed, suddenly in the darkness, in a cluttered mess of flytraps, I seemed to see a face: a face with no features but is screaming out silenctly.

“That’s it!” I was so ecstatic at that moment.

Queen of Hearts, 2018, porcelian

In the Spring Festival of 2017, my father accused me as “heartless” and “failed mom, failed grandma” because I didn’t want to go grandma’s house for dinner. I had no choice but to write a fable about what happened in the past, hoping that the description from a third-person perspective would help him understand my plight. After reading it, my father didn’t force me any further. I thought this problem would finally be resolved imperfectly.

However, it didn’t.

A few months later, he once again used mom as a shield to lash out at me. By then I realized that this was a kind of emotional manipulation. When it didn’t work, he started to poke my old  wound: “Why didn’t you say anything about Cousin T.C at that time? Why you start to metion it now and make everyone unhappy in holidays? What’s your purpose? Do you want to make it public or private? Should we gather all the family members, and you tell them what exactly he did to you? I think you’re the coward!” (In the fable, I wrote, “When the sheep father knew what the Wolf had done, instead of defending the lamb for justice, he ingratiated the Wolf even more. Didn’t he seem to be a coward?” As a result, he only remembered the “coward” I said and gave it back to me when he had the chance.

Watching his messages keeping popping out on my phone, I finally understood:

Everything was in vain.

If my father’s against to my career choice could barely be explained as “not understanding new things”, “parents just want their child to have a stable job” (I do not agree with this, but mom thought so), then his performance in the cousin issue did not even reach the minimum empathy that a normal stranger could give, let alone fulfill the duty of a father.

I eventually gave up on communication and blocked him, swearing never go back to that home. The person who supposed to protect you most keeps hurting you. Time after time to forgive and hope, time after time to disappoint.  Despair and rage overwhelmed me. I felt the blood in my body rush up and the headache exploded. Later often I dreamed that I was accusing the cousin of his behavior in front of the relatives. In my dreams, I cried and screamed hysterically until this intense emotion woke me up. I opened my eyes to the white ceiling and the real world was so silent that only the fiercely pounding heart proved what I had experienced in last second.

Suddenly, one day, I found myself couldn’t feel it.

I couldn’t feel happiness, I couldn’t feel sadness, I couldn’t feel any emotion. Although we are all familiar with the description of “feeling empty inside”, it was at that moment that I really understood what it was like. The emotional stimulation was so strong that the brain turned off the feelings in order to protect itself, so only numbness was left. Over 30 years, the entanglement with my family eventually grew into a “nothingness” in my heart.

The “DAS NICHTS” hidden in the embroidery on Alice’s back is “nothingness” in Germany.

I started to think about what is the meaning of everything I had done,  what is the meaning of my pursuit of “world-class”? Before that, a lot of it was because I wanted my father’s attention and approval, and I wanted to make him proud. I thought that if I proved myself good enough, I would get his understanding and love, and I would have a harmonious family, but finally I realized it was not me that was not good enough, but him that did not know how to love.

In that dismal summer, mom, who watched me “whine” on wechat Moments, didn’t say a word, didn’t ask a question, just as she had always done. A few months later she reappeared, and her words were still “You need to learn to behave to make your father happy.” From that moment on, I realized that my mother was not someone I could trust and rely on either. To this day, my mother still believes that my choice of being a doll artist broke the family. In her opinion, the self-harm that began when I was a child was not my father’s problem, but my “innate sensitivity”. Although she wanted me to do well and helped me in the early days, I finally realized that I would be the first person my mother willing to sacrifice if there was a conflict of interests with others.

With no support and no way back, I had to rely on myself.  The wish of “finish the Queen of Hearts” drove me to going on. By the second half of 2017, multiple lines of the dolls, dresses, accessories and furnitures, have entered the final stage.

the Queen of Hearts shoes, brass, silk

the Queen of Hearts dress, silk, water pearls.

In the end, it was not executed from the original rococo style plan.

In fact, most of my work ended up in a very different version than the original design.

Because in the actual working process, I often get more inspiration to refine my design further.

By chance, I came across a craft material called chenille stems. Out of curiosity, I made several chenille stems bears according to the tutorial and then started free play.

(British Shorthair Cat, 2017, chenille stems)

And combined with the wool felting, I made a more complex and vivid cat, mini BoBo.

(Mini version of my BoBo cat, 2017, chenille stems, wool felt)

Then I tried hair planting.

(Long-haired white cat, unfinished, chenille stems, wool felt, hair implanting)

In the process of making these cats, I have rediscovered the joy of creating and  immersed myself in the fun of the wool felting every day as if life had sprouted out of the land of nothingness.

Perhaps there was an certainty hidden in the fortuity. These seemingly unrelated two months brought me the last piece of puzzle to complete the Queen of Hearts – the flamingo.

Flamingo foot, aluminum wire, resin clay, acrylic paint

While designing the Queen of Hearts and Chapter 5 Alice, I realized that I needed to add another color between the Queen’s red-green and Alice’s blue-white. It should match each character individually, but also could connect the two characters into a harmonious picture. After some thought, I decided to use pink. The flamingo in Alice’s original story became the perfect pink medium.

(Queen of Hearts and Alice, 2018, porcelain)

Flamingos enriched and balanced the visual color.

However, I had no clue how to make birds. Although a high-quality sculpture could present realisc feathers, I wanted a lighter and vivider effect, so I kept procrastinating. At the last minute, inspired by chenille stems and wool felting, I decided to go with real feather implanting.

Feather implanting in progress

From thousands of feathers, I cut the tip, trimmed it into rice size, dyed, ironed to a curved shape, and then implanted one by one into the wool felting base. It was a decision that even myself thought was crazy.

Not knowing for sure how many feathers I would need,

I had to cut a batch, dye, iron and implant them, and then repeated the cycile again and again.

Feathers needed to make 2 flamingos (not including neck feathers)

Each flamingo took 1 to 2 months to make. The final combination of creativity and ingenuity achieved a unique result.

(Flamingos, 2018)

In May 2018, several days before my 35th birthday, after an 8-year matathon from a concept to the real work, the Queen of Hearts was officially completed and received hot reviews on Weibo that exceeded my expectations.

In August, I went to Moscow and won the “Pandora Platinum Prize” as I wished. In the field of art dolls, Russian artists are almost in a dominating position. As a Chinese, what made me most proud was not to be the first Chinese to win the prize, but to be the first person in the history of the competition who won the votes from all judges. This was an accolade earned by solid work beyond nationality.

Pandora Platinum 2018

Each year’s trophy is designed by a different artist.

The 2018 trophy is made of ceramic.

Winning this trophy by porcelain BJD means special to me.

The goal that has been pursued for 8 years has been achieved, however the reality has long since fallen. After the flowers and applause, I still need to face all kinds of trifles in life, the home that I can’t go back to, the future that I can’t see ahead, and the loneliness day after day, it seems that everything I have been pursuing is meaningless.

I began to reflect, when I no longer need to prove to my father, no longer need his approval, is my current life the life I want? Even though many people said to me, “You’re already world-class,” I didn’t feel any difference. In order to fight for my dignity, I repeated this lonely day-to-day life over a decade. My life seemed to stagnate after graduation, and before it had time to unfold, I had already reached my mid-30s. Couldn’t see any change, I couldn’t help asking myself: Is that all?

Creation brought me a brief moment of joy, but was not enough to sustain my inner happiness. During that time, my mood went through high high low low. I felt as if I had spent 8 years of my life setting off a firework, and when the heat passed, the audience went back to their own homes. Only I was left alone, unconnected to the world, unloved and unneeded.

(“Summer Flower,” 2019, porcelain)

I cheered myself up over and over again: “Let life be beautiful like summer flowers and death like autumn leaves.”. Life is the process of seeing all the blooms and falls, and perhaps just going through all this is meaningful enough.

But often at the end of a day’s work, realizing that I have spent another lonely day in the world that no one has seen, the feeling of emptiness will come again. I feel that I have wasted my time and wasted my life.

(“Cloud”, 2019, resin)

Initially, clouds stood for unfettered freedom.

But it also reminds me of the emptiness of “Life is like a dream”.

(Cloud, Rain, Rainbow, 2019, resin)

Twilight is the embodiment of the struggle between the joy of creation and the emptiness in my heart after breaking up with my family of origin. I felt as if I was trapped in a screen. People can only see what I showed through the phone screen. However, outside of that square inch of space, 99% of my life is not seen, not known, and not remembered.

to be continued

next chapter: Amor

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