COMMUNITY | Mercury Plaza Show: Origins and New Beginning

Tangentially related to leather accessories, I recently had the opportunity to be a part of the Mercury Plaza Show where I brought along DNA of the MDF creative identity and extended it into a new context. The show, curated by Jia Luo and Joni Lee and featuring 14 artists of Chinese heritage, is currently held inside Mercury Plaza. Almost a memorabilia for 90’s Asian migrant culture, the plaza will soon close to make way for Auckland’s City Rail Link. An end often marks the beginning of the new — setting the tone for the show, Origins and New Beginnings.

My small contribution to the show is a cabbage. To be exact, it’s Char Siu the Savage Cabbage (@charsiuthecabbage). I had been referring to it as “the savage cabbage” until Jia messaged me to ask what the artwork title was for printing purposes, and I felt inclined to give it a savage name. Char Siu aka. Chinese BBQ pork was the obvious winner, considering the setting. It’s a nod to when your Cantonese mother gets mad at you and expresses in frustration that it would’ve been better to give birth to a Char Siu than you. Real savage. Also a part of a cultural rhetoric with (mostly) good intentions to prepare you for the tough wilderness out there that you will one day face. Face. Mmhmm, and that’s the cabbage face we might all feel on some of those days.

More than just a pretty face, the cabbage is a decorated papier maché ball with fillings (MDF secret sauce) much like a piñata. An interesting fact I learnt from Joni, who made the papier maché balls for us to then decorate, was that the piñata traces its origins to China. The universe always magically connects. I decided to go down the rabbit hole and do a bit of my own research in Chinese. It tells me this practice is called ‘打春牛’, which means ‘hitting the spring ox’. The Chinese piñata, always in the form of an ox, is about creating the symbolic ceremony of whipping the laziness out of a spring ox (savage!) to welcome a prosperous harvest in the coming year. The papier maché ox would be filled with seeds, and as the seeds spill out from the whipping, it completes the narrative of a grand harvest. At this point, I decided to do a quick search on the origin of papier maché too; turns out this technique also originated from China. I am now fully convinced that the papier maché ball/piñata installations are the most fitting commentary on cultural exchange and globalization.

What is a show without some festivity? Fresh, like a cabbage at your favourite Asian supermarket. Celebratory, like how Chinese name New Year’s Eve dishes using an abundance of puns to allude to good blessings. This early concept is based on 翡翠白菜 aka. Jadeite cabbage, a treasured object as the word ‘cabbage’ shares a similar sound to ‘collecting of riches’ in Chinese. Timely blessings as we celebrate the turning of a new leaf. It has been so much fun to be a part of this show, something that would otherwise have not happened without the dedication of Jia and Joni. The magic of the show is not a glossy presentation or champagne popping moments, but a humble tribute to a collective experience that finds a point of connection in all of us.

Join us at the closing party on Saturday 14th of September, where the papier maché balls will be smashed open like piñatas… dun dun dun.