Taiwanese artist Cheng-Tsung Feng uses his work as a means of exploring the wisdom hidden within traditional crafts and techniques. Often reinventing ancient crafts through design, he applies a diverse range of hand-built methods that are found in artifacts to create large-scale installations and sculptures. His aim is to preserve precious traditional culture—some in danger of being lost forever—through its rebirth in his art. Such aspirations inspired his Fish Trap House series. The bamboo installations give new life to a traditional vessel, once used as a tool for catching fish but now serving as a symbol bearing lost culture in museums and literature.
Feng’s very first Fish Trap House was inspired by a government commission for Sun Moon Lake, one of Taiwan's most famous tourist attractions. “Their open attitude did not give me many limitations, so I was able to start my creation happily and freely,” Feng tells My Modern Met. “At that time, I started to circle the lake, looking for local, traditional, ancient, and disappearing precious handicraft as my creative subject. Finally, I found an old Thao tribe—one of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes—and there was an elder, Mr. Masawsang Lhkashnawanan, who was the last one who could make Thao fish traps.”
Feng was enthralled by the look and story of the fish traps, so he asked Lhkashnawanan to teach him how to make one. “During the production process, I discovered many interesting production techniques, so I started to think about the design of this fishing tool. If the technology is not used for fishing, what else can it be used for? I thought that it would be better to catch people instead of fish, so I made the first Fish Trap House by the lake.”
One of Feng’s latest installations, Fish Trap House V, stands on the sandy shores of Yuguang Island, not too far from the lapping waves of the ocean. At its opening, people lined the beach, waiting for their chance to enter the bamboo pavilion. Like a traditional fish trap, it successfully lured in its prey. But instead of fish, it was capturing everyone’s attention as they swam amidst the inviting landscape of the island.
The response is just what the artist aspires to achieve when creating his compelling installations. “I hope the ancient craftsmanship that has been gradually forgotten by people everywhere will be shared in an interesting way through my artworks,” Feng explains, “like telling people these fascinating old stories in a new way so that people can see that traditional craftsmanship is actually full of new possibility. It can be applied to things with completely different sizes, functions, shapes, and locations…People are usually surprised by the visual and physical feelings when they enter my works, and the stimulation of the physical experience is also the effect I look forward to bringing to people.”