Happy Saturday morning, my friends! Here, it is snowy and cold, but not as bad as some places that are predicted to get up to two feet of snow today! For this morning’s Saturday Surprise, I would like to introduce you to Guorui Chen, best described as a rice artist. In a country with over a billion people who eat rice almost every day, 33-year-old Guorui Chen is the only one using rice to make Gaolou Rice Strings, a traditional art that had been lost for decades. “Nowhere else in the world can you find it,” says Chen.
Chen was born in Gaolou, a small village on the southeast coast of China where this art originated 150 years ago. However, when an octogenarian who migrated to Singapore decades ago came back to the village in late 2015, no one made these sculptures anymore. Chatting with his townspeople, he reminisced about this traditional art and how every household would participate in an annual contest of building the most sophisticated rice strings. Says Chen …
“I was driven by curiosity at first. I have the responsibility to carry forward this fantastic cultural tradition.”
According to Atlas Obscura …
“[Chen] only accepts rice grains longer than 7 millimeters (1/4 inch), and they have to be white, clear, straight, and undamaged. Every day, he separates intact grains from broken ones with a winnowing basket and then spends hours examining their transparency under a light.
But Chen won’t cook this rice. Instead, he turns it into art. He picks out three grains, glues them end to end into a triangle, and connects hundreds of these basic units to form shapes: a horse, a lotus flower, a temple. In his hands, rice turns into aesthetic hollow sculptures. They appear so delicate that every joint looks liable to break, but in fact, they are sturdy enough to be lifted up and moved.”
“Chen learned that the practice peaked in the early 1900s but went extinct during the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the Cultural Revolution forced people to give up their traditional roots. The only written archive he could find was from an old genealogy book of the Chen clan, taken abroad by the emigrated members. And Chen never found an image of the art itself.
He used his imagination to turn the textual descriptions into his first attempt in February 2016: a two-dimensional lotus flower glued to a plate. In the meantime, Chen found a few seniors in the village who had seen the rice strings when they were children. He took his first creation to these seniors for feedback: the type of rice was wrong, the structure could be more complex, he had made other mistakes.
So Chen took their advice, revised his work, and took it to the seniors again. In mid-2016, he was able to recreate the art to their satisfaction. By now, he has finished more than a dozen Gaolou Rice Strings sculptures, ranging from a simple teacup that takes half a day of labor to a life-size rooster that requires almost a month.
The rooster is by far his proudest work. ‘I’m like a human 3D printer, envisioning the shapes in my head and then trying to put the pieces together,’ Chen says. ‘Sometimes, the muscles in the leg were too big or too small, so I had to destroy the part I was not satisfied with and remake it.’”
Well … seeing is believing and in this case, I think a picture is worth a thousand words, so …
Well, my friends, that’s all I’ve got for this morning. It’s frigid cold here and we had about two inches of snow … nothing compared to what the New England states are expecting … one to two feet!!! Have a great weekend, stay warm, and find something to smile about. 😊