家・雞年・幸福透光 楊士毅剪紙人生

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2017 / 2月

文‧劉嫈楓 圖‧莊坤儒 翻譯‧Phil Newell


小小的人兒歡欣鼓舞、點點星光布滿紅紙、樹木花朵枝盛葉繁……,大紅色紙裡每處細節,都是剪紙藝術家楊士毅想為眾人許下的願望和祝福。

新年伊始,楊士毅更以「家」為名,結合剪紙創作在台北街頭點起了《家(ㄍㄟ)》之花燈,邀請眾人在過年團聚的時候,一起走進花燈、一同分享溫暖。


金雞年到來,沿街氣氛歡喜熱鬧。

台北西門町中華路上,出現一隻鐵製的大紅風向雞,高高站在屋簷,模樣討喜地隨風搖擺。

朝向道路,寬10公尺、高3公尺的牆上,一整面以不織布剪成的大紅剪紙,兩尊討喜的人物,居於牆面中央,上頭星光滿布。紅布底下,溫暖的亮光透出,人影穿梭;望向頭頂天花板,是紅布剪出的穹頂星光,另一側的矮牆,繁花盛開的樹影剪紙旁,寫滿了向眾人募集來的「寫給家的一句話」。

以「家」為名,這是剪紙藝術家楊士毅應2017台北燈會之邀,在農曆雞年到來之際,取「雞」之台語發音,所延伸打造出的「家」之花燈。

打破燈會只能從外觀賞的習慣,楊士毅設計的作品:《家(ㄍㄟ)》,讓人們一起走入猶如家的空間,或坐或臥,成為花燈的一部分,讓人看見自己就是家中最美麗的風景。

因此,「起家、起家(台語),我就在春節雞年蓋一個家,希望人們在過年團聚的時刻,記得家中的燈火是最美麗的光,並期待大家觀賞、團聚後,帶著美好的力量回到社會。」

作品裡喻有美好的祝福,是2013年開始剪紙的楊士毅,以十多年時間,全力掙扎、叩問生命,才換來的創作風貌。

 

揮別憤怒,找尋快樂的起源

冠上剪紙藝術家頭銜前,楊士毅的身分,是企畫、攝影師,也是導演。先後就讀台南崑山科技大學視覺傳達系、台灣藝術大學研究所,楊士毅學生時代時,天分早早外顯。27歲前,楊士毅已獲獎無數,但那時的他並不快樂。「儘管獲獎無數,卻沒有一項肯定是自己給自己的。」他說。

童年時離開父母、寄人籬下的日子,敏感的他充滿不安與憤怒,毫無標準可言的創作世界成了楊士毅的出口。

自認毫無藝術天份、畫圖也畫不來,楊士毅選擇門檻較低的攝影創作。彷若映照自己的心境與困惑,那時拍下的攝影作品,一幀幀充滿了疏離、晦澀。

直到偶然見到漢聲出版社的剪紙叢書,裡面一幅線條簡樸、色彩鮮艷的作品吸引了他。見到當下,楊士毅內心洋溢快樂,「這幅作品的主人想必生活在快樂的環境中,才擁有如此豐沛的創作能量。」滿腹疑惑的他,決定動身追尋答案。

他申請雲門「流浪者計畫」,遠赴陝西,想親自拜訪作品的起源。一來到陝西,楊士毅卻愣住了。原來,剪紙作品出自陝西「剪花娘子」庫淑蘭的手裡,楊士毅在2016年TEDxTaoyuan演講會上現出她的照片。

滿頭白髮的她,住在陝西黃土高原的一處簡單屋宅裡,泛黃的報紙糊滿牆面、幾根木頭就架起一張床,一方小小的石塊,是她畫下草圖、動手剪紙的地方。

她的日子並不富裕,一路的成長背景更是艱辛。農村生活困苦,家中在庫淑蘭4歲時,將她許配到別人家中作童養媳,17歲結婚後,沒有愛情的婚姻,充滿波折。但日子的磨難絲毫未減她作品的雀躍與歡愉。作品裡手足舞蹈的人兒、鮮豔的色彩與開心的神情,處處可見。

「比起自己,她理應更有資格放棄這個世界,但為何她沒有?」楊士毅不解。「或許她看見的是這世界的美麗,而非匱乏,才剪出了如此精彩的作品。」

三個多月的旅程結束後,楊士毅的心放下來了,卻始終沒動手剪。

接下來的7年,他選擇回到台南母校擔任講師,重新學習和自己相處,過起不張揚的生活。直到女朋友一句無心的要求,遲遲不肯動手的楊士毅,終於開始創作,靠著一把小剪刀,以「喜」字為概念,剪出第一件作品。

創作才累積到第7件,就有企業上門洽詢,邀請開設剪紙工作坊,而後各方邀約,紛紛上門。台南老爺酒店、台新銀行以至2017年台北燈節,都是合作對象。剪紙生涯短短三年多,他的作品已不下數十件。

 

說一個故事,歡喜剪出幸福

再投入創作,楊士毅手中剪出的作品,已有全然不同的風景。沒了對世界的控訴不滿,大紅剪紙作品中,裡頭的主角總是在笑,笑著站在人群中,笑著望著天空,抑或笑著擁抱……。「因為要帶給人家歡喜和祝福啊!」楊士毅說。而給人歡喜的作品裡,背後總有個溫暖貼心的故事。

2015年,楊士毅創作的《年獸》剪紙作品,沒有了傳統故事中年獸張牙舞爪的可怕形象,胖胖圓渾的身體,嘴角揚起笑著。創作時,楊士毅替牠想了另一個故事。

在傳統故事裡,揮別舊年、迎來新年時,一頭名為「年」的獸便會出沒肆虐,糟蹋莊稼,惹得百姓叫苦連天。為了驅趕「年獸」,人們便會點起炮竹、張貼春聯,迎接好年。

但楊士毅的版本中,看似兇猛的年獸其實有著一顆溫暖的心。牠的張牙舞爪、面目兇惡,是為了在年節將到時,催促離家在外的孩子們,快快回到家人身邊。而那一聲聲的炮竹聲、四處張燈結綵,是思念孩子的父母們對年獸的萬分致謝,彷彿向牠說:「謝謝你!謝謝你,讓他們都回到了我身邊。」

為年獸寫下這則故事的動機,是楊士毅見到身邊的人們彼此充滿誤解,決定透過剪紙,道出真實心聲,卸下誤解,也獻給那些因愛而願意承受誤解的人。

新竹新瓦屋冬季裝置藝術展上,一幅12公尺高、7公尺寬的藝術剪紙作品,讓路過參觀的民眾顯得渺小,這是楊士毅以「感恩」為主題所創作的大型作品:《伯公的祝福》。

在客家傳統裡,「伯公」除了是晚輩對長輩的尊稱,也是指庇佑家家戶戶的土地公。而土地就像伯公一樣,像是長輩,永恆陪伴眾人,然而祂總是安安靜靜地,以致人們忘了珍惜。楊士毅創作這幅大型的作品,並非一味追求巨大,而是希望民眾抬頭仰望作品時,想想腳下的土地。

2016年他為新光三越百貨所創作的《馴鹿》作品,同樣有一個「楊士毅版」的故事。

他的版本裡,耶誕節的馴鹿背負了幸福的使命,每年的奔跑是期待實現大家的願望。因此,希望透過作品感念那些付出、獻上幸福卻為人遺忘的人們。

「沒有故事,我就無法開始動手剪紙。」楊士毅堅持為每幅作品說上一段故事,是希望能夠打動人心。「剪紙,只是一門手藝。最終,是想向透過創作向大家說故事,為社會帶來一點改變。」

 

追尋適切,美麗並非唯一標準

「不那麼傳統」,是許多人見到楊士毅作品的第一評語。線條大膽、圓渾帶點質樸的剪紙風格,是楊士毅特意追求的結果。楊士毅草擬底稿時,一見到傳統式樣,總是毫不猶豫捨棄,「依循傳統是一種對創作的怠惰。」

工作室透明窗戶上,貼滿七、八朵花形、葉瓣全然不同的花朵剪紙,一旁牆面貼滿素描草圖。今年為台新銀行所設計的作品,楊士毅首度將花朵安入剪紙。為了找尋適合的花朵,楊士毅畫下足足不下五十幅草圖。旁人看來美麗精緻的剪紙,卻始終通過不了楊士毅自己這一關。

在他看來,美麗並非唯一標準,而是「適切」。「太招搖了、太繁複了」,楊士毅一一點出一旁眾多剪紙不合格的原因,琢磨許久,才有了出現在這幅剪紙作品的最終版本。

每每接下邀約,楊士毅總是希望讀出對方的想法,藉此在作品呼應這份渴求。花上半年、一年摸索、策畫創作,早已家常便飯。三年多來,即使外界的矚目超乎預期,楊士毅卻推掉了許多邀約。

「剪紙藝術,美麗很簡單,但想打動人心,卻很難。為了視覺表現,剪紙可以無限裝飾、填充,卻不見得是人們所要的。」楊士毅說。

 

填滿「空缺」,夥伴俱足

創作剪紙以來,大紅顏色一以貫之出現在他的作品。楊士毅幾番嘗試其他顏色、媒材,最後還是只有大紅色紙,最能呈現他想藉由作品帶給人的歡喜溫暖。

現在的楊士毅依然有悲傷、憤怒之時,但比起過往,他懂得感恩,也更知足。心開了,眼中見到的一切猶如繁花盛開,周遭的團隊夥伴也一一俱足。

2015年5月,楊士毅首度與劇團「南島十八」合作,為舞台戲「剪花微笑」設計舞台剪紙。這是他首度接觸空間設計,也是頭一遭挑戰大型的剪紙創作。以往獨自創作的他,為此只好找來助手幫忙。

再隔兩個月,楊士毅應台南市政府之邀,以「鳳凰木」為題,創作出《鳳凰的祝福》,展現台南意象。一張記錄當時的照片,是楊士毅最喜歡拿來向大家分享的故事。偌大的紅色紙材上,十多個人跪趴在上頭、低頭工作,遠遠一看,眾人宛若成為毛毛蟲,攀附在枝繁葉茂的鳳凰木上。

楊士毅喜歡的,不光是團隊齊心打拚,還有照片裡記錄下那份對工作的謙虛與敬重。「工作的台語,唸來猶如『空缺』。」不斷思索定位的楊士毅,終於找到答案,「每個人在世上,都像是以手中的工作不斷填補世界的『空缺』。」

而在台北燈會展出的《家(ㄍㄟ)》之花燈,楊士毅更攜手台南後壁土溝農村美術館、大稻埕瓦豆光田團隊,一同加入創作。由楊士毅負責剪紙,土溝農村美術館執行長陳昱良負責空間施作、瓦豆光田執行燈光設計。

去年年底剛搬進的工作室,楊士毅特地將二樓一處房間留給團隊夥伴。始終一人創作的楊士毅,從未想過今日竟有如此規模,「承認自己沒本事,團隊就會成形了。」楊士毅說。

「相信雙手能帶給人幸福!」這是楊士毅想透過剪紙作品在社會灑下的種子和希望,特別是時值金雞年春節到來的此刻,希望見過作品的人歡喜之餘,也能相信自己,能以雙手找到幸福。

英文

At the Cutting Edge: Yang Shiyi's Quest for Happiness

Liu Yingfeng /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Phil Newell

Small figures dance with joy; glittering stars fill the red background; flowers and trees burst forth in all their glory…. Every detail of this large sheet of red cloth represents the hopes and wishes that paper cutting artist Yang Shiyi sends out to his audience.

To mark the arrival of the Chinese New Year, Yang combined his paper cutting creativity with the theme of family to create a festive lantern for the streets of Tai­pei. Knowing that family and friends gather at the New Year, Yang invites everyone to come down to enjoy the world of lanterns and share in their warmth.


The Year of the Rooster is here! An ambience of joy and bustle fills the streets.

On Zhong­hua Road in Tai­pei’s Xi­men­ding area, a large red steel weather vane in the shape of a rooster stands atop a temporary structure, gaily turning back and forth in the breeze.

Below the weather vane, a wall ten meters long and three meters high is covered all over with a red cloth, into which delightful images are cut. In the center are two human figures, while stars fill the area above their heads. At the bottom of the cloth, warm light shines through, casting moving shadows of the visitors inside. On the lower rear wall of the structure, next to a stylized cut silhouette of a flourishing tree, the entire surface is covered with “Words for My Family”—family greetings collected from ordinary people.

This house-like structure, entitled Family, is in fact a festive lantern, created by paper cutting artist Yang ­Shiyi for the 2017 Tai­pei Lantern Festival, which celebrates the arrival of the Year of the Rooster. Yang was inspired to create this family-themed work by a play on words: in Taiwanese, the word for “rooster” or “chicken” (gei) sounds the same as the word for “family” or “home.”

Yang’s work allows people to literally enter this “family home” and become part of the lantern. “I decided to build a family residence for the Year of the Rooster because I hope that when people gather for the New Year holiday, they will remember that the most beautiful of all lamps is the one that shines at home. And I hope that after everyone admires the lanterns and enjoys their family get-together, they will carry that beautiful strength with them back out into society.”

The work contains a metaphorical wish to all for well-being and happiness. It is made in the cut-paper style that Yang created out of more than a decade of self-doubt and struggle when he took up this art form in 2013.

Goodbye to anger

Yang, who studied first in the Department of Visual Communication Design at Kun Shan University in Tai­nan and then in the graduate school of National Taiwan University of Arts, was a prodigy during his student days. He won countless awards before the age of 27. But he was not happy. He explains: “Although I won a lot of prizes, there was one accolade I couldn’t get: my own self-approval!”

During his childhood Yang was separated from his parents for over ten years, and during those days of ­living in other people’s care, the naturally sensitive boy became filled with anger and insecurity. The creative world, with an absence of fixed and rigid standards, became his outlet.

Unable to draw, Yang turned to photography. His photo­graphs from that period—cryptic works filled with a sense of alienation—show scenes from his inner life.

One day Yang happened upon a collection of books on paper cutting art, printed by Echo Publishing Corporation. He felt very attracted to one of the works inside, with its clean, simple lines and splashy colors. Imagin­ing that the author must be a very happy person to produce such creative works, a curious Yang decided to find out for himself.

He applied for a grant from the Cloud Gate Dance Theater under their “Wanderers” program, and went off to remote ­Shaanxi Province in mainland China, in order to visit for himself the source of the work in the book. But when he got there, he was dumbfounded. It turned out that the cut-paper composition came from Ku Shu­lan, an elderly lady living in ­Shaanxi, whose photo Yang showed at his 2016 TEDxTao­­yuan talk. Ku, completely white-haired by the time Yang met her, lived in a simple house in the loess region of ­Shaanxi, with yellowed newspaper covering the walls, and a bed knocked together from some odd planks of wood. A small stone slab was her only platform for drafting and cutting her works.

Her life was harsh, and her past even rougher. At age four she was sent to another family as a bride-in-waiting, and she was forced into a loveless marriage at 17. Incredibly, her hardscrabble existence did not diminish the high spirits and joy of her creations. Everywhere in her works you could see dancing people, bright colors, and a spirit of jubilation.

“She had more reason to give up on life than I did. Why didn’t she? Maybe because she saw beauty in the world.” After his three-month journey ended, Yang felt much more at ease, but still he had not even once put his hand to actually cutting paper.

For the next seven years, Yang returned to his alma mater in Tai­nan as a lecturer, where he started from scratch in relearning how to get along with himself and lived an unostentatious life. It was only when his girlfriend happened to casually make a request that he finally stopped procrastinating and started doing creative cut-paper work. Equipped with nothing but a simple pair of nail scissors, he produced his first work, built around the shape of the Chinese character xi (), meaning “happiness” or “well-being.”

At a point where Yang had only produced seven finished products, already a corporate sponsor appeared, inviting him to open a cut-paper workshop, after which firms began showing up in droves to commission works and invite him to participate in shows.

Happiness at the cutting edge

As he continued to create, Yang’s works took on a uniquely different style from his past oeuvre. They were not accusatory or dissatisfied with the world, and the lead actors in his large red cut-paper works always beamed—smiling while standing in the middle of a crowd; smiling while gazing at the sky; smiling while embracing…. “That’s because what I want to bring to people is happiness and hope!” Yang explains.

And behind each of these works that make people happy is always a heartwarming story.

Take for example Yang’s 2015 piece Nian Shou (“New Year’s Beast”). Whereas traditionally the nian shou—a creature that emerges at the new year to spread chaos—is portrayed as fierce, with bared fangs and threatening claws, to be warded off with firecrackers and door amulets, Yang depicted it as round and jolly, with a laughing face. And he even thought up a backstory for it.

In Yang’s version, the nian shou is a warm and friendly critter. He bares his teeth and waves his claws only to encourage children who have moved away from home to hurry back to be with loved ones. The firecrackers and lanterns are there to express the profound appreciation of parents to the nian shou, as if to say: “Thank you! Thank you for bringing them back to us!”

Yang’s motivation for rewriting the book on the nian shou is that he saw many people around him weighed down by mutual misunderstanding, so he decided to use paper cutting art to promote straightforwardness, as a gift to those who are willing to bear the burden of misunderstanding for love.

For the winter exhibition of installation art at the New Tile House Hakka Cultural District in Zhubei, Hsin­chu County, a giant cut-paper work in canvas, 14 meters high and seven meters wide, seems to reduce viewers walking past it to insignificance. This is a piece entitled Grand-­Uncle’s Wishes, which Yang produced based on the theme of “thanksgiving.”

In Hakka tradition, the appellation “grand-uncle” is a term of respect used by a younger person for an older man. It is also used for the Earth God, who watches over each home and family. The earth, like the Earth God, is always there, eternally a companion to ordinary folk, yet is normally silent, so that people forget to treasure it. Yang created this gigantic work not just to make something big as an end in itself, but in the hope that when people raise their faces to look at the complete piece, they will think of the earth beneath their feet.

“Without a story to tell, I can’t put hand to work,” says Yang. He wants every creation he makes to tell a story, so as to move people to think and feel. “Paper cutting is just a kind of handicraft or skill, but through it I want to tell stories and bring some increment of change to society.”

Beauty is not the only criterion

“Not very traditional.” That’s the initial evaluation of Yang’s works you hear from many first-time viewers. Yang’s approach—defined by bold lines, a clean but dashing elegance, and simplified, stylized subjects—is the result of very deliberate culling. When he drafts an underlying pattern, as soon as he sees any traditional motif, he immediately throws it away without hesitation. “‘Faithful to tradition’ is just another way of saying ‘too lazy to come up with creative ideas.’”

Pasted onto the window glass of Yang’s studio are a number of stylized cut-paper flowers, each markedly different from the others, and the whole wall is covered with rough drafts. This year, for a series of works he has been commissioned to make for Taishin International Bank, Yang will do his take on cut-paper blossoms for the first time. In order to find just the right flora, Yang produced no less than 50 patterns. Others might look at the results and see exquisite pieces of art, but not one has yet gotten over the high bar Yang sets for himself.

Yang doesn’t think that beauty is the one and only criterion. “In paper cutting art, beauty is actually pretty easy to achieve. But if you want to make people think and feel, it’s hard. As a form of visual expression, cut paper has limitless possibilities for embellishment and adornment just to fill space, but that’s not necessarily what people want.”

Learning to collaborate

The Yang ­Shiyi of the present day still has moments of anguish and anger. But compared to the past, he has more of a sense of gratitude toward the world and knows that satisfaction with life starts from within. Now that he has opened his heart, everything he sees is like blossoming flowers, and that has allowed him to open himself to collaboration with others.

In May of 2015, Yang worked for the first time with ­Istheatre Labo, crafting cut-paper backdrops in cloth for a dance piece. This was his first encounter with spatial design, and the first time he took on the challenge of creating giant cut-paper works. Though previously he had always worked alone, for this project he had to recruit assistants to help out.

Two months later, Yang accepted an invitation from the Tai­nan City Government to create a work on the theme of “royal poinciana” (the flowering tree Delonix regia), as a sort of visual metaphor for the city. There is one photo from that experience which Yang loves to pull out so he can share a story with people. There is an enormous sheet of red paper with a dozen or so assistants kneeling or crouching on it, working with their heads down in concentration. Looked at from a distance, the group takes on the appearance of a caterpillar, climbing up a brilliantly flowering royal poinciana.

What Yang likes about the photo is not just the image of focused teamwork, but also the attitude of humility and respect toward labor that is captured in the shot. “The Taiwanese word for ‘work’ sounds very similar to the word for ‘emptiness.’” Yang, who has continually had to rethink his place in the world, has finally found the answer: “For every individual on earth, it’s as if each person is using the work that they are responsible for to continually fill in the ‘emptiness’ in the world.”

For the work Family for the Tai­pei Lantern Festival, Yang again opted for a collaborative project, in partnership with the TOGO Rural Village Art Museum in ­­Houbi District, Tai­nan, and the WeDo Group in Tai­pei City’s Da­dao­cheng area. Yang handled the cut-paper artistic creation, while Chen Yu­liang, executive director of TOGO, took care of spatial arrangements, and WeDo was responsible for the lighting.

Yang, who had done all his previous creative work on his own, never imagined he would be using the teamwork model he uses today. “When you acknowledge that you don’t know what you are doing, then a team takes shape,” Yang says.

“I believe that with these two hands I can bring people happiness.” Yang Shiyi’s works are seeds of hope that he wants to scatter throughout society. Especially now, at the start of the Year of the Rooster, he hopes that people who see his works will not only feel joy, but believe in themselves—believe that they too, with their own two hands, can bring happiness to others.