Man Yau’s Nunzugu Editorial


Transfiguring fixed idioms that reflect pop culture’s various subsets into fully functional design objects is one thing. Forcing a centuries-old weapon into an allusion of transparency, however, is something else entirely. Take two sticks on a rope, nunchaku to be exact, put them in the kung-fu grip of a young martial arts expert and have them all but disappear in an array of images. Enter Man Yau, an emerging young artist from Helsinki, Finland, who specializes in combining new technology with old-style craftsmanship. Her wide and wild repertoire, that includes everything from marble and gold marijuana pipes to glass blown objects, has been showcased everywhere from The Hole Gallery in NYC to the prestigious Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography. Never one to do things conventionally, Man Yau is taking her art to new heights. With help from talented up-and-coming Londoner, stylist Anna Pesonen, Yau is dead set on further blurring the ever-blurring borders between art and other arts.

We recently met up to discuss her ongoing film project, Nunzugu, set against the backdrop of the fashion editorial accompanying this article, featuring filmmaker Luke Clayton Thompson in his modelling debut.





When did you first discover your desire to create?
I think that we are all born creative. In my case, I decided to turn my creativity into a career when I got accepted into Aalto University School of Arts in Helsinki. Around the same time I started working on my first solo show Porcelain Decks. The entire process and the outcome of the show felt right so I definitely wanted to continue practicing.

What motivated you to choose hands-on methods like sculpture and glass-blowing?
When I started working in the art field, the first step for me was to find a way of presenting my ideas in a concrete form. I studied ceramic and glass art so those mediums felt natural to use in my art. I never thought about it any deeper. Traditional sculpting methods are the right tools for me to deal with the abstract themes that are present in my work.

What keeps you motivated as an artist?
Life does (laughs)! I’ve always had an interest in my surroundings. The social and cultural movements of our time, the voice of the youth etc. Artists are privileged. We can interpret and comment on the current changes of society by giving a form to some kind of an idea or a thought. I guess I have something to say.






Tell me how your current project Nunzugu Part 1 came about?
This whole project started off as a joke in some sense. I was asked to produce a piece for Stockholm Design Week, so I proposed to do ‘design nunchakus.’ I had just returned from New York and I was really tired and didn’t have much motivation to do something for SDW. But they got excited and after only a week I found myself in the studio, getting my hands dirty again. It’s funny how art can turn creative excuses into acceptable ideas. I couldn’t stop asking myself why am I doing nunchakus, so I decided to do a short film and an editorial that deals with the shallow side and the vanity of the pop culture. The sculptures in this project are secondary.

Authorities in most countries list traditional nunchakus as an illegal weapon and various permits need to be obtained before one can carry them. Was this something you had to work your way around?
Yeah, actually I had some issues with a delivery to London for the editorial shooting. As you mentioned they are considered hazardous and when I was going through security check, I had to open my bag and explain that they are art objects and can’t be used otherwise. I basically had to lie, but it’s okay. The security guy probably thought I used them for something else as the shape is a bit questionable (laughs).

Tell me about your collaboration with the stylist Anna Pesonen.
The goal of the photo shoot was to put art, fashion and photography on the same line. Therefore I contacted Anna Pesonen, an amazing stylist who I knew from Helsinki, who eventually ended up styling and producing the editorial.

Looking at the photographs, one can notice that the object itself is not a center piece. Was that intentional?
Yes it was, because the sculptures don’t play the main role. I didn’t want the viewer to pay any attention to the sculptures while looking at the pictures but rather admire the pictures as a whole through ethereal aesthetics without thinking about it too much.

The editorial part of the project is accompanied by a short video titled, Nunzugu Part 1. Can you tell me about the narrative of the video. Is there one?
Not really. The main idea behind the film was to do a beautiful, captivating film with a strong aesthetic. Even though the film focuses slightly on the nunchaku objects I think that the viewer will end up being more fascinated by the visual outcome. The whole idea was to produce something that would leave the viewer with an empty feeling, not understanding why they even liked it. On social media, many times we click the like button without questioning the context.






The video was co-directed by you and Max Smeds. Was there something particular you were trying to capture on film?
When I started working with Max, I told him that I wanted to make a film that looks cool, sounds cool and is very current. Max filmed the whole thing himself and he didn’t think about [the nunchakus] but was rather trying to capture the amazing skills of the actor in the video. After all, that’s the most important thing if you think about the history of nunchakus; it’s an old Okinawa martial art weapon which requires many years of practice. Max understood the idea perfectly and he framed the picture so that it’s beautiful and aesthetically strong while showing the actor’s skills at the same time.

Who is the actor in the film by the way? Is he an actual martial arts expert?
Yes he is! His name is Tatu Kalliomäki. He’s a young Finnish boy who I found on the internet, more precisely YouTube. He’s so lovely and, oh my, those skills! He only broke one pair of nunchakus!

Up-and-coming musician Dan Bodan, scored the video. What kind of dialogue did you have about the music?
Dan is just amazing, I love his music! The song that we used was not specifically made for the film. It’s a song from Dan’s most recent album but it works perfectly for the film. I just chatted with him on Facebook and asked if we could use it. Luckily he was okay with it.

Any other projects on the horizon?
I’m doing a few collaborative shows and I’m also working on my next solo show called ‘IOE’. I’m quite excited about it. I’m taking my craftsmanship to the next level. This time I’m dealing with the idea of existence in the virtual world as well as the real one.