Intrigued by the concept behind the combined art gallery and tearoom at Boundary Art in Cardiff Bay, we met with its owner, Cate Cheng, who kindly invited us to attend the tea ceremony performed by her aunt, Joan and to chat about Cate’s journey into art and her bold initiative to establish a creative space dedicated to bridging Western and Chinese cultures.
On a typical Welsh rainy afternoon, Joan performed for us the most enjoyable and informative traditional Chinese tea ceremony followed by a leisurely conversation with Cate about her upbringing in Shanghai, her life in London, her Cardiff experience and her ambitions for Boundary Art. We have been pleasantly surprised to see how extravagance and tranquility can be found under the same roof and how well they work together here at Boundary Art.
For those who don't know you, who is Cate behind Boundary Art?
I’m the creative director of Boundary Art, establishing the art gallery and tea room from scratch. I’m really a contradiction, since I have eastern family background but the way my parents educated me and the culture atmosphere around me make me somewhat think like a westerner. However, after I moved to the UK since 2012, the ‘east side’ of me grew, as I never paid attention and studied Chinese traditional culture that much until I left China. I appreciate this ‘contradiction’ in me, and I’d use ‘fusion’ to define it.
Where does your interest in art come from? Are you an artist yourself?
My father is an artist and designer; I guess it’s in my genes as I found myself to love art so much when I was a kid. I could sit on the floor and draw for hours and never felt tired. My mother encouraged me to draw whatever I liked instead of sending me to some art training class. She still keeps all the sketchbooks I drew, there are dozens of boxes of them.
Being an artist has always been my dream and that’s why I studied art and graphic design at university. However, I gradually realized that no matter how outstanding the artworks are, they still need efficient marketing and promoting to allow more audience to have access and to appreciate them. The old saying ‘good wine needs no bush’ can’t be applied to the modern society anymore. Many artists don’t have the awareness of the ‘business side’ of art, but I found it vital. As a result, I went to Goldsmiths University of London to study my Master degree on ‘Brands, communication and cultures’, trying to understand art from a deeper and more rational perspective.
How did your career unfold up until the point where you are now?
At the beginning, I only had a rough idea that I’d love to start my own business, something exciting and artistic. Instead of doing commercial design studio, I thought, why not doing something unique that no one has ever done, like a combined art gallery and tearoom?
My parents encouraged and supported me a lot, they said that there was no need to feel pressured and to just treat it like a new brand I needed to design and develop. That’s how Boundary Art started.
"Our aim is to create a multidimensional space where customers can experience a haven of tranquility away from the stress of everyday life."
How did the idea of Boundary Art come about and what made it worth pursuing?
Boundary Art devotes itself to the fusion of communication and promotion between Western and Chinese cultures, believing that there should be no boundaries but only differences between them and aims to be the bridge introducing facets of Chinese culture, for example ink painting, calligraphy, tea ceremonies to a new audience in the UK, while also creating an opportunity for a Chinese audience to view Western modern art. Appreciation of the history and philosophy specific to Chinese art contrasts interestingly with the unconstrained and creative movement of Western art.
Our aim is to create a multidimensional space where customers can experience a haven of tranquility away from the stress of everyday life. Where the artworks can be appreciated while enjoying an authentic Chinese tea experience in the relaxing tearooms.
The core ideology of Boundary Art has always been about the communication and trans-boundary of arts, culture and thoughts. We celebrate original thinking and offer an international platform for artists, curators and writers, whether they have made their reputation nationally or internationally. We welcome all audiences and our aim is to encourage everyone to engage with art, prompting questions and supporting debate.
What fascinates you about the differences between Chinese and Western art?
There’s no doubt that art can reflect artists’ personalities, and what affects their personalities is their culture. The difference in art is actually the difference in ideology.
For example, Chinese advocate connotation as a virtue, while on the contrary, westerners are more straightforward. Thus, this distinction is clearly expressed in art.
Boundary Art is all about bringing people and cultures together. What is the most rewarding aspect of this venture?
Relationships between different cultures are powerful and the foundations on which we aim to build this connection is through our shared common experiences that shape the way we understand art. The most rewarding aspect of this is the culmination of the cultural differences around us.
How was it received by the local art enthusiasts and what sort of public does it attract?
Boundary Art is still relatively new (opened 2015). The feedback we have received has always been very positive. Currently, all local art enthusiasts of different age groups and walks of life have frequented the gallery.
What about the location? What makes this area the perfect spot for Boundary Art?
Cardiff Bay has become a 'hotbed' for tourism and a focal point for the convergence of family and friends attending events at the 'Millennium Centre' and other venues situated close to the gallery. There is also the popular 'St David's Hotel' where many of our visitors have stayed as it is a 'stone's throw' away from Boundary Art. Although we are satisfied with the location, we feel that there is always room for improvement in reaching out to a wider audience through word of mouth, advertising and press links.
What is the overarching criteria that informs your choice in terms of exhibited artists?
At Boundary Art we are open to all genres and forms. Every piece of artwork that expresses impressive aesthetics and emotions would have the opportunity to be viewed and exhibited.
Can you tell us more about the interior design of the space?
Our space is split in two areas and the main colours are white and light grey. In the art gallery area we kept it simple and modern with professional displaying facilities, whereas in the tearoom we have antique tables and chairs that match the ‘Zen’ style. Every item here is similar to each other, but different and this is the playful aspect of our interior design.
What about the Tea Garden? Who is performing the tea ceremony?
My auntie Joan is in charge of the tearoom and she’s an expert in Chinese tea, so she’s the one performing the tea ceremony that usually needs to be booked in advance.
Also, she’s good at introducing Chinese tea to others in an easy to understand way combined with the knowledge of interesting historical stories.
What are some of the challenges of running a creative business?
In my opinion, the most difficult part is striking a balance between being artistic and commercial. Art needs passion and creativity, but at the same time we have to overcome the impulse and analyze everything rationally, trying to execute the creative ideas into reality.
Running your own business can be stressful at times. What do you do to relax?
Drinking tea! It’s almost like meditation for me. Also, going to watch rock gigs sometimes. I used to be a vocalist in a small rock band when I was in London, old wild times… that’s another side of me.
When it comes to living space, how would you define your style?
I like industrialism and minimalism. The place I’m living in at the moment is an old listed building converted into a loft style apartment that has metal suspended ceiling. I’m trying to keep everything simple, even a bit empty, like the ancient Chinese philosophy, you should show your respect to ‘emptiness’.
What is your favourite tea?
It’s difficult to say as different teas suit different weathers and seasons. For example, my favourite tea in summer is Monkey King, a delicate type of Chinese green tea. I like drinking black tea in winter, like Jin Jun Mei. And Oolong tea, like Taiwan High Mountain Oolong is more neutral so I drink it more often.
Are there any artists you currently follow for inspiration?
Zhao Wu Ji. In my opinion, his works achieve the perfect harmony between eastern and western art – they are so passionate that you can even feel his movement and breath.
What are some of your favourite places to hang out in Cardiff?
I think the best thing about Cardiff is that even though it’s a busy metropolis, most nature reserves at parks are easily accessible. Only 30 minutes’ drive and you’ll be able to enjoy the lovely sceneries in forests or by the seaside. There is a lake that doesn’t even have a name on Google Maps, but you’ll be fascinated by its beauty and peacefulness.
What will you be showing at Boundary Art this year?
We have already held several events at Boundary Art this year. We started the year positively with Ping-Gang Cheng's solo exhibition 'Poetry'. In March, we celebrated our 2nd Anniversary with 'Birth Rebirth'. May saw our first collaboration with the bi-annual photography 'Diffusion Festival' - 'Revolution'. Our new show, 'Juxtaposition', is now open to the public and runs through until late September, which highlights the works of both Asian and Western artists. We are currently developing ideas for our final show of the year which will coincide with the annual art events taking place in Cardiff.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?
To make Boundary Art more established, like an art icon in Cardiff.
Can you recommend us a film?
I'd love to recommend a film called 'Happy Together', directed by Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai. It was filmed in Buenos Aires and I think it has the most beautiful cinematography I've seen, and it has extremely strong emotions throughout the whole film. Amazing film scoring too.