Monday, 7 May 2012

My time at Jingdezhen

A week has passed since I returned from China. I am still overwhelmed by all the inputs I was exposed too. The reason for my trip was to take part in an arts residency offered by Jingdezhen International School, more precisely by their WOW TAO DIY CENTRE ( Ceramic Training Base) This ceramics department is run a bit like a business. Its facilities were free to use for the university students and those on a residency but other visitors payed a fee for their ceramic experience. The department consisted of a large studio space where visitors are show and invited to try different methods of ceramic form making , eg, throwing, slab building, coiling, pinching, press moulds, and also how to work the surface of the clay before it is fired. Cabinets were filled with examples of what can be done. This room also contained the space reserved for the artists in residence .
Another room was dedicated to the surface decoration techniques ,focusing on over-glazes on shiny porcelain wares. Tthe brush work as I tend to call it is one of aspects I most admire from the Chinese way of the clay At the basement of the building there was a gallery/shop displaying wares from local workshops. WOW TAO was visited by tourist visiting Jingdezhen, school children groups, groups from other universities traveling around China, and individuals interested in knowing a bit more about the ceramic processes. It is located nearby the Old kilns site which are now transformed into a museum/ park The mood was always good and playful. I had a plan for what to do during my time at Jingdezhen... but I ended up doing something else. On my way to the center, a very nice walk crossing a patch of forest, passing by the old kiln site and a big pond, I got captivated by the assemblages nature creates. After a strong rain has washed the soil and drags whatever is on somewhere else, sometimes configuring very interesting composites of random objects glued with clay and dried out by the sun. Those objects(composites) related to my original plan of creating an object through the assemblage of various components found in the same environment. I wanted to collect the shapes of objects and reproduce them in clay but organizing them in a different way without following a preconceived idea or patron.
There was no plaster available the fist days so I started playing with the clay to experience its possibilities. I started the 3D version of one of my drawings, a nomadic village. I also started the construction without moulds of a preliminary composite catching textures with slabs of clay which would be assembled following the structure of a nature's composite found in my way to the studio. Nature's composite was just the starting point not something to copy.
The clay was very different to what I am used too, and I also forgot to bring my favorite tools. The clay was quite sticky and not very plastic, passing very fast from a very wet state to a stiff dry , I observed when throwing, it was easier for me to use more clay pulling thicker walls in order for the shape to stand. A good deal of trimming was required afterwards So I used different timings and gestures to shape it in form, weather hand building or throwing. I even got to do something I have not though about in time, a tile, a puzzle shape to fit with each other creating a big drawing. I just got to the state of making the first mould, press on mould Another quality of the clay was that after leather hard it was very easy to carve, it was a pleasure to carved it. It was better to leave time and thought for this moment as the surface texture could be worked to a high degree. .My work at the studio was then more focused on learning the possibilities of this particular clay. I just have time to experience the building processes and not the glazing and brushwork on the surface. That was a bit disappointing, but I have in my mind the though of coming back to finish my experience. The possibilities for glazing and final brushwork of a ceramic piece are huge. During my stay I was exposed to so many different artworks that I was full of ideas I wanted to try. One special place in Jingdezhen is the sculpture factory. It sits on the grounds of an old factory, nowadays it is occupied by various workshops, galleries and living in units, a caff and common areas It is a ceramicists neighborhood. very lively. They run a ceramics market every Saturday. On Friday evenings there are lectures in the big hall given by local and international artists. But there is always something going on. It is a good place to get an idea of the ceramic work produced in Jingdezhen, and how to display it.
The ways of displaying artworks caught my attention. It is something I need to improve personally. I justify myself on this by my usual lack of time and little capacity to transport props plus work when I am exhibiting outside my studio. To add I also have a non seller attitude, the artwork should be the focus not the theatrics of display. But nowadays people, due to be exposed to too much data, just browse over a landscape The artworks need to be positioned and enhanced by their display to help them to grab the attention and consideration of the public. I am not talking here of installations, that is another world apart. All Jingdezhen was populated by little ceramic workshops, galleries and shops selling materials and finalized work. I could see from my window 11th floor a landscape of flat roofs, terraces at different levels with pots drying on them.