Searching my own voice
After reading through the introduction of the project, the first thing that came up to my mind was the “readymade”. I think the “readymade” is a very good example for explaining the concept of the project – letting things / objects speak for themselves and how placement may change their contexts.
My first impression of the readymade was fundamentally making fun out of everything and aiming to subvert the conventional aesthetics. It is a lack of skill and sense of beauty. After last year’s Constellation research my point of view towards it has been changed and understand the impact of an artwork which having significant meaning could be brought to audiences and society.
(Ai WeiWei “Straight”, 2013)
Magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck Sichuan province in China May 2008. After the disaster, there were no accurate accounts of the number of dead and the Chinese government refused to give a clear death toll. Over a million buildings collapsed, including many school buildings. It was widely attributed to the substandard construction of the schools, although Chinese officials rejected that claim. The phrase “tofu-dregs engineering” was used to describe these shoddily built buildings, then it led to allegations of corruption between government officials and contractors.
This massive readymade work was exhibited in the “According To What” exhibition held in AGO Art Gallery in Ontaria, Canada. The “Straight” is formed from multiple tons of rusted steel rebar which were recovered from the collapsed school buildings in the Sichuan earthquake. Every single rebar was straightened and stacked together created a landscape.
It brings a feeling of sorrow for those who lost their lives in the disaster. Bodies were concealed under the collapsed buildings and many devastated families are still grieving for their love ones. This floor piece was arranged as a wave movement that has a sense of the instability. The restoration the straightness of the metal bar it seems like to implicate that something is needed to be get it right.
After a hot summer, autumn calls. This is the best season to close to the nature. In my recent hiking experiences, when I was walking along the country roads I saw characteristic cottages which were built along the winding roads. Varicoloured flowers grew in front of the cottages. The children toys scattered in the garden were slightly spotted by dirt. I looked into the window and saw nicely painted ceramic plates hanging on the wall, typical interior decoration of the British. Pottery ornaments had been placed by the window while the bricks of the cottages emerged from the surface and could not hide underneath the cement anymore as the weathering had caught up with it.
All the above, the soil in the garden, the bricks exposed from the cement and the ceramic objects inside the cottages seem like an independent individual, but they are all come from a same and single material, namely, clay. They appeared in a different form and were placed in different locations representing a different meaning in our daily life.
Continuing my research of the ideas of the project, found an interesting story about the creation of the world.
Pan Gu is the creator of the universe in Chinese mythology based on the folks myths and legends. In the mysterious antiquity before the form of the universe was only primordial chaos. The chaos formed into a massive egg-shaped cloud. Inside the egg was a sleeping giant, Pan Gu. For 18 thousand years he slept and grew inside the egg. Finally, Pan Gu woke up and stretched. He swung his axe to break the egg into two, the clear lighter elements rose and formed the Sky (yang) by contrast heavier murky elements sank down to form the Earth (yin).
Worrying the recombination of the sky and earth might cause the chaos would return, Pan Gu resolved to hold them apart. With the sky on his head and the earth under his feet, Pan Gu played the part of a column and his body as a bond between sky and earth. Pan Gu continued to grow for 18,000 years until the heaven was 30,000 miles above the earth which could no longer be combined together. Eventually, Pan Gu died.
With the immense giant’s death, his body became parts of the world. His last breath became wind and clouds and his voice became the rumbling thunder. His left eye became the sun and right eye became the moon. His body and blood transmuted into mountains, rivers and seas whilst his hairs turned into the countless stars in the skies. His sweat flowed like the rain and dew nourishing all things on earth.
In this story man played the prominent role of the creation of the world. Sky, Earth, Man and all things are from a same form. However, The Book of Changes (I Ching), which has been passed down from ancient times, presents to Heaven, Earth and Man as the core elements of the universe. These three elements exist respectively while they are inseparably related. The land is nourished by nature’s phenomena by that man survives. The unity of yin and yang means that life goes on.
Another essential theme is that of yin and yang. Earth is soft and firm and Man is benevolence and righteousness. The composition of each of these elements exist as two inter-opposite elements or contrary forces which are actually mutually complementary. In addition, hexagrams which symbolise the natural phenomena and the personnel changes, were used for divination purposes. Over time it was transformed into a philosophical commentary. It represents an outline of a rational and well-ordered universe with man and nature sharing peaceful harmony.
The story of Pan Gu leads me to think of the space we are existing in. The wonders of nature and the changing of seasons enable humans to survive in this world.
The Unity of Nature and Mankind
As usual, I started with sketching different forms and shapes of vessels which I strive to achieve to make a vessel which can be combined in one single object as well as separated to exist individually to reach an aim of depicting the harmonious co-existence of the Heaven, Earth and Man. It can be functional and also decorative. In this project I would like to avoid using the slip casting technique, if possible. Besides being a learning process, I also feel that during throwing calmness and harmony can be generated.
Start to throw different forms of vessels –
Trying to throw a wide-bellied vessel, I lifted a tall cylinder then pushed the clay outward from inside. For some reasons, the belly hasn’t been opended evenly and has too much clay been left at the bottom.
Austrian ceramist Thomas Bohle
The first impression of the artist’s work is that of perfectionism. It demands a high level of skill and balance of form. The artist’s interest lies in double-walled vessels in which the interior and exterior shape / form differ from each other but exist harmoniously. Increasing the contrast in form, matt and shiny glazes in rich variation colours are used in his work, such as ox-blood or celadon (both are traditional Chinese glazes). Every piece is perfectly thrown on the wheel and a scalpel is often used by the artist to shape the sharply worked edges of the inwardly descending form. The vessels are then fired in an open reduction flame or a reduction firing process in a gas furnace at a temperature of 1280C. The overall appearance of his work shows a clear sense of form and precision craftsmanship.
Bobby Silverman’s installation Beyond Memory
Bobby Silverman is an artist who subtly re-contextualises the meaning of objects by stacking plates, bowls and vases together. They have their own shapes, forms and colours. Their familiar forms can be easily found in kitchen cupboards or on a dining table. Except for having their same practical value, they seem to be unrelated and can exist individually.
Ceramic has long been regarded as a functional material for creating practical objects. The artist tactfully assembles the vessels together in a group to form a botanic-like sculpture. The arrays of grouped vessels are placed on the gallery floor rather than on conventional pedestals suggesting natural scenery. The familiar forms become an unfamiliar object giving a feeling of alienation and changing the audiences’ perception towards the objects.
Other than displaying his work in an unconventional way Bobby Silverman also uses angle and degree of light intensity which saturates the colours of the vessels, and strengthen the shadows and highlight. The interplay of the lights and colourfully glazed vessels deliver a visually excitement to the audiences.
I admire the way that the artist redefines the meaning of an ordinary object. He elaborately reassembles the vessels and changes their traditional placement method, seeking to change audiences’ perception towards the objects. In this installation, ceramics retains its inherently humble quality while a new meaning to the objects is given.
Erna Kaarina Aaltonen
Erna Kaarina Aaltonen is a Finnish ceramist who makes hand-built sculptural vessels from a coarse stoneware clay with rubbing oxides on its pitted surface. The colours and organic forms of her sculpture vessels and the composition in the exhibitions made me think of our relationship with the environment especially nature. Besides the use of colours, the texture on the surface of the vessels also inform a sense of nature.
From my point of view, Erna Kaarina Aaltonen’s work has a certain degree of similarity with Boby Silverman’s. Both their work have unique shapes and forms and can exist individually. They are contradictory in style but in a way show balancing when they are composed together. This conveys a special visual effect to the audiences in which landscape views are suggested.
Making the vessels – Jiggering and jolleying
A range of plaster moulds was made so as to experiment with making a set of vessels which can be stacked together according to the share curvature of the shapes.
The use of plaster mould for throwing offers efficient production of identical objects, but it was slightly awkward to press / smooth the clay down into the moulds at the beginning.
After the basic shape was realised and has reached a state of leather-hard dryness, the vessels were turned to a desired shape and curvature which allowed them to be fitted into one another.
All three vessels in this project carried their own meaning. Seeking the most appropriate character for each piece is essential. Even though the shapes and forms of the vessels had already been planned in advanced, throughout the course of making judgement had to be used in order to alter and improve the vessels.
Depicting the sky is quite challenging since the sky has no form or shape. It can be cloudy, grey, blue, sunny and clear. The work of Sara Moorehouse has inspired me to explore ways of depicting the sky.
Inspired by nature’s endless colour combination through changing seasons. Sara Moorehouse minimises the ever-changing colours of seasons and uses ceramics as her canvas to express the relationship of colour and spatial changing.
The artist is also fascinated by the colours of landscapes changing through seasons, such as seascapes, oil seed rape fields and coastlines. Each piece of work is hand thrown and hand painted. The use of different coloured stripes on her ceramic bowls represents seasons changes over landscapes which gives the illusion of spatial phenomena.
Carry out glaze test :
Despite the various colours the sky provides, I chose white to represent the sky in order to match other vessels’ colours I am making. With regard to the form of the sky, again it is based on matching of other forms of vessels with which I am aiming to give harmony to the whole set of work.
It is not difficult to get white glaze recipes but I am particularly fond of this white glaze as it provides a rich and brilliant whiteness.
The use of manganese at the rim of the vessel is because of its fluid character when it fires at a higher temperature. The idea reflected the experience of observing the sky whilst other elements were involved.
The glaze test result was satisfying but in the formal work it did not turn out as I had expected. Due to the prentice glazing skill, uneven patches of glaze were left on the surface. Learning from the mistake, another set of vessels was made and underwent a proper glazing process. The result was much satisfying.
There was another disappointment which was that the manganese did not drip down as the glaze test. I believe the cause of this problem was due to the different inclination of the vessels and test tiles.
Benefit from nature man enable to survive and allows for the continuation of life. Making the man vessel, I focused on its form. The curved smoothness of form represents a part of the human body and also carries a meaning of continuous of life.
Neutral is the colour of choice for making the Man vessel.
These two vessels were glazed by using the same glaze recipe and fired at the same temperature but in different kilns. The result was surprisingly different. Unexpected cloured pattern had emerged on the surface of one of the vessels. Initially, I thought it was related to a glitch with the kiln. I then re-fired it hoping this would correct the piece. However, it remained in the same condition.
The existence of Earth provides a reliable, stable and solid ground which enable myriad beings to grow and be nurtured. In traditional Chinese belief, the Earth represents yin (feminine) and its symbolic colour is black. The design of my Earth vessel was based on these traits. In spite of the solid character of the Earth, I tried to keep a smooth curvature for this vessel in order to echo the forms of the other two vessels.
I tried to bring about a black clay body by mixing different amounts of oxides into the clay and fired at different temperatures. As a result, the darkness of the clay body did not reach my expectation so I changed to use black slip to decorate the vessel. After firing at a desired temperature, the oxides in the slip released a metallic bronze colour that enhanced the sense of heaviness and solidity of the vessel.
Green glaze tests were also carried out for experimenting with an alternative scenery for the Earth. This glaze recipe not only gives the natural green which is close to the colours of vegetation but also the brown mottles it provides can suggest natural elements.
Due to the clay was not dry enough the Earth and Human vessels broke into pieces in the bisque firing
Having benefited from the Synergies Between Materials and Technologies, I attempted to use laser cutting to make this profile in order to use it for guiding throwing.
Connections and Objections is the final project of this year, so I would like to take this opportunity to finalize my experiences in both the project and this year’s experience.
The second year has been a productive and fruitful year. Students had the opportunity to study across subjects which benefits further development in my main subject and also future studies. Collaboration with the National Museum Cardiff for the Fragile? exhibition offered students the chance of being involved in setting up the event through which treasurable experiences were gain. In order to prepare the dissertation proposal, I intensively investigated the subject I am interested in which has helped to guide my research direction in ceramics. Tutorials were provided throughout the year in which we were given sufficient support and advice from the tutors. I am contented with the experience and knowledge I have gain this year. If I have to put forward a problem that I came across in this year, it could be inadequate time for solving problems and surmounting challenges.
Over this last year experience I have learned to manage my time much better this year. Even so I did not dedicate enough time for improving my skills and techniques. In making of the work for my Connections and Objections project, a range of glaze tests were carried out. I encountered problems with using glazes. Glazes and firing are both deceptively difficult techniques which take lengthy time to experiment with. I wish I had had more time to investigate the problems further.
Conducting research for my dissertation proposal inspired me and helped to develop a clear perception of my interest in ceramic. The research is not only conducive to developing my identity as an artist and designer but also in redefining my cultural identity which leads me to inject considerable oriental elements into my work. I would like to follow this path to continue my further research in terms of design and context.
Although the experiences I gained from the Field this year did not directly benefit this years’ project, it assisted me in expanding and continuing the notion which I used for the Positive and Negative, the subject project of last year. Also, a laser cutting technique was used in the Connections and Objections. CAD software Photoshop and Corel Draw were used to create a template. Then profiles were cut out by the laser cutter for guiding on experimental throwing to produce a series of vessels which shared the same curved shape.
Reminiscent of the past years’ learning process, I mainly spent my time in the university and on books. Perhaps it is time for outwork-looking study and exploring. Visiting galleries, exhibitions and museums will be my main activities from now on. In addition, I would like to contribute more of my time to honing my skills and techniques in ceramics due to the high standards required of the final outcome expected in the third year.