Sigh. Apologies for not posting sooner. I'm alive and flourishing in China. Internet access has been spotty up 'til now, but thanks to China Telecom, I'm all jacked into the matrix. I'm writing this from Jingdezhen, which is the porcelain capitol of the entire globe (sorry Kohler toilet factory in Sheboygan, Wisconsin). As a ceramic geek, I'm totally feeling like the "Bee Girl" in that Blind Melon video. I've found a place where everybody eats, sleeps, breathes and shits porcelain 24/7. I'm here as a part of West Virginia University's summer study program, which I can recommend without any reservations.
You know all of those porcelain bowls, plates and figurines that you see in Chinese markets? They have to come from somewhere, and overwhelmingly, that somewhere is Jingdezhen, which is where porcelain was initially discovered, and where the imperial kilns were located during China's dynastic era.
Today I read that every day, over 1 million pieces of porcelain are produced in Jingdezhen. Think about that. Now consider that over 1 million pieces of porcelain have been produced here every day since the Imperial Era. Next, take into consideration how much clay and glaze went into those objects, not to mention man (I mean person) power. Then consider that each of those pieces has to be packed, shipped and marketed. Jingdezhen works on a scale unlike anything else I've ever seen.
How does Jingdezhen do it? You're probably imagining gigantic gleaming stainless steel-outfitted porcelain factories with dorms and cafeterias for their workers. You'd be wrong. There are certainly big factories here, but the majority of porcelain "factories" here actually seem to be small "mom and pop" shops that specialize in one thing or another. Unlike factories and individual artists in the U.S., division of labor makes Jingdezhen run smoothly. One factory produces clay and liquid ceramic slip. Another factory creates the "slipcast" objects, glazes them and fires them. Other small factories specialize in decorating the pieces. Imagine the little paint your own pottery tchotchke shop turned into a whole gigantic town.
One of the great things about Jingdezhen is that you can find a specialist for just about anything. West Virginia has its own studio here, and they are constantly inviting guest decorators, carvers and throwers to create work. Check out the video at the top of this post. It's of the resident throwing genius. That's all this gentleman has been doing for the last FIFTEEN years (which is about the time that I've been working in ceramics). The video is of him throwing a fairly large pot, which he can do in about three minutes. A small teabowl takes him about 20 seconds. The pottery wheel NEVER stops...when it's time to take a pot off of the wheel, he just yanks it off. Another thing to note is his awesome footwear....a plastic bag taped over his shoes is all the protection he needs. Another specialist will come in and trim the pots, while yet another person glazes them and loads them into the kiln.
Here's a short video of how much work he can create in a SIX HOUR period.
I'll be in the studio here for the next two weeks, making work and visiting historical kiln sites. I'll also be sharing the Extreme Craft Roadshow with another ceramics program in town called the Pottery Workshop on June 19th. If you're in the neighborhood, it's free and open to the public.
I'm in heaven right now, because I've got access to tons of professionals who can help me make the work that I'm envisioning in my head. Stay tuned for some exciting new ceramic work from me (with a little help from the Jingdezhen pros). After Jingdezhen, I'm off to Xian, where I'll get to see the terra-cotta warriors (if ever there was a work of extreme craft, this has to be it) and Beijing.
I'm hoping to make some time for more piquant observations about China like this one....
The government pays thousands of old ladies to sweep the streets with homemade brooms. Would it kill them to maybe hire one person to clean the public bathrooms? I stepped into a bathroom in Jingdezhen's public square that looked like the one from Trainspotting with dysentery.