Saturday, 21 February 2015

Ahead of the Curve

The exhibition Ahead of the Curve shows work by many artists connected to the city of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province. Porcelain has been made there for over ten centuries;  the city housed the imperial kilns which produced thousands of the finest porcelain wares for Chinese emperors and their households. More than half of the works in Ahead of the Curve: new china from China were made in Jingdezhen, renowned for its high quality raw materials and the skills of local craftspeople.

The work in Ahead of the Curve is a wonderful blend of traditional techniques, new techniques and social commentary. The glass works in the exhibition offer an insight into a relatively new discipline in Chinese art - studio glass has only recently emerged since the early 2000s in Chinese universities.

Click HERE> for your booking form

Read on to find out about the fascinating background to this exhibition and for images.

'Edgy Resonance': Researching Ahead of the Curve by Alexandra Nachescu

'Ahead of the Curve' started with the question: 'I wonder what potters are up to nowadays in China's traditional porcelain capital, Jingdezhen?' 

Curators Kate Newnham, Helen Brown and Claire Blakey worked with Associate Professor at Fine Arts College of Shanghai University and curator of twocities gallery, Shannon Guo, to select twenty emerging and established artists to tell the story of the hustle and bustle of contemporary Jingdezhen.

When I joined the team in July 2014, it became my job to find out more about these 20 creators. Using catalogues of their previous exhibition, exhibition reviews around the Chinese web, thesis excerpts, interviews in Chinese newspapers, and countless artist blog posts on everything from holiday trips to kiln mishaps, we've ended up doing a fair bit of detective work to understand these twenty amazing artists a bit better.

We were often lucky to find artists telling their story in their own voice. Ceramicist Wu Hao talks in several interviews of the thrill of giving up his career as an interior designer and starting from scratch in Japan. His reinvention of himself as a potter in Japan was not all rosy, however: after arriving at Kyoto City University of the Arts, he found that his teacher, highly regarded Sodeisha potter Sato Shi, had set up office in the pottery studio. He discovered his teacher only wanted him to throw one pot after the other, with little feedback other than short remarks and no training whatsoever. What started out as a harrowing experience became a time of great self-discovery: the intense throwing sessions gave him a much better feel for clay, one that no teacher could ever convey through words.

Figure 1 Wu Hao and his works. (c) Wu Hao 2014
We wouldn't have been able to go very far without the tireless support of our partners at twocities gallery Shanghai, particularly Mandy Fung, Joy Ying and their intern Kyo Qiang. They had to contend with endless pleas for more information, questions to relay to the artists about their practice, as well as more unusual questions such as 'do lotus stalks have spikes on them?' (Answer: Yes, but not quite as pronounced as the spikes on Zhao Lantao's spindly lotus stalks).

Figure 2 Zhao Lantao, At Ease, porcelain, 2011, (c) Zhao Lantao
More often than not, the discussion turned to how we translate or explain the titles of certain works. The names of works like Zhang Jingjing's 'Spring Up' series and Guan Donghai's'Gate Series' reference traditional idioms, while Wang Ping's 'Lao Yi Lian/Old Lotus' brush pot is an homage not to a literal flower, but to the 16th century Chinese painter Chen Hongshou who bore that nickname. 

Figure 3 Wang Ping, Brush Washer, porcelain, 2014, (c) Wang Ping
Figure 4 Zhang Jingjing, Spring Up Series no.10, porcelain, 2010, (c) Zhang Jingjing
People often talk of things getting lost in translation, and that was something we always had to watch out for in the to-and-fro of translating our research from Chinese into English, and translating our final catalogue entries and interpretation back into Chinese. However, every once in a while a word or a phrase would come out of this linguistic ping-pong match that would delight us and make us see things in a new light. When we had to decide on a Chinese translation for the exhibition title 'Ahead of the Curve', we asked a former Bristol Museum Taiwanese volunteer for help, and she gave us feng Yun, which literally translates to 'edgy resonance. Short and with great punch, we thought it captured the feel of our exhibition perfectly.

Alexandra Nachescu,
Public Programmes Officer: Ahead of the Curve: New china from China