Friday, October 29, 2010

Jessica Lumb - Time in China seems to move both fast and slow simultaneously.

Each day passes quickly and before I know, it’s over and I have to think about the next one. But at the same time, it feels like I was in Jingdezhen for a long, long time, and when I look back on it, an incredible amount has fitted into the last six weeks. This makes it really hard to leave!

We celebrated China’s Golden week, a celebration of the founding of the Peoples Republic. A big deal, people generally take the whole week off and travel or visit family. A group of us went dancing on October 1 at one of the local bars/clubs. The place was decorated with the national flag and the anthem (and happy birthday) were played throughout the night. Things seem to stop during this week but not much changed around the sculpture factory. The worst was that the slip caster took 6 days off to visit Shanghai! An audible gasp went round the room when we heard this – second to the glaze man I think he would be one of the most used craftsmen around!

My cough worsened and I ended up at the hospital to see the doctor. An interesting experience and one I’m not in any hurry to repeat. A chest x-ray (which once taken was printed in black and white on a piece of A4 computer paper) revealed I didn’t have pneumonia and it was recommended that I have IV antibiotics over a course of three days, the standard treatment in China.

This is where I sat for 2 ½ - 3 hours at a time. I was the only westerner I saw there and when I walked in on my second day they knew exactly who I was its Jessica, its Jessica.

I had a few days away in a city called Nanchang, 3.5 hours away from Jingdezhen by bus where I caught up with a friend from Coles who is living/studying there now. All very last minute I was only able to email Sam before I left so when I got off the bus I had no idea if he was able to meet me and no idea what would happen if he didn’t. As the man I sat next to said as we rolled into town you’ve got big dreams friend, big dreams. Although not seeing Sam at first, about 30 seconds up the street on my way to find a hotel, I found him standing on a street corner waiting for me. I stayed in his room at his university which he showed me around. It was massive! Like a city, it had everything – supermarkets, banks, food halls, game rooms, even KTV and bus/buggy type things to drive you round! It seemed rare that a student would make a trip into the city.

Before I left to come here I tried to learn a little Chinese, mostly listening to lessons on my iPod. Designed for travelers they taught really basic phrases and I wondered if they would actually be too basic for those fluent with the language. To my surprise however there were a couple of times where Sam used them and for a few seconds I understood exactly what was being said. Not long after he met me at the bus station we were trying to find the train station where we were meeting one of his friends and stopped to ask for directions. ‘Huoche zhan zai nar?’ he inquired and I immediately repeated to myself ‘train station, where is it?’ A day or two later he introduced himself to someone ‘woa jiao Sam’ – ‘my name is Sam’. I don’t know if anyone noticed but it made me grin from ear to ear!

In Nanchang I discovered that I had no idea how to pronounce Jingdezhen or that the way we say it back ‘home’ is different from that of local Nanchang-ians. Whenever someone asked where I was based there was a couple of minute pause in the conversation while we worked out what it was that I was trying to say! In the end Sam and I referred to it as that place where you are staying. Lessons from a few different people later and I think I’ve got it! Proof that intonations really are important in this language!

Getting back to Jingdezhen I got stuck into making work.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Leaving Jingdezhen

I leave Jingdezhen in a couple of hours. Big sad face. I've had an AMAZING time and met the coolest of people, a few of which are below.

I'm working on a longer update of the last couple of weeks which I'll send you from Beijing. I wish I could show you everything that I've seen!

Hope this finds you all happy and well. Biggest love xxxxxx Jessie

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A few weeks in Jingdezhen...

The cool change came about 10 days ago. We didn’t get the storms that were predicted but the temperature dropped about 15 degrees and it rained overnight. I woke one morning to a beautiful wet courtyard outside my window and hills that had disappeared into the clouds.

Jingdezhen has a different feel than Shanghai. Although still a city (population roughly the size of Adelaide) and definitely not a village like most of us were expecting, it moves on its own time, or at least it does inside the Sculpture Factory. Everything at the Pottery Workshop is connected. The plumbing, the electricity, the internet – if something happens to one the others are affected too and we are constantly reminded about conserving energy etc. Not from a money saving point of view but just to help keep things running smoothly.

Our time is ours while we are here but there are a few requirements which add a little bit of structure to our week. On Monday afternoons we have an artist meeting where we all get together with either Eric or Baixu for coffee and discuss what is happening that week or raise any issues or questions we might have. On Friday nights there is a lecture given by a resident or another visiting artist which is always well attended by local students from the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute. And then on Saturday mornings a market is held for recent graduates to sell their wares. Each of these seem to come round quicker and quicker every week Artist meeting again! Didn’t we just have one yesterday??? is a common cry.

I love that my mobile phone doesn’t work, that I can’t access facebook, that my computer only connects to the internet when it wants to. I rarely find the need to check the time and my stomach lets me know when lunch or dinner is near. Like clockwork, I begin to get hungry at 11.30am and 5.30pm and know that I should start thinking about stopping what I am doing and head towards the kitchen. The meals are still amazing and rarely disappointing. We always have fish and some kind of pork. Although we do wonder where most of the pig goes – we seem to end up with belly, trotters, ears! Sometimes it feels a bit same same but then I remember where I am and appreciate it all the more.

Last Tuesday a group of us hired a car and driver and went for a day trip out in the country. We hiked in a bamboo forest for a couple of hours, following a river upstream until we found a waterfall running down the side of the mountain. We walked through fields of tea, and of rice, and gardens full of vegetables before coming across a little stone village where we chatted briefly with the locals.

Then we were off to an ancient kiln site and lunch at a little town where we managed to avoid ordering the dog leg that was sticking out of the fridge. Afterwards we spent an hour or two in a village that was 2000 years old!!! I still can’t get my head around it!!! 2000 years old and still going strong!!! The best bit was discovering the local school and interacting with the students. At one point they all ran from one side of the yard to the other to look at us, and yell hello! Nice to meet you! as much and as loudly as they could. We loved it as much as they did and there was disappointment all round when the bell rang and they had to return to class.

On our way to the dragon kiln we stopped at another old village to visit a museum. Malin and I got a bit bored and went for a wander further down the street where we came across a group of oldies sitting out of the rain just chatting and knitting.

The dragon kiln afterwards was amazing too. A wood fire kiln and something like 64 metres long it snakes up the side of a hill and has holes at regular intervals from which the flames escape to give it its name. We climbed on top of it, walked the length of it and got to sit inside it! Very very cool!

I’ve developed a cough that makes me sound like a pack a day smoker which is unfair because I’ve never smoked. I’m (jokingly) thinking about taking it up though because almost everyone else does and no one sounds as unhealthy as me! It’s a very affordable habit to have in China at roughly $1 a pack. You can buy a whole carton for less than the cost of one pack at home.

There are no occ. health and safety regulations here which makes for terrible working conditions, especially as they usually work when the clay is bone dry. All the studios of the local craftsmen are covered in a thick layer of porcelain dust. In some I’ve it all in a giant heap in the corner. And very few people wear masks or any other kind of protective equipment when glazing, which is done outdoors with a spray gun so much of it blows away in the wind to land who knows where anyway.

The mold makers work with huge tubs of plaster which they scoop out in big amounts and I’ve never seen them clean up the fine amounts which collect when they are carving to make the form. We saw someone one day emptying out old glaze bottles (which are just water bottles) onto the ground in the rubbish pit, which is then eaten by the chickens which are then consumed by someone in one form or another. To put it all into perspective, I heard that the average age of a full time pot thrower in Jingdezhen is 45 – 50 years, or something shockingly low like that!

Most days are spent in the studio. I have a few different projects on the go and a few more ideas in my head, but who knows where any of them will end up in a few weeks when it is time to come home. I’m working on a mix of object based works and site specific ephemeral pieces of which I’ll just take the documentation home. And in between times making tiles and decorating cups and plates for fun!

I had a heap of stuff glazed by the glaze man today and had it put in the public kiln for firing tomorrow so I’ll have some results in the next day or two.

Out one day we walked through a studio that was crash cooling their firing – it was almost impossible to walk past it was so hot. But it made the 37 degrees outside seem cool by comparison!

The Chinese love fireworks and firecrackers and let them off at all times of the day and night and for almost any reason – the birth of a baby, the opening of a store, a cat that has just had kittens…it doesn’t seem to matter. They are very loud and usually last a good 5 – 10 minutes and leave a beautiful mess of red paper on the ground.

The country has been celebrating its national day (October 1st) which marks the formation of The Peoples Republic of China in 1949 and so there have been more firecrackers than usual over the past few days. Mostly we just hear them and see the remnants so it’s a goal to try and see some in action.

One of our favourite things to do in the evenings is to go for a foot massage at a place not far from the back gate. Less than $10 and lasting an hour and a half they do our necks, backs, shoulders, head, ears, feet and all the way up to our knees. It’s like walking on a cloud all the way home. For something different I tried a Thai massage last Thursday – a full body, stretching, girl walking on your back type of thing. Almost too full on for my ticklish body but incredibly relaxing once it ended!

I could write so much more but I think this is long enough! Hope everyone is well as always and the weather where you are is matching the warmth and sunshine we are getting again.

Love and good fortune from China

X. Jessie

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wayne has finally arrived in Jindezhen

Hello again,

I have finally arrived in Jingdezhen after a short but fantastic stay in Shanghai. It is just AMAZING here, and in not even two whole days I have already begun experimenting with one of the local porcelain clays and have purchased five beautiful glazes from 'the glaze shop' to do some tests.

But first........before leaving Shanghai Jessie and I spent three more full days immersed in Chinese art, food and culture, both traditional and contemporary. It is a vibrant and exciting city!

On a visit to the Shanghai Art Gallery I was able to view four separate exhibitions. The largest was a retrospective of works by a famous Chinese painter. Very traditional style of ink work, 'misty' landscapes, 'still lifes' and magnificent paper and silk scrolls. I discovered a couple of days later that the artist had recently died, and had been considered a National treasure. I really felt it was a privilege to have seen such an extensive survey of his work, especially as I could never imagine something like that ever coming to Australia. Two others were solo exhibitions of quite contemporary works by much younger Chinese artists, painting mostly, and the fourth, and smallest show was of very traditional paintings and prints.

Jessie and I stumbled across a couple of interesting independent Galleries during our walks around the city and the odd piece of public art! (but sometimes it was hard to distinguish if it was really public art or a sponsorship opportunity..advertising is HUGE, as in scale and sheer volume, and constantly in your face here!)

The pictures I have attached are from the Shanghai Museum's porcelain collection. I think I took more than 100 pictures of some of the most exquisite ceramics I have ever seen. My mouth was constantly wide open and I must have said 'wow' or 'oh my god' 200 times or more. It was just beautiful.....every piece! (Bruce I promise to put together a powerpoint presentation!)

On our last day in Shanghai Jessie and I went the the opening of the Shanghai Art Fair. It was three whole floors of a massive exhibition centre full of exhibitors and galleries, mostly from China and surrounding Asian countries, but also from the USA, Berlin and France. LOTS of crap, but also some amazing paintings and interesting sculptures and ceramics. One whole section was just to display the work of emerging artist. Unfortunately none of the information in that hall was in english, nor were the artists there to talk to about their work, which was a shame because some was quite spectacular, and as you would expect, the most experimental. I also took lots of pics!

Throwing caution to the wind, Jessie and I also found a couple of really good restaurants and places to eat and drink. We both became addicted to Watermelon smoothies and caught the Metro to a juice bar on the Peoples Square every day for our fix. We ate Shanghai Bok Choy with Shitake Mushrooms (finally!) the juiciest Dumplings, amazing Steamed buns, BBQ pork pastries, delicious sweet breads from 'Number 1 Bakery', the best Hamburger and French Fries I have had in ages, smoked Duck (still with head attached), Snake Beans with giant chunks of the sweetest garlic, LOTS of chilli and so much more!

A very early start on Thursday morning to make it to the airport by 6.30am went without a hitch.......and Shenzen Airlines had no trouble in delivering me, AND all of my luggage safely and in one piece to Jingdezhen on time!

The people here at the Pottery Workshop are wonderful and friendly and the food has been AMAZING TOO! I just know these next six weeks are going to be filled with exciting and memorable experiences.

I promise to send more pictures soon, and another update with what has been happening here some time over the next few days.

Best Wishes, Wayne xx

At the glaze shop & brush-makers shop today. All photos by Georgia Gabrielle