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

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