"Ceramics in China are stunning", writes Lone White in 2008 of her trip to China.
"Ceramics are going forward in leaps and bounds.
Recently I undertook a visit to the Guangdong (previously Canton) region of China. I was visiting Cairns’ Sister City, Zhanjiang, to discuss the Cairns and Sister Cities Ceramic Exhibition “Earth Links”, which is to take place in Cairns Regional Gallery from 8 August to 6 October this year (2008).
I also received an invitation to call in to the Shiwan Ceramic Cultural Industry centre (approx 20 km from Guangzhou) to get a picture of what is happening in one of the largest centres of ceramics in China. What an experience!
On entering the gates of the centre the first thing that met the eyes were two large dragon kilns – one of them the ancient Nanfeng Kiln, a wood fired kiln known as a wood firing dragon kiln. It was built in the Ming dynasty (1506 – 1521) and has been in use over 500 years, producing in its original way, even today. As a matter of fact, when we visited, two kiln-firing specialists were busy stoking the kiln. It was amazing.
The climbing kiln is about 34.4 meters long and it only took around 20 hours to reach stoneware temperature. Here, in Australia, many wood-fired climbing kilns takes days to reach temperature.
The State Government approved the whole centre as a National Key Cultural Relic in 2001 and, apart from attracting tourists to visit the dragon kilns, they demonstrate throwing techniques used in ancient pottery-making in the ancient pottery workshop.
This complex and the Guangdong Shiwan Ceramic Museum represent the biggest visual arts training centre in South China, where modern ceramic techniques are taught by both Chinese master potters and overseas visiting ceramic artists.
Although the importance of ceramics in China has been well known for centuries, during and after the Cultural Revolution, the ceramic art production declined. So it is great to see the initiatives and efforts made by China to stimulate and advance the ceramic industry. Of course having most of the raw materials at their doorstep has been an incentive.
I also visited Foshan New Shiwan Artistic Ceramic Company and met Mei Wending, a “Chinese National artist”. He is part owner of the Company and has been working as a potter for more than 50 years. I was surprised to see that the master’s studio was very simple (even as untidy as mine) and apart from an electric wheel had no modern tools. The company had hundreds of employees producing molded pottery figurines as well as home decorating visual art works.
off my inspection of ceramic productions in Shiwan, I was taken to a
multi storied display centre where virtually everything on display was
made of clay – floor tiles, wall tiles (even looking like wall paper
with flower patterns) and ceiling tiles, not to mention whole kitchens
with tiled benches, sinks, shelves etc in all imaginable colours and
designs – artworks in themselves.
However, the bathrooms and toilets were the most impressive – I have never seen so many different shaped toilet basins, square, round, pear shaped etc. I left feeling overwhelmed - to think that even the ceramic industry could make functional works into modern art pieces!
The last place I was taken was Shiwan Park – known as a ceramic sculpture park. The Park covers an area of 6000 acres and features sculptures made by local and international ceramic masters (all having used the wood fired Nanfeng dragon kiln to fire their sculpture works). It is a relatively new development and each year a group of international ceramic artists are invited there, together with Chinese sculpture artists, to create new works to adorn the park. A marvellous idea!
I could go on and on about the place, however if you are interested in reading more about it please look at their website www.shiwanceramics.com.
By the way,
the institute is always on the look-out for artists who have a month or
two to spare to come and teach English to the Chinese children coming
to the centre for classes. I do not think the pay will be great, so it
is to be considered more as a cultural experience.
But if you want to learn more about ceramics in China and the history of the industry, it will be time well spent".