Critical thoughts about the traditional handicraft in Jingdezhen
“A burning town, or seeming so,-
Three thousand furnaces that glow
Incessantly, and fill the air
With smoke uprising, gyre on gyre,
And painted by the lurid glare,
Of jets and flashes of red fire."
—Henry Longfellow, imagining "King-ke-tching" in 'Keramos’. in 1876
For more than a millennium, the only production operation in Jingdezhen was ceramic. Despite many changes of dynasty, the craft was still handed down from generation to generation, providing the royal court with the most exquisite ceramics. But now, it cannot produce tributes but commodities. Besides, because of inaccessibility and economic recession, the ceramic market in contemporary times is in a downturn. Many craftsmen were facing unemployment, although the current situation changed as government supports for industrial park in Jingdezhen.
I studied ceramic art and design in my BA in Jingdezhen. In this four years, I was thinking why Jingdezhen had a huge change, from the center of production of royal imperial porcelain to the place produced cheap ceramic products and the workshop of the world. It had ever a brilliant period ahead in the world, but why it can rarely famous for the contemporary ceramic works and open the door of the international art market?
Actually, I have a complicated feeling towards Jingdezhen. After research, I realized that Jingdezhen has a popular phenomenon of imitation. Craftsmen usually imitate antique vases in a batch and highly standardized way. I was anxious to criticize the current situation of imitation and even plagiarize and compare it with the situation in Chinese feudal period and the situation in other countries. However, a graduate work from Haozhenhan(2013) called ‘Imitation, imitation’ made me have a critical thinking about Chinese imitation culture. It is a video documented different people work on ceramic industry and view it in a historical context. This work uncovers the social, political and economic implications of Chinese imitation culture. Hao's unique idea that has a positive attitude toward imitation made me reflect on the ceramic industry in Jingdezhen from an object and historical view. So I plan to have a field survey on Jingdezhen, document the scene of ceramic production and interview craftsmen in the workshop with the medium of video.
Haozhenhan (2013) ‘Imitation, imitation’
Expect the current situation, I need to learn more about the history of this city and development of the ceramic industry. I need to put Jingdezhen in the different period and consider the rise, fall and reinvention of ceramics in Jingdezhen.
Picture from Maris Gillette, China's Porcelain Capital, 2016
The Lost Glory Jingdezhen series No.1 from Wang Jixin 295x595cm oil on canvas 2008
The Lost Glory Jingdezhen series No.26 160×130 cm from Wang Jixin oil on canvas 2009
The Lost Glory Jingdezhen series No.39 from Wang Jixin 70x95cm oil on canvas 2011
Also, facing competition from mass-production factories in growing consumer markets, traditional handicraft is hard to survive in this social industrialization process, especially in Jingdezhen where “85% of the local economy is based on ceramics” (Samuel B., 2012). According to this situation, I will research and regard Jingdezhen from an object and historical view. I will keep thinking of the way the traditional culture will be inherited and innovated. I will keep thinking how to bring traditional culture into contemporary design and how the handicraft will develop when facing the mechanized production.
Actually, I am also interested in who are interested in Jingdezhen. I am curious about how foreigner artists regard handicraft in Jingdezhen. Sometimes there is inevitably misunderstood and prejudiced without deep research and investigation. Externally, I would like to use an objective perspective to show the reality abroad beyond prejudice; internally, I want to clarify the fundamental problem of Jingdezhen porcelain’s weakness in competitiveness, compared with the situation in Chinese feudal period and the situation in other countries.
Keiko Fukazawa (2016) Homage to A.W.
Keiko Fukazawa (2016) Made in China
Keiko Fukazawa (2016) Made in China
Clare Twomey (2010) Made in China
Henry Longfellow. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes. Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.
Hanzhenhan, 2013. Imitation, Imitation. medium: video available online at http://haozhenhan.com/ (accessed November 29, 2017)
Maris Gillette, 2016. China's Porcelain Capital--The Rise, Fall and Reinvention of Ceramics in Jingdezhen
Wang Jixin, 2008 online at http://www.wangjixin.at/painting/the-lost-glory-jingdezhen/ (accessed November 29, 2017)
Samuel B., 2012. Jingdezhen: When The West Copied China available online at
http://www.melaniesherman.com/jingdezhen-porcelain/ (accessed November 29, 2017).