Saturday, January 10, 2009
I've been here for a week now and while my eyes are no longer glaze over and head spun from Seoul and Shanghai, it is still taking some getting used to. This city of 1.2 million is like a giant clay workshop/ warehouse. It seems like everyone is involved in ceramics in one way or another. Specializations in the field have been industrialized and it is a manufacturing extravaganza. You can look on the city as a giant factory. There are shops where people just throw forms and another person comes to trim (a highly respected position). Shops that just make molds; slipcast or pressmold. People that will do the actual press molding for you. Public kilns that are constantly churning out work. Glazers that sit and glaze anybody's ware.
Some shops specialize in traditional Chinese sculpture castings, others that do traditional Chinese pottery, and some that only cast Chairman Mao. Then there are shops that just do the onglaze or enamel painting of each of these. Multiple places that only sell onglaze decals, others only do inglaze decals and still more that produce just underglaze decals. These are then further broken down into places that make custom decals or have an inventory available. Big pot factories, tile factories, kiln shelf stores, really big pot factories, clay factories, kiln brick shops, tool shops, brush shops, box makers, crate builders, modellers...
The clay is like cream cheese. Rarely do I drop a pot while on the wheel, but the first five fell down, and even more have been thrown out due to cracking. This body has to be approached in a while new manner. The Chinese throw very thick and then trim very thin when it is bone dry. Even putting pieces together is done when bone dry. Seems ridiculous and destined for failure, but they have found a way to make it work for the past few thousand years.
There was a large feast the other night as an 'end of the year' get together. All of the staff and some local factory owners and staff came. It was good fun, amazing food- that is all the time though. After the meal, some of the guests came up and sang traditional songs from their respective province. An oral history passed down from generation to generation.
A dozen of us piled in to taxis later that night and rode three quarters of a block to a new "establishment" recently opened in Jingdezhen. The doorman was sceptical of letting us in and had to be pursuaded. Eventually he let us in... let us in to the seediest place imaginable. There were two dozen of these couch/ love chairs dimly lit and occupied by trashy, toothless old men ogling at a handful of scantily clad "staff". We were all a bit somber (and relatively sober) to walk into such a dreary scene. Needless to say, we didn't stay long. Desiring a more lively place, we went back down to the first floor to the new club that had opened up.
Take a swimming pool center-- about hte size of Ripon College's-- drain the pool and cover it over with concrete and wood. Install a video screen that you would find in a small town movie theater and play the visual effects that came standard with the original Windows Media Player. Put in glass tables with chrome chairs, green laser that shoot repetitive patterns of ant-like clusters onto the ground, and a galaxy of disco balls hanging from the ceiling. Next, find your favorite Art Deco motif, turn it into neon lighted wallpaper and cover the walls with it. Feel free to adjust to your preferred pulsating color scheme. Cover the remaining pillars and un-used wall space with chrome & black checkered aluminum/tin paneling. Have a skinny little Thai girl pole dancing behind and on the bar & stage. Also have a saxophone playing deejay that spends his daylight hours as an Asian Assasin for hire. Turn on your favorite German techno and overdub it with RunDMC, Sugar Hill Gang, 2 Live Crew, or Public Enemy. Remove all customers and transplant twelve ceramic geeks; Chinese, Japanese, American, and British. Make them dance poorly.
The combination of Caucasians and Asians on the dancefloor is something to behold. The worst dancers imaginable. Big, unnecessary arm gestures, awkward steps, and less rhythmic than a water spill. My favorite move of the night was that shuffle-backstep move that Troyer, Wally and I used to bust out at the Attic to win Italian hoagies or cheese puffs. A small pizza if we were lucky.
Other than that, I've started work-- have a few sculptures in the works and definitely making use of the vast resources here. I just hope I don't freeze to death before I complete them. Unfortunately, nobody got the memo over here about insulated walls and central heating.