Ahead of the Curve: New china from China

On 21/04/2015 by CFCCA Administrator

As part of the Ahead of the Curve exhibition, which has been touring the UK over the past year, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery presented New china from China, a one-day symposium to accompany the exhibition.

A collaboration between Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; The Wilson, Cheltenham; The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke and TwoCities Gallery in Shanghai, Ahead of The Curve showcases the latest developments and trends in ceramic and glass production in China, with particular focus on the cities of Shanghai and Jingdezhen, the latter with a long history of porcelain production.

The ceramicists in the exhibition demonstrate that the last decade has been ground-breaking in terms of production and design, with new works reflecting a closing of the gap between art practice and craft, with new galleries devoted to showing ceramics and glass, including TwoCities, Shanghai. During visits to China, the curators Clare Blakey, Helen Brown and Kate Newnham visited the studios and workshops of local glassmakers and ceramicists in order to select the artists whose work they would showcase in the UK. An exercise in cross-cultural curation, Ahead of the Curve brings artists at the forefront of ceramics and glass to a city with its own long history of ceramic production.

 Wu Hao, Drunk Pot Series No. 1, 2011

Whilst we are familiar with the long history of Chinese ceramics, when it comes to glass it is only within the last decade or so that an educational infrastructure has emerged in China. This burgeoning of glass production owes significantly to another form of cultural exchange. Artists such as Shelley Xue completed their formal education in glass in the UK, predominately at the University of Wolverhampton, before returning to China to establish courses in the discipline there.

The symposium itself presented the curators and artists involved in the exhibition, as well as perspectives on trans-cultural curation and on China’s rapidly growing museum culture. Speaking were:

Shannon Guo, co-curator of Ahead of the Curve, artistic director of twocities Shanghai

Shelley Xue, exhibiting artist and associate professor, Glass, Shanghai Institute of Visual Art

Helen Brown, co-curator of Ahead of the Curve and freelance curator

Ying Tan, curator at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester

Rachel Marsden, specialist in trans-cultural curating, co-ordinator at Centre for Chinese Visual Art and lecturer in MA Contemporary Curatorial Practice, University of Lincoln.

Wan Liya, exhibiting artist

Andrew Brewerton, principal, Plymouth college of Art, former subject leader in Glass, University of Wolverhampton

Discussions focussed on the environment in which artists find themselves producing work, the institutions that support the production and exhibition of their work, and the definitions of ‘art’, as distinct from ‘craft’, in the context of contemporary China.

Shannon Guo described her position as an educator, curator and artist; she described how despite a monumental antiques trade, there remains a lack of respect for handcrafted objects in China, perhaps symptomatic of low-cost industrial production and commercialism, citing a recent auction of a 600 year old cup, sold at auction for £30million, only to be used as a teacup. She also expressed the importance of recent exhibitions devoted to China’s new ceramicists in maintaining an arena for ceramic art production and design.

Shelley Xue has experienced first hand the importance of cultural exchange in developing new glass making institutions. Having trained at the University of Wolverhampton she returned to China to help establish new glass courses in Shanghai. Her work extends the boundaries of glass production into the realms of sculpture and design, moving towards architectural pieces and printed glass screens.stoke 2

Helen Brown looked at the cross-influencing of British and Chinese ceramics, and their shared concerns, as well as the reuse of traditional forms in contemporary practice. These influences manifest in form, decoration and in the case of Paul Scott’s Cockle Pickers and Three Gorges, subject matter.

The afternoon session saw speakers from outside of the world of ceramics offer their perspectives on cross cultural curation and China’s contemporary design environment. CFCCA’s curator Ying Tan gave a brief history of CFCCA’s position as a UK gallery working primarily with artists based in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. She then focussed on the work of Liu Jianhua, who works in ceramics yet is established within China’s contemporary art scene. Jianhua’s work is overtly political up to the year 2008, after which his works take on a solemnity, emphasising spiritual experience over ‘meaning’.

Rachel Marsden has extensive experience of working between China and the UK and focussed on the rapid growth of China’s urban centres, and the subsequent museum and design trends, using several design museums and exhibitions as case studies which highlight a rethinking of design, architecture and craft in order to create a cultural legacy for future designers. This legacy is a worldwide necessity, not one specific to China.

The final ‘live’ talk of the day came from exhibiting artist Wan Liya, who gave and account of his life and work as an artist. Previously working as a ship’s navigator, he began working with ceramics after returning to China. His work rethinks tradition and re-appropriates its motifs in order to question the affect time has on design and ultimately value.

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The talks were concluded with a pre-recorded lecture from Andrew Brewerton on China’s long and continuing history of glass production, as well as his role as course leader in glass at the University of Wolverhampton. He discussed the definitions that we might apply to Chinese Glass, looking at the intersection between commercialism and craft, as well as China and the ‘West’.

A short panel discussion between the afternoon’s three speakers responded to questions about a China that is changing, in terms of design, art education, commercialism and even politics. As China’s art market has increasingly opened up, the nature of censorship becomes global and often self-imposed. It seems Chinese artists face a challenge in moving away from their inherited politicisation in order to be considered within the western art system. In a similar artists working worldwide in glass and ceramics struggle to be considered within contemporary art and remain placed outside of, beneath even, contemporary art.

Ahead of the Curve is at The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-On-Trent, until Sunday 31st May.


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