In September 2011, a group of Irish ceramic artists will travel to the Chinese town of Fuping, Shaanxi, to make the foundation collection for the newly built Irish Pavilion at the Fule International Ceramic Art Museum. The Irish Pavilion will showcase the best of the new wave of ceramic art emerging from Ireland, marrying the ancient techniques of the East to our own cultural traditions. It is a permanent exhibition space created to house the work of those ceramic artists whose subtlety, skill and vision captures the spirit of contemporary Ireland. Eleanor Flegg, writer, and Andrew Standen Raz, film maker and photographer, will travel with the group to document the residency. The Irish Pavilion opens on the 4th October 2011.
The blog is written by Eleanor Flegg, whose opinions may not necessarily reflect those of the group.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Chinese puzzle

We are lost in translation once again.  I blame the extruder. The materials for the residency are supplied by the brick and tile factory, and the artists are encouraged to use the clays, glazes, and often the bricks and tiles themselves. These are surprisingly beautiful – think of the curving complexity of a traditional Chinese roof, willow-pattern style, with elegant repeat patterns and decorative ridge tiles. The factory itself is as romantic as an old steam engine – puffing smoke and fire and coal dust – and almost everything that it produces passes through the digestive system of the extruder. This huge dragon of a machine is constantly fed with scraps of clay by a couple of sweaty sinewy men, strenuously shovelling into its gaping maw. And out of the other end comes an endless extrusion, moulded into whatever shape the factory happens to be producing. This week it's a curved ridge-tile with great creative potential – the ridge-tiles of temple are decorated with little animal sculptures, each with a symbolic meaning. One of the makers went to ask for some lengths of the tile before it was fired. The man in charge of the extruder said yes, but only gave her half the amount that she wanted. It seems that he gets paid for the amount that he produces. He is expected to help the museum project – it is his duty – but what he gives effectively comes out of his own pocket. From an Irish point of view this seems exploitative and it's unpleasant to exploit someone poorer than you that can actually see (much easier at a remove). But can we do anything about it? We don't want to insult either our hosts or the factory worker.  Is there a risk that we could make matters worse for him? There are definite risks in applying Western ethics in a country that we neither know nor understand... The way through this one is not obvious.

To add to the complexity – none of us are getting paid for this either....

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