I had thought, mistakenly as it turns out, that China was a hot country. A chill wind echoes through the studio while rain trickles into buckets placed strategically under leaks. The puddled approach to the building is negotiated via a series of bricks. A couple of those working on smaller pieces have brought them back to their hotel rooms so that they can work in bed and those still braving the studio are wearing summer clothes in multiple layerings and soggy trainers. It is possible to buy clothes in Fuping, they are cheap but small in size – only the skinniest of the Irish can squeeze into them and, in terms of shoe-shopping, we are all Cinderella's ugly sisters. Both men's and women's clothing range in style from fifties-hick to eighties-bling (frequently both these qualities are captured in a single garment). But, cold as it is, one artist after another has sacrificed fashion for comfort.
And so today a motley looking crew loaded an equally ecletic selection of objects into the third kiln – a massive beast that, on our arrival, looked as though it hadn't been fired in years. But once the rubble had been moved it fired up nicely. The gas gushed, the air popped as it ignited, and the ponderous load was wheeled into place. Mr Wong, the kiln hero, took out his screwdriver and unwired the temperature gauge on the adjacent kiln to change over the wires (both kilns share a single power source). The temperature will rise slowly overnight while a rota of artists keep anxious vigil. Slowly does it! Drying conditions are not what they might have been, and there is more dampness in the clay than some might like. The mood is a volatile blend of optimism and fear (a piece that explodes in the kiln could take other people's work down with it; small cracks might lose the run of themselves...) But there is always the possibility that everything might be alright. If everyone can get a couple of pieces through this initial firing, the chances of a creditable collection are good.