The rain has stopped! The sun found a rare chink in Fuping's polluted pall and the first bisque firing has emerged intact. Spirits have risen. It was, one can now admit, a tough couple of days. Bad weather, inadequate clothing, cold showers, and concerns about work led to an atmosphere of anxious disgruntlement. The blog was identified as a source of unease. Might it offend our hosts? Alienate our funders? Jeopardise future residencies? And what if I wrote that the Irish work was crap?
Interesting questions here about the relationship of critical writing and ceramics. There is a general consensus that critical writing is a Good Thing and that ceramic art needs more of it, and it was certainly very brave of this particular bunch to invite a writer to join them on a month-long residency. But was it wise? Our situation in China is mildly ludicrous – the non-existent Irish Pavilion, the crumbling aspect of the museum complex, the uncertain future of the collections... The artists have a right to be disappointed – this is not what they were promised. But there is not much to be done about it and their reaction has been to make the best body of work that they can, under the circumstances. The question is – how should this be documented? A promotional approach might emphasise the wonderfulness of it all, thereby satisfying funding bodies and securing future residencies. But critical writing is not obliged to keep people happy – it aspires to tell it like it is.
From a writer's perspective, the residency is fraught with dilemmas. It takes place in a brick factory where women sift red lead glaze with their bare hands (among other shockers) but the interaction with the factory and the workers is also beautiful and inspiring. How many Westerners are ushered into the heart of Chinese industry? It is a privilege but a disquieting one. And what if the Irish work, or some of it, really was crap? Thankfully, it looks promising but it's still too soon to say. And, if it were otherwise, I doubt that I would have the courage to say so (I'm uncomfortable with this - kindness or weakness?). I do think that Irish ceramics might benefit from a critic who showed a little more backbone when it comes to aesthetic judgements, but I would prefer if it didn't have to be me.
In the midst of all this turmoil I spoke to a faraway ceramist of much experience. He said: never mess with a bunch of potters coming up to a firing. It's an emotional time. Everything will settle down once the work is fired.
The kilns, in the meantime, are under twenty-four hour vigil.