Journalist Tom Friedman’s opus The World is Flat details how on a globalized planet almost any transaction can be outsourced and remotely executed. Sitting at a desk in New York one can speed off a request to have personal income tax documents processed in Bangalore, India or electronic widgets produced in Shenzhen, China. What Friedman avoids is the clear notion, that in a truly flattened world the flow of ideas and product would move simultaneously in both directions. This leveled field would have a cultural transference circulating around with economic imports and exports.
Partially in response to Friedman’s omission I ventured out in the world seeking cultural cross-pollination. Joining the Fulbright Cultural Research Fellowship in 2009, I went to China believing my background in fine art and craft would assist in divining some understanding of long vexing questions about Blue & White porcelain and cultural exchange. Over the last five years these musings have coalesced into a method of thinking, working, and creating ceramics in the international sphere. Blue & White Ceramics and internationalist ideation towards cultural exchange has moved in to occupy the center of my personal practice. Aiming to produce a series of objects that potentially explore and embody cultural transference I have been investigating methods for translating and bridging Eastern and Western approaches to ceramics.
Employing high-tech rapid prototyping, low-tech mold-making, and outsourcing methods highlighted by Tom Friedman I have been aggregating methods of producing a product that dwells one foot in the expanded field of ceramics and another in contemporary fine art.
As a young person visiting the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts, I very much disliked the blue & white chinoiserie garniture sets. They completely failed to match the concise history of religious pilgrims expelled from England, or those of witch-trials that were bantered about at school and home. Their placement next to the scrimshaw, baked bean pots, and giant blue whale jawbone was never explained nor even discussed. It was clear that there were neither people of Chinese origin on the Mayflower nor any riding with Paul Revere announcing the immanent arrival if the Redcoats. Yet those odd multiple piece sets just sat there full of flare and repeated patterns, and while their dragon designs were awesome they always struck a dissonant visual chord. In what way could these random things possibly inform the story of my little corner of nowhere Massachusetts?
For that answer one would have to take a holistic – Slaughterhouse 5 approach to viewing time as a continuum of moments existing all at once. While, “so it goes” might be popular for existentialist writers like Kurt Vonnegut it rarely filtered down to fifth grade New England geography and history. Looking backward now however it is extremely important for me to recognize that disparate trends in Colonialist economics and trade would deliver small town Massachusetts the porcelain that so vexed my nascent world view.
To inform the last five years of work I turned to James Fallows, Evan Osnos, Mark Kurlansky and Peter Hessler to fill in the gaps left by Richard Sennett and Glen Adamson. Even with an education in both the production of crafts and the history of contemporary craft, I needed more of a context to guide my research into the places responsible for touching Massachusetts. Drawing out information on the last one hundred and fifty years of Chinese History I read Leslie Chang and Jonathan Spence. Seeking out issues and cultural philosophies from Contemporary China I relied on the weekly reports done by Peter Hessler and Evan Osnos for the New Yorker. In this way I gathered conceptual source material living in China and informing my personal experience with those of other writers and artists.
The recent bodies of work Eroding Surfaces, Dissolving Structures, and On Endlessly Swimming & Drowning use research and materials from around the world to produce a truly globalized product that pulls Chinese blue & white ceramics, Post-Colonial geopolitics, and personal history into one compressed and flattened frame.
Using archives and historians as resources the prototypes for Swimming & Drowning were produced in Beijing by taking a visual slice from the original forms of traditional garniture sets and vessels. The prototypes isolated a flattened cross-section of the forms presenting them simultaneously as a profile image and an object. The Swimming & Drowningprototypes were relocated to the European Ceramic Work Centre in Holland and less than an hour from Delft they were completed. This process of creation mimicked the production cycle of Ming Dynasty Export Porcelain but in reverse. The cultural transfer of a flat globalized world is reinforced through my hands as creator bridging Eastern & Western ceramic process. Further it is done through the use of classic Chinese imagery that employs no perspective. Depth in each new garniture presentation is conjured by placement of the vessels and modules as well as the deconstruction of original source imagery.
In Eroding Surfaces, the more vernacular bowl concept’s original design and molds were produced in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi, the classic area of Imperial Chinese Production. Two hundred liters of Jingdezhen casting porcelain were transported to Beijing where 150 bowls were produced, decorated and bisque fired. These half finished modules were then transported to North America where they were salt fired. The chemistry inherent in this classic colonial technique causes the cobalt decoration to melt and run depending on how each piece is loaded in the kiln. Like Swimming & Drowing, each process inEroding Surfaces contributes to the full outcome of the crafted works.
While developing each of these bodies of work over the last three years, I have been serving as a Chinese Ministry of Education Cultural Researcher, celebrating the nameless and unknown craftspeople who labored as part of the global ceramics trade. The artistic output pays homage to the seemingly anachronistic garniture sets of my youth, while indulging my interests in ideation and form generation. The historical roots of this work are mashed up with my own personal interests and observation from a life abroad to create a way of working that distinctly adds to the flattening of our planet. Finally they are booted through my point of view as a maker - the work contributes to cultural translation and understanding necessary for equality and functionality on a flattened global sphere. My final product potentially creates dialog between cultures while presenting an object to be examined by the light of contemporary thought.