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June 19, 2021

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Ancient artistic language born out of earth

WHEN mentioning Chinese ceramics, one might immediately think of those stereotypical images of bowls and plates.

However, a group exhibition “From Clay to Words: Ceramics as Media” at the Pearl Art Museum through August 22, opens a totally different world.

Aiming to explore the depth of the artistic concepts and the language of this simple material, the exhibition shows visitors ceramic creations go well beyond typical displays of ancient ceramics and handicrafts.

The exhibition features 30 diverse pieces, either ceramic or related to ceramic, spanning sculpture, installation, video and painting, by 14 dynamic artists around the world, including Liu Jianhua, Sun Yue and Liang Shaoji.

The works have been divided into seven sections:

“Born out of Earth,” “Studying the Nature of Things,” “Nostalgia and Appropriation,” “Ordinary and Extraordinary,” “Body and Identity,” “Time,” and “Synesthesia and Nature.”

“Ceramic is one of the most ancient and ordinary materials,” said Li Dandan, director of the museum and the curator of this exhibition.

“It is one of the artistic media that has the closest connection to China’s history and culture, to the exchange between China and the rest of the world, and to nature.

“These artists have observed and studied ceramic. Their works are products of nature, of ideas and of labor. The process of moving ‘from clay to words’ involves hand and hearts.”

“In a sense, they are the products of nature and chance. Physical objects as they are, each piece combines a lot of symbols and metaphors that stand for art, creativity and life,” said Li.

The exhibition opens with the idea that the earth is the starting point for all things, which helps visitors explore the origins of art and life.

As artist Sui Jianguo once said: “People have worked with clay for tens of thousands of years... Through punching and kneading, humans create the world.”

His video work “Physical Trace” records him punching clay for a work that is a continuation of his “Portrait of a Blind Man” series (2008).

The final output, titled “Clay Draft of Boxing,” is also on display together with the video.

In the “Studying the Nature of Things” section, there are several works that viewers might not believe that they are ceramics.

Su Xianzhong, who comes from a long line of makers of Dehua Blanc-de-Chine (white porcelain), imbues the hardness of porcelain with the softness of paper. Each layer of white porcelain in his work “Paper” looks as thin as a cicada’s wing, showcasing the delicacy of Dehua technique in porcelain making, as well as a contemporary expression of Buddhist thought.

In ceramic works, the rough and smooth are contrasting elements, but they are also mutually engendering and interdependent.

One piece from Su’s “Paper” series has been collected by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Beside the “Paper” is a work titled “Ash,” which looks as if it was about to burn up and turn completely to ash. It is made by Liu Danhua, who also comes from a family of porcelain makers and has been familiar with ceramic techniques since childhood.

Liu challenges the limitations of the medium, using traditional sculpting methods and hand-applied glazes to achieve a refined, subtle visual effect on super thin eggshell porcelain.

For Liu, “When paper is burnt, it becomes ash, and when clay is burnt, it becomes an amount of ash to a certain extent; and that’s what we call it ‘porcelain.’”

A red light has been placed behind “Ash,” highlighting the work that looks as if it was about to burn and be reborn from its own ash.

One of the highlights at “Ordinary and Extraordinary” section is Liang Shaoji’s “Drunkness,” which represents his reflections on the unusual circumstances since the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic last year.

An attempt was made to intertwine the natural silk threads, which Liang often uses to express the circle of life, with the pyramidal and spherical flasks, which symbolize industrial technology, and the ceramic vessels, which signify a lifestyle closer to nature.

There are also natural silk threads covering the whole aluminum panel for display, as if the whole piece of work is floating on a soft, fluffy white cloud.

In “Drunkness,” the flasks are filled with the red distiller’s grains. The smell of alcohol is present, expanding the sensory experience of the work.


Dates: Through August 22 (closed on Mondays); Tuesday-Thursday, 10am-7pm; Friday-Sunday, 10am-10pm

Tickets: 80 yuan

Venue: Pearl Art Museum

Address: 8/F, Aegean Place, 1588 Wuzhong Road


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