Friday, January 6, 2017

Chu Van Phat – Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas - a remarkable experience

Exactly a year ago, two friends and I, did a trip to Vietnam. We only spent a couple of weeks there. Our first stop was the city of Ho Chin Minh in the south of Vietnam. Thereafter we flew to Hanoi, in northern Vietnam. The trip north included a number of days marveling at the beautiful landscapes; the intriguing limestone boulders of Halong Bay. This was a breathtaking and enlightening experience.

Another highlight of my visit to this historically significant country was a little gem of a temple located in the 5th district of Ho Chin Minh. It is housed on five floors in an unassuming building in a narrow cul-de-sac. I have visited a number of temples in India, China, Taiwan and in Vietnam and this one rates as one of the most incredible I have ever experienced. As a matter of fact it was not listed in the Eyewitness Travel guide titled Vietnam & Angkor Wat. Fulvio De Stefanis, an avid travel and well versed in technology, discovered it as a must see listing with TripAdvisor as Chu Van Phat – Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Captured here are images of the temple, as seen from the modest outside and its surroundings, depicting the Buddha configurations on each floor leading up the stairs to the major Buddha installation on the top floor, where as the title suggests, a vast number of Buddhas, situated in small cubicles, decorate the walls in extraordinary fashion.

Nothing prepares you for this visual experience, and more importantly, your heart and soul. Numerous trips to temples, cathedrals and museums can get overwhelming, however now and then a very special gem is a creative indulgence – often when you least expect it. To be honest we were taken off course in the opposite direction with Uber. Determined as always, we made a u-turn, and after a traffic-laden journey we arrived at our destination. And what an experience it turned out to be – our pilgrimage to find the temple did not disappoint – our determination paid off, big time.  

I take the liberty to include some of the TripAdvisor Reviewer Highlights. Visitor ratings are as follows – 13 excellent and 2 good. There are 26 review listings for this place of worship. Below find a few of the reviews, providing insight into the impact the visual gestalt had on those privileged enough to visit the site. Follow the provided TripAdvisor link to obtain more site specifics and other relevant information such as other landmarks in the area, including accommodation specific to your traveling needs.

“must do”
Absolutely incredible, un assuming from the outside but uplifting when inside. Up the stairs to the very top is the gift you came for. Richard E, Palm Springs, California. 31 October 2016.

“so beautiful!”
I had missed this temple on a previous visit to Ho Chin Minh. So pleased to have experienced it this time around. This is one of the most amazing temples, so beautiful...a real hidden treasure. I highly recommend finding this temple. Suzanne K, Brisbane, Australia. 4 January 2016.

“Most stunning temple I have ever seen, and I have seen a few…..”
This temple is truly a hidden gem, locked away at the end of a small alley. When you enter the building you have no clue what will be awaiting you on the top floor! Lower floors are dedicated to honour the deceased. It is humbling to be allowed to wander around this place of worship where people are mourning their …. Maria E. Jakarta, Indonesia. Reviewed 21 November 2015.
Most temples I have visited, like the one captured here, above and on the left, are excessively decorated in every way possible, this includes the exterior and interior, as well as every part of the complexly crafted structure, including the pillars, the walls, the roof as well as the furniture and religious objects placed on the tables surrounding the central Buddha figure. Offerings in all forms, shapes and colour add to an already visually complex experience. Rich colour combinations exploit the colour wheel to good effect, further enhanced by lighting and gilding. The smell of burning incense adds to the overall religious and spiritual experience. It does not get more excessive.The following YouTube video produced by Thomas brings the Chu Van Phat – Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas to life.

And this is what makes the visit of Chua Van Phat, the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas, very special. The religious installation of Buddhas and religious paraphernalia are thoughtfully integrated into the understated building structure. From a distance religious objects honouring the dead on mass are displayed behind glass in repetitive rows to read as an integrated whole, very much like a complex Chinese calligraphy scroll – when displayed in its entirety on a museum wall, from a distance, the calligraphy reads as patterns, texture and or decoration. 

This design approach is put to even greater effect on the top floor. When you enter the main room, the vast number of buddhas, 10 000 of them, are displayed in as many woodcarved niches, it reads as complex three dimensional wall paper. However the overall effect provides a perfectly simple backdrop to the huge central Buddha figure with colourfull religious paraphernalia on both sides. The little Buddhas are recessed into their shadowy niches creating a complimentary three-dimensional decorative effect. Simplicity in its complexity – it is very special indeed.

I often wonder who designs these incredible places of worship, are there various teams working together and what process of visualization and realization is followed. I would really like to view the drawings, the design renderings of the architect and interior designers, from concept to design ideas and more importantly the capturing of various design options for finishes – the inclusion of decoration and colour options. Then there are the artisans that realize the creations in a variety of materials and finishes. One marvels at their creativity and design expertise. I dedicate this blog post to the visionaries, designers and artists and especially the artisans that created this spectacular Temple. A truly remarkable experience.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Manufraction; Ceramic Shard as Vessel.

Eugene Hön. Manufraction1 (detail) porcelain vessel Press-moulded.
Digitally printed Ceramic Transfer of Ballpoint pen drawing of Iris Trioana.

A shard can be classified/viewed as a piece of broken ceramic, metal and or glass. Synonyms for the word shard are; fragment, particle, sliver, bit and or piece. Further investigation extends ones vocabulary to include a slice, unit and or segment.

Eugene Hön. Visual Label (Detail) Preparatory ballpoint pen drawing

I first encountered ceramic shards during my two-year stint in the navy, spent at the Naval Base Simon’s Town (SAS Simonsberg), during the late seventies. There I picked up ceramic shards in the shallow waters of the harbour. They were reminiscent of blue and white Chinese-inspired Willow pattern transferware. The nature of the weathered body, I can now recall, were fragments of earthenware or pearlware, rather than vitrified bone china or porcellanous wares. These pieces of ceramics were deposited on the South African coastline as a result of shipwrecks and or trade in blue and white wares from the 1600’s.
Shard Collection 50. The Wani Shipwreck.
Accessed October 2016. 
“The effects of the D.E.I.C on South African ceramics is due to the establishment of a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652. Ceramic wares came to the Cape on Dutch ships from China, thus starting South Africa’s history of blue and white porcelain and hence the reason many Chinese, Japanese and later European blue and white antique wares are to be found in museum collections in South Africa – such as the pieces from Iziko that is now on display in the La Motte Museum.” (Read: cited 23/6/2016

Eugene Hön, Manufraction1(Detail), Porcelain Vessel, Press Moulded.
Digitally Printed Ceramics Transfer of Ball-point pen drawings.

This encounter with blue and whites ceramic shards is to play an important role in the forms and shapes of my latest contemporary ceramic statements. However before I explain this any further, I should mention that it was also my first exposure to the world of clay. With no knowledge of ceramics, its history and traditions, including techniques and methods of making, the impact was life changing. Even though I did not know it at the time. I went onto study at Michaelis (UCT), graduating with a Masters in Fine Art, specializing in Ceramic Sculpture.  As students we were discouraged from producing ceramics with a utilitarian and or decorative function.  My mentors enforced a modernist approach in making, with a strong emphasis on form follows function, declaring decoration a crime. We graduated with the belief that we were artists working in the medium of clay, avoiding any form of surface decoration.This mindset impacted on my form making and surface development right trough my art career. In all the years of making I have never really been able to produce ceramic works within a strong and obvious ceramic traditional discourse. 

The idea of an up-scaled shard, designed and made with a utilitarian and decorative function, presents creative scope for a wide range of contemporary ceramic expressive statements. Its abstracted form and vessel like shape with jagged edges, on a large scale, lends itself to a unique approach to surface development.  Reference could be made to the blue and white ceramic traditions from our colonial past, mentioned above.  However archaeologists and anthropologists have also made reference to ceramic shards in their research in defining traditions and cultural diversity amongst rural ceramists throughout South Africa.
Hard-fired ceramic shards have always fascinated scholars and artists because they give tantalizing clues to the past. This is especially so in relation to social, cultural and technological perspectives. A ceramic shard’s ability to remain relatively impervious to the weathering action of seawater, wind, frost, fire and dampness over thousands of years allows us to read it in ways other community remnants such as metal, paper and textile often cannot provide the archaeologist.

The shard is a most suitable vehicle for personal expression at this juncture of my creative development. Especially when scaled up in size as a ceramic vessel with an expressive, decorative and bowl-like utilitarian function.  There are two distinct ways to approach the form, shape and surface decoration; firstly as a weathered object with a battered and bruised surface, formed and shaped over time and the glaze crazed (images above and on the left). 
Prototype of Shard, much larger, thinner to be more fragile
once verified and glazed fired with appropriate ceramic surfaces.

The second is to be read as a recently broken fragile piece, its edges sharp, crisp and clean (image above and on the left. The shard can also be viewed as a section, a slice, a sliver, a portion, a segment, and a fragment – with the emphasis on fragility. There is the possibility to combining manufacture and fragmentation, leaning towards the notion of ‘manufraction’, a suitable title for the body of work.
Bouke de Vries, Memory Tobacco Jar 2, 18-Century Dutch Delft
drug jar & glass, 2015. Photo Tim Higgins.
Ronald Kutchta, the editor of Ceramic Monthly, made mention of its relevance to ceramists at the beginning of the New Millennium.

There seems to be a preoccupation with the beauty of fragility, impermanence, or apocalypse in art in general and in ceramics particular and appropriately often a romance with the shard or the fragment – in essence I observe a profoundly elegiac art in the works I so admire of Stephen De Staebler, Takako Araki, Jean Pierre Larocque, Steven Montgomery, Carmen Dionyse, Laszlo Fekete, George Jeanclos 
and other.
Yeesookyung. Translated Vase (TVW8), 2013.
Ceramic shards, epoxy, 24k gold leaf.
Collection Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

The impact of digital technology and globalization brings into question craft values, in particular “the relevance of traditionally understood markers such as virtuosic and dedicated skill, visible handwork and tactility, functionality, and associations with beauty, domesticity, and decoration”. It is within this context that I wish to embrace the gestalt of the shard in a series of porcelain ceramic vessels. Knowing it is fundamental to archeological research in studying our cultural and traditional past, whilst its fragility speaks of fragmentation and acceleration of the digital onslaught. Reference is made specifically to fragments of indigenous coiled pit fired pots and imported blue and white shards from Europe and the China. 
I wish to realise my ideas in appropriate ceramic techniques and methods. Best expressed by Emily Wilber, “to preserve past modes of making, placing emphasis on the cultural, aesthetic, and historical significance of certain material practices amid rapidly changing fashions”. The shards surfaces presents a wide range of possibilities; drawing upon the past, embracing present advances in technology, whilst celebrating the hand made well into the future.  Making use of my drawing skills (ballpoint pen renderings), I will create digitally printed ceramic transfers, applied to the porcelain press-moulded shards. (Wilber, Emily. Crafted: Objects in Flux, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 2015)

I will do so with the intension of choosing craft as a creative endeavour for contemporary art practice. However, to borrow the words of Emily Zilber, I will resist the notion of craft as a bounded set of parameters with a specific hierarchy of values, and instead seek to destabilize, engage, and activate the object in unconventional ways”.  

New Publication - Crafted: Objects in Flux. Author. Emily Wilber. Contemporary art and craft presents a profusion of paradoxes. It bridges ancient traditions and state-of-the-art technologies, cutting-edge concepts and enduring tenets about skilled making and beauty, and in so doing blurs the lines between art, craft, architecture and design.