Sunday, November 25, 2012

Contemporary art and design In China; two exhibitions in Shanghai. Martin Klimas' Kung Fu warriors & it's Teatime.

Martin Klimas, Kung Fu fighter (detail). 2007.
 Archival inkjet print, 150x200cm.
Being an active creative practitioner with the emphasis on arts and crafts and its links to teaching and learning within a vocational training based department (Jewellery Design and Manufacture), compels me to constantly increase my knowledge and expertise in the art of making. 

A visit abroad, to view first hand new creative statements in art and design was planned during the university’s midyear recess. The planned visit to Mainland China was my first, a long overdue trip abroad. Exposure of this nature not only enlightens ones perception of cultural practice but also quickens and challenges one perspective on product design and development from an academic teaching and learning perspective. 
Drawing and Ceramics has always been my passion and it is obvious that the east and particular China has so much to offer. Its booming economy has cultivated a thriving contemporary art and expanding craft sector with supporting Centres of Excellence, to catapult its development well into the 21st century. 

I also draw significant inspiration from their appreciation for mastering the art of making in all forms and disciplines – China offering a rich and diverse cultural experience. Working across disciplines has enabled me to transfer knowledge and skills on a variety of levels within Jewellery and product design and development. My recent work, teaching foci and research articles, including community outreach consulting and workshops (Northwest Province and Ceramics SA) extend far beyond the discipline specifics of ceramics. 

Teaching design for manufacture with the knowledge of thinking through drawing and the crafts has become my major focus and area of expertise. The integration of creative production is best expressed in the arts and crafts in the east, especially Asia.. The trip included visits to Beijing and Shanghai; to view major art and craft collections in museums, galleries and markets.

I also visited contemporary art galleries and design studios/outlets to determine the role of craftsmanship in contemporary art making: mainly to explore interdisciplinary shifts and developments in terms of expression and product development. I have always drawn inspiration from artifacts and Chinese stylization; a trip there would not only inspire me, but also increase my knowledge and insight into the development of contemporary art and crafts.

The two exhibitions featured here are the most exciting contemporary art and design work I encountered during my trip abroad. Both exhibitions were on at M50 (follow link to a list of galleries) Shanghai’s cutting-edge art district. Housed in warehouses across the river from the Shanghai train station. 

The first exhibition featured here is the work of Martin Klimas, exhibited at the Other Gallery who has branches in Shanghai, Beijing and Wenzhou. His first China solo exhibition was titled Movements and the series that caught my attention was ‘Kung Fu Warriors’ .
Martin Klimas, Two Kung Fu Warriors (detail), 2007.
Archival Inkjet Print, 150 x 200 cm.
In my pictures you see the world through the eye of a high-speed camera. This way of seeing provides for us something that we normally cannot see, this moment of transformation can really only be imagined by us. I provide a way for us to see this action differently. It is an in between state. A state where rest and motion can exist together. I hope this situation can be applied and give us thought in our everyday world. (The artist’s statement – an extract from an Interview conducted by Rosecrans Baldwin, August 21, 2007 Morning news; Still Life).
Martin Klimas, Two woman Kung Fu warriors (Detail), 2007.
Archival inkjet print, 150 x 200 cm.
By dropping the Chinese made Kung Fu figurines, which crash to the ground, Martin Klimas catches the very moment of a powerful and unique burst, emphasizing their fierce character as temporary sculpture. Falling from a height of 3 meters, ceramic fighters smash, sliver and expose a rarely seen moment of a 7th millisecond. This dynamic and surprising glimpse exposes a play of dignity and beauty hidden in total destruction in his radical and elemental still life (exhibition catalogue).

Martin Klimas, Exhibition titled Movements at the Other Gallery,
Series Kung Fu Wariors, Archival inkjet prints. 
The fighting figurines display a perpetual sense of motion and start to set free a dynamic action that the character is already implying – they seem to come alive.

The artist drops the ready-made ceramic figurine from a height of 3 meters in complete darkness while the lens of the camera is open. According to the artist, the sound of the smashing figurine hitting the ground triggers the lights to go on, capturing the moment and movement of the disintegrating piece on impact.

Klimas captures each individual experience of porcelain figurines being dropped and obliterated. With fixed expressions, these statuettes fall to their fragile demise.

Purchased from flea markets, bought online or donated by the companies that manufacture the products, the fragile ceramic figurines hit the ground and shatter, the moment forever frozen in photographs, that Kilmas refers to as temporary sculpture. It is this idea of expressive three-dimensionality captured in a two dimensional format that intrigued me about the work. For me there is far more to the creative statements. 

Combining the inherent fragility of ceramics, with the use of the readymade (Chinese Ceramic Ornament) to create a temporary sculpture through the medium of photography is a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary creative statement. One of the main aims and objectives that inspired me to travel to China in the first place  - to explore interdisciplinary shifts and developments in terms of expression in cultural production.
There is a comforting idea amidst what appears to be violence and chaos, which is the concept that this destruction can ultimately result in creation.

The second exhibition was titled It’s Teatime, a group exhibition of utilitarian products at the Design Store and Pottery workshop at M50. The products that caught my attention were the contemporary teapots and cups produced by ceramic designers in association with the Sanbao Ceramic Art Institute at Jingdezhen.
Teapots and cups/bowls manufactured at Zingdezhen.

Feitian teapot - set

Snowball teapot and bowls.

The Sanbao Ceramic Art Institute at Jingdezhen.

The institute at Jingdezhen was officially inaugurated in June of 2000. and has since been very busy hosting Porcelain Symposiums, organizing customized and personalized tours and visits throughout China to areas of interest to artists and artisans, establishing university level ceramic instruction, summer school ceramic courses, celebrating the 1000 years of porcelain in Jingdezhen in 2004, participating in in the NCECA student scholarship program, offering residencies and fellowship programs to the international artists and artisans, as well as organizing many other international artistic and cultural activities in China.

Zhuoran - cups

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

China 's approach to greenbelts, urban-open spaces in Shanghai and Beijing respectively.

I was pleasantly surprised to see China’s approach to green the sidewalks and to preserve their traditional gardens, to combat the impact of the fast-growing metropolis of both Shanghai and Beijing respectively. The two cities I visited in my recent trip to China. Shanghai is considered the ‘Pearl of China’ and is the fastest growing of the two expanding cities. It is therefore important to address urbanization by creating green belts and maintain gardens and parks, as well as establish urban-open spaces to cater for a variety of needs of its fast growing population.  These green belts, parks and gardens enhance the spiritual, recreational and cultural life of the Chinese. Some of which are steeped in tradition, preserved and maintained for cultural purposes. Two such Gardens (featured here) are Yuyuan (Shanghai) and Ditan Park respectively (Beijing). 
Apartments are very small and often overcrowded and going green therefore improves the quality of life of its citizens. Strictly maintained and guarded, these segments of nature provide much relief to the city’s inhabitants, an escape from their claustrophobic living and spaces.

More importantly, it is necessary to go green to combat serious pollution. A grey haze hangs and almost drifts like mist in between the buildings, a constant reminder of its threat, restricting your view, further hampered by an ever-increasing number of high-rise buildings that rockets into the sky in every direction you look. Most of the city's cultural structures are situated in or in close proximity to gardens. During festive seasons and holidays these green spaces are fully utilized, as one would come to expect from such a densely populated metropolis. 

What one must also take into account is that the Chinese are very proud of its recent economic success and its manifestation in these two fast growing cities. Local tourists therefore flock to these new found centres of excess to see for themselves the impact of their newfound economic success. 

Avenue of Stone Figures - Ming Tombs.

Yuyuan Garden (Shanghai) was built in the Ming Dynasty, more than 400 years ago. The exquisite layout, beautiful scenery and the artistic style of the garden architecture have made the garden one of the highlights of Shanghai. The styling of these gardens is also visible in nature inspired finely crafted works of art. 
Jade carving flora and fauna.

Bamboo sculpture at Shanghai museum.

The attention to details is just incredible, as this fine example of bamboo carving depicts. The pruning and shaping of trees, gardens and sculpting of almost everything, embodies a peculiar feeling of manipulation and order taken to the highest level in all aspects of culture and all walks of life.

Yuyuan literally means Happy Garden. It is located in the center of Shanghai's Old City, a few blocks south of the Bund. It has a total area of about two hectares (five acres) with more than 40 attractions. The inner and outer gardens were both built in the Ming Dynasty classical style, with numerous rock and tree garden areas, ponds, dragon-lined walls and numerous doorways and zigzagging bridges separating various garden areas and pavilions. 
The garden covers a significant space and includes a few halls and other buildings of interest. Its cultural relics include the century-old furniture, calligraphic and painting works of famous artists, clay sculptures and brick carvings as well as some inscriptions and couplets. What would and oriental garden be without water and of course fish.
One of the highlights of the garden is the Exquisite Jade Rock. It is a 5-ton, porous, beautifully shaped, grotesque rock, which is said to have been carried from Taihu (Tai Lake) in Wuxi, Jiangsu province. The rock is characterized by its wrinkled appearance, slender shape, translucent nature and numerous holes eroded by water. An interesting legend goes that the rock was found some 1000 years ago, and it was originally one of Song Emperor Huizong's private collection before it found its way into Yu Garden.
Ditan Garden is located on Andingmenwai Street, in the Dongcheng District of Beijing City. The altar is a square, two-storied building enclosed by a square ditch. The Fangze Altar was built in 1530 during the reign of the Emperor Jiajing of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). This was the sacred place used by the emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties to worship the God of the Earth. 
Ditan Park is the last remaining altar for worshipping the God of the Earth. From 1531 to 1911, 14 emperors used this alter as a place of sacrifice. At that time, worshipping the gods of Heaven and Earth was a very important part of religious activity. This practice dates all the way back to prehistoric agricultural production.The Fangze Altar is the best-preserved piece of architecture used for worshipping the God of Earth. Its original design imitated the altar of earth on Zhongshan Mountain in Nanjing. 

When the Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) reigned, the park went through large-scale reconstruction and enlargement. Ditan Park covers a square-shaped plot of about 37.4 hectares (92.4 acres). 
All of its architecture was designed according to the Chinese ancient Five Elements Theory, Round Sky and Square Earth Theory and the symbols of 'Dragon & Phoenix' and 'Heaven & Earth'. Today, in addition to the Alter of the Earth, visitors can see a number of ancient buildings such as Huangqishi, Zaishengting, Zhaigong and Shenku. Huangqishi (the House of Worship for the Earth God) is one of the major buildings in the park. 
Throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties, this was used as a spot of worship for the God of the Earth and many other Chinese gods. In 1986, it converted into an exhibition room of cultural and historical relics. Zaishengting (Slaughter Pavilion) is the place in which bulls, pigs, goats and deer were slaughtered. Animals were killed on the day before the worship ceremony, and then prepared as the sacrificial offerings for the God of the Earth.

The park is  also utilized for recreational purposes and is home to fabulous flowers including peonies and blossoms, a must see during the spring season. I did not experience the park in spring but did get to see numerous lotus flowers.