book & CD
Perfection of Understanding brings together a group of UK-based ceramic artists with Chinese & Hong Kong sound artists.
Originally conceived as a physical residency at Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute, its eventual manifestation here takes the form of a remote commission uniting the artists through reimagining Jingdezhen, the renowned capital of porcelain, now rendered inaccessible by a pandemic. A place that has become in our collective imagination, a mythical destination.
The pandemic necessitated radical changes to the format of the Interbeing project and Perfection of Understanding outlines how we approached the notion of a residency when none of the artists were able to travel. In No Interdependent Origins, two of the artists were able to physically research the exhibition site, whilst the others made work in their own studios, so the format of a residency still made sense. With Perfection of Understanding we felt that the residency format no longer served the subject and so the book became home not only to documentation of the wider project but also a container for several new commissions, including the works shown here.
Each ceramic artist was invited to explore an idea of Jingdezhen as it related to their own practice and to produce work in any visual media in response. The sound artists were invited to do the same, producing a sonic artwork or piece of music for inclusion on the accompanying album on the inside back cover of this book. In addition, Joseph Young added some field recordings from our research trip to China which offer an immersive impression of the soundscape of this seemingly remote place.
Three established ceramic artists based in the UK produced new commissioned work in response to the theme of re-imagining Jingdezhen. The artists came up with a range of different solutions to the challenge of presenting ceramic based work in the context of a book.
Andrew Livingstone’s Intangible is a series of works in progress, sketches in porcelain slip, which put together, form a composite image of materiality. Livingstone states that “this work reflects the absence of both place and making. This also is significant in terms of my conceptual approaches to making and interpretation of ceramics.”
Valeria Nascimento’s Sequence was inspired by the production of porcelain bowls in Jingdezhen. Nascimento says “Chinese ceramics are one of the most significant forms of Chinese art globally, so I decided to work with the ‘repetition’ element from their production line. The red glaze was applied as the colour red symbolises luck, joy and happiness. It also represents celebration, vitality and fertility in traditional Chinese colour symbolism.”
David Cushway’s film Interbeing explores the correspondences between Jingdezhen and Porth Wen in Wales. Jingdezhen is a city born from its geology and geography – its abundance of kaolin, timber for kiln firing and water for transportation ensured that its remoteness was no obstacle to the manufacture of high quality porcelain wares. Similarly, Porth Wen (White Bay) with its deposits of quartzite for brick making and Llanlleiana (church of the nuns) with its proximity to china clay guaranteed that these were important industrial sites. Porth Wen and Llanlleiana are now redundant and have fallen into disrepair as the manufacturing processes proved too expensive and unprofitable. Cushway’s film “reveals the residue of this industrial heritage, (…) a peaceful, meditative, reflection on the landscape of the area once industry has left.”
Contemporary Ceramics Centre
63 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3BF
Artist Book & CD
26th January 2022 6-8pm
A Shifting Fusion – Revealing China’s Experimental Music Scenes By Paul Khimasia Morgan
Perfection Of Understanding presents five artists who can be seen as representative of the current Chinese sound art scene – what Brandon LaBelle characterises in his book Background Noise: Perspectives On Sound Art, as a “field of practices”1 rather than a tightly defined area of creativity. Have China’s experimental music scenes really developed in isolation? Countering this perception, many Chinese artists point out that there is a long history of experimental music and sound art in China which has been hidden from view until relatively recently. Perhaps it is also a question of formal documentation here in the West. Two possible examples are: Alan Licht’s recent book Sound Art Revisited2mentions the 2000 Sound exhibition at Beijing’s China Contemporary Art Gallery only in passing, while Jennie Gottschalk mentions only Yan Jun and Jonathan Chen in her 2016 book Experimental Music Since 19703. Currently there is no dedicated overview of Chinese sound art; we await the publication of the late writer Wang Jing’s – author of The Other Digital China – new work Half Sound Half Philosophy – Aesthetics, Politics and History of China’s Sound Art for that. In a preview of the book, she wrote: “I am not suggesting that we should abandon existing Western sound practice and theories, nor am I suggesting that we look instead for authentic Chinese sound. As the Hong Kong-based sound artist and scholar Samson Young points out, “The pursuit of an authentic Chinese-ness in contemporary Chinese music runs the danger of essentialism.””
Hong Kong based Dennis Wong aka SIN:NED aka Wong Chung Fai is described by The Wire Magazine’s website as “…an improvisor, experimentalist and noise practitioner”. As well as being the co-founder of Re-Records, he is advisor to Hong Kong’s music promotion and education entity soundpocket, concert organiser and “veteran music critic”. Here, with his piece Turning The Wheel, he displays his underground experimental music scene credentials by presenting a sun-choked drone. If electronics involving stasis and durational imperatives can be thought of as an analogy for “the machine” – whether that represents technology, systems, industry, manufacture, surveillance; the individual listener takes their pick – by deliberately inserting audible clicks or “digital errors” into the last third of his synthesiser drone, Wong’s machine develops a pulse; a heartbeat. On her piece Glaze Drunk, multi-disciplinary artist Hui Ye collaborates with Vivian Xiaoshi Qin and incorporates song, field recordings and a spoken anecdote about a serendipitous collaboration with a curious insect whilst glazing ceramic cups in a pottery studio. Meanwhile, on Echo Ho’s piece Broken China Chant, abrasive software tones, underpinned by string samples, Roland MC303-style groovebox rhythms, vocal snippets and digitally re-tuned ceramic shards; the robust low end reminiscent of large outdoor sound systems. Described as “environmental soundscapes”, Sheng Jie’s approach is more panoramic. OnThe Crazing From Jingdezhen To Kolner, she weaves an auditory journey from field recordings of outside spaces / machinery / bells / birds / a pet shop or aviary / a baby crying out / rain. Everything is fed into her software’s slicing algorithm by the end, perhaps an attempt to make her working methods transparent. Sun Wei’s Cloud Scenery begins with what sounds like a long-string activation experiment. Soon, unexpected artefacts emerge: digital switching or the operation of a filter at differing frequency ranges. Software algorithms produce pitch modulation techniques, all the while there is the sense that something is rotating to produce the underlaid drone.
There seems to exist a common approach of unceasing exploration of media shared with practitioners from nearby countries. During their visit to perform in Brighton, UK in 2011, in one of many conversations with South Korean artists Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki, they described an established Seoul / Hong Kong / Beijing / Shanghai / Tokyo touring circuit which clearly facilitates the sharing of ideas in the region. The approach is: anything can, and should, be considered for its sound-making potential. For example, practitioners are known to repurpose domestic items; computer hard-drives, electric fans, tinfoil, typewriters (Choi Joonyong, Ryu Hankil), vinyl-less Technics turntable (Hong Chulki), small motors activating objects (Rie Nakajima), while the Chinese artists utilize exploratory strategies such as sounding furniture or moist aggregates (Yan Jun), digitally processed Guzheng (Echo Ho), noise techniques (Dennis Wong), or composing with field recordings and software (Sheng Jie, Hui Ye). Indeed, in her essay The Sound Of Contemporary Music In China, Wang Jing states “At the 2pi Festival, an experimental music event, the critic Ruyi Li commented that Chinese musicians are making sound art in a rock music way. China’s early sound practice did indeed originate from the underground rock music scene, a unique derivation that deserves further analysis.4”
1Brandon LaBelle, Background Noise: Perspectives On Sound Art Bloomsbury 2015
2Alan Licht, Sound Art Revisited Bloomsbury 2019
3Jennie Gottschalk, Experimental Music Since 1970 Bloomsbury 2016
4Wang Jing quotes from:
CD track listing:
- SIN:NED Turning The Wheel
- Vivian Xiaoshi Qin & Hui Ye Glaze Drunk
- Echo Ho Broken China Chant
- Sheng Jie The Crazing From Jingdezhen To Kolner
- Sun Wei Cloud Scenery
- Sanding kiln shelves
- Sheltering From The Rain
- Porcelain Water Mill
- Porcelain Stone Mill
- Tile Workshop
Tracks 6-10 Joseph Young
Clay Drawings 2021: Intangible
Porcelain and airlock bag
As we were unable to physically work in Jingdezhen this work reflects the absence of both place and making. This also is significant in terms of my conceptual approaches to making and interpretation of ceramics.
Handcrafted porcelain paperclay pieces with red glaze applied
Composed of 608 Red glazed tiny bowls
It was inspired by the production of porcelain bowls in Jingdezhen. Chinese ceramics are one of the most significant forms of Chinese art and ceramics globally, so I decided to work with the ‘repetition’ element from their production line.
The red glaze was applied as the colour red symbolises luck, joy and happiness. It also represents celebration, vitality and fertility in traditional Chinese colour symbolism.
Photographs of Porth Wen and Llanlleiana, Anglesey featured in Interbeing film
Jingdezhen known as the ‘porcelain capital’ is a city born from its geology and geography- its abundance of kaolin, timber for kiln firing and water for transportation ensured that its remoteness was no obstacle to the manufacture of high quality porcelain wares. Similarly Porth Wen (White Bay) with its deposits of quartzite for brick making and Llanlleiana (church of the nuns) with its proximity to china clay guaranteed that these isolated and difficult locations on the northern most reaches of Wales’ coastline were important industrial sites. Serving as a reminder that industry gravitates to where natural resources occur and can be exploited.
Whist Jingdezen is very much still a centre for production, the works on Anglesey at Porth Wen and Llanlleiana are redundant and have fallen into disrepair as the manufacturing processes proved too expensive and unprofitable. These now quiet sites, a haven for wildlife and walkers would once have been alive with the industrialised ceramic process, a cacophony of noise, from the machinery of cranes, steam engines and tram roads. Workers loading and unloading kilns: with noxious fumes spilling into the air from the chimneys
The short film reveals the residue of this industrial heritage, it is meant as a peaceful, meditative, reflection on the landscape of the area once industry has left. As nature has begun the process of reasserting itself both sites are now part of an area of outstanding national beauty on the Anglesey Coastal Path, Porth Wen is a scheduled monument.
PERFECTION OF UNDERSTANDING BOOK & CD
PERFECTION OF UNDERSTANDING is a limited edition artist book and CD containing commissioned artworks, essays and documentation of Interbeing, an exploration of collaborative ceramic and sound art practice in Britain and China.
Inter-being is a Buddhist concept that comes from the Heart Sutra and, in the context of the Interbeing project, explores the cultural connections between two seemingly very different cultures, the UK and China. By starting from a point of similarity rather than distance, we hope to foster and encourage a deeper understanding between artists from the two countries, especially at this time when the challenges of Covid-19 are pressing us towards more open international collaboration.
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Perfection of Understanding is part of the Interbeing project – an exploration of collaborative ceramic and sound art practice in Britain and China. Throughout 2021 at The Ceramic House.