SILK ROADS AND
Silk Roads and Floral Routes was a positive fall-out from the pandemic. Having lost an exhibition venue for my new body of work, Ceramic Wallpaper: Peonies, I decided to bring the work closer to China by involving some of the participating artists in Interbeing in a digital-geographical hybrid collaboration. Each artist was invited to send me a photograph of a wall in China which was significant to them.
Artist Annie Wan commented on the interface between nature and the urban environment: “I shot these photos on a road near our campus at Kowloon Tong. I was touched by the strength of the tree growing from the cement, seeing the power of nature in the urban area.” Dennis Wong selected a politically significant site: “This is the underpass near where I live [where] the government is covering the messages of protesters. It used to be a ‘war zone’ between the government and protesters for political propaganda.” Lu Bin chose a site notable for its history: “The site of the palace is located on Ye Mountain, once a place for metal casting in the Zhou dynasty, named Ye Cheng, literally the city of metallurgy, the first name of the city of Nanjing.”
The walls trace a journey, not dissimilar to our own route through China, whilst researching the project. It gave me pause to reflect on the ancient silk roads of China. Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, was the original destination and maritime port for Chinese merchandise that was traded out of the country and across the seas from the 16th Century; the British eventually set up a trading base on the nearby island of Hong Kong, therefore these destinations together with Foshan, also in Guangdong province, were of immense importance for Chinese exports. Joseph and I spent some time in Guangzhou and Foshan, where I took a series of photographs, several of which are featured in the following pages.
The peony is the official emblem of China and has great value in Eastern culture. An eternal symbol of royalty, honour and wealth, it is present in many religious festivals and traditions. The Chinese name Peony can mean “the most beautiful” and stands as a symbol of spring, female beauty and reproduction. The peony, most exalted of the Chinese symbolic and sacred flora, is a popular motif found on traditional Chinese porcelain.
The material I used to create the tile-based work is unglazed porcelain, fired raw in wood fired kilns; one firing lasted for six days and a smaller version of the work was fired in a wood kiln with soda. The resulting colours and textures were created by the flames and wood ash over the duration of the firings.
I worked in collaboration with Helen Scarlett-O’Neill to ‘install’ my peonies on the walls to take a virtual tour of China.
J Kay Aplin
Contained in Perfection of Understanding artist book & CD
Published January 2022
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.
Silk Roads and Floral Routes 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.