JINGDEZHEN, China — Earlier in this issue we ran a post about an alternative history project in which designers from Tel Aviv created ceramics for a company that closed its doors way back in 1990. In a way that project speculates on how the intervening 25 years may have been different. With this project sent to us through our submissions page, the artists appear to be looking back. It’s more of an excavation, a “what happened?” more than a “what if?”
Above image: Nick Geankoplis, Untitled Sketches. relic plaster slip casting molds with under glaze decal prints found in numerous locations around the vacated factory
Nick Geankoplis, Jesse Ring, Joey Zhao and Brian Caponi came up with a multi-pronged art project that uses site-specific ceramic installations to explore the post-Industrial landscape in a now-defunct ceramics factory in Jingdezhen. They tell us (though they admit this information was obtained over drinks and not concrete research) that the Jingdezhen Porcelain factory was designed in the Bauhaus style by a Czech architect in 1954. It was built over a period of seven years, running it straight into China’s Cultural Revolution. The factory was closed, but was later reopened by the state, which used it to produce porcelain tiles. The factory went broke for good in 1996. For a time small workshops moved in, but over the last year the local government decided to tear up the factory along with three additional city blocks to make way for something new.
The artists had this to say about their project, Vacated Ceramics Factories — Jingdezhen PRC:
This past spring, while teaching a ceramic design course in Jingdezhen, I was trying to find an old shortcut that I had used years before when studying there myself. I did not find my shortcut; instead I came across a large, half a square mile or so ceramic factory gutted and vacated, with the last trucks being loaded with ware as I wandered through the Bauhaus-style concrete structures.
This was a space to return to.
As artists we work across disciplines to highlight or re-imagine a history within a given place or space. Ceramics is a nexus point for our different practices; whether it is a conceptual lens that we use to work through other materials or an exclusive medium used from inception to realization. Our ceramic history, knowledge, and concerns are our collective’s foundation.
The impetus for this project began after stumbling upon the recently defunct and vacated Jingdezhen Ceramic Factory. It was built in the early 1950’s by Czechoslovakia for China and it specialized in ceramic tile production. This state-run factory was closed in 1997. The Jingdezhen Ceramic Factory was part a lager group of ceramic production called “The Big Ten Ceramic Factories.” These are all now defunct state factories, many of which have been occupied by small independent workshops. Others have been left to ruin.
Our project began in late spring/early summer 2016 and will continue through summer of 2017, culminating with a short series of exhibitions beginning in the factory spaces then moving outward to more traditional gallery locations in Jingdezhen and Beijing.
The abandoned factory has gravity. This inertial energy preceding intervention originates from the fixed motion of the molds, decal scraps, massive casting tanks, kilns and seconds piles that fill whole rooms. This ceased production derby creates its own fields, topographies that stretch across each of the half dozen, hundred-yard-long buildings of the factory compound. This material was poised, only needing alteration, adjustment or attention to become a re-authored artistic gesture. Our project grew from there as an opportunity to address many contemporary issues around a postindustrial landscape including a historical amnesia, ceramic process, tradition and dogma. It has developed into a 3-phase project to exercise two very different approaches to site-specific work where one derives from intuition and inference, and the other originates from specific quantifiable histories and forecasted futures.
Through a 3-phase project initiative, we will conduct historical research and create site-specific installations and work relating to a series of vacated ceramic factories in Jingdezhen.
Phase one was completed in late spring 2016 with work by Jesse Ring, Nick Geankoplis and Joey Zhao. It focused on reacting to the raw space and its contents; initial research of historical facts and forecasted futures were conversational. The work we made happened intuitively. It was quick, ephemeral and performative.
Phase two is scheduled to take place over the fall and winter of 2017 and is a historically-based inquiry. We will research the specific histories and personal narratives from the factory, its workers, its objects and its production while delving into some of the socioeconomic changes that did and are affecting these ceramic production sites. We are also interested in the future of the physical factory sites as well as tracking where the most recent productions were moved.
Phase three, reinterpretations, will take place during the spring and summer of 2017. We will again be working onsite and across disciplines, generating work and gestures relative to specific histories, physical space and projected futures. This third phase will have a public face during a popup show in various factory spaces as well as a more traditional gallery exhibition in JDZ and Beijing.
Phase One Reflections
“The factory was filled with compositions set candidly in the space, like still lives from the factory’s last day of production.
Walking among the disheveled stacks of molds, piles of glaze ware, partial kilns, and thick clay crusted floors I continued to find workers clothing strewn throughout. Using the format of monument and still life I sculpted compositions to be left in the site alongside the candid scenes of the abandoned factory, like ghosts or fossils that framed the presence of the workers with the uniforms they left behind.”— Jesse Ring
“The material was already there and only needed some small adjustment, placement or edifice for it to become an authored, artistic gesture.
“As an arena, the five ceramic factory buildings provided and abundance of content and context. It was the opposite of the white box.
“My work, the sculpture and installations, grew directly from the ritual procedures of the ceramic process. Molds as chimneys, forms fired in absentia — concrete coulombs as ware board pedestals; the work was an echo, like an artifact out of place acting as a proxy reference to the vacated production and outsourced tradition.” — Nick Geankoplis
Nick Geankoplis is a Beijing based artist and professor of ceramics in the Alfred/CAFA Ceramic Design for Industry program at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Jesse Ring is an artist currently working at the University of Cincinnati, College of Design Art Architecture and Planning as the resident artist and term adjunct faculty in ceramics. He recently completed a residency at the Alfred/CAFA program where he worked in Jingdezhen and Beijing. Joey Zhao is mixed media artist and historian living fulltime in Jingdezhen. He is also a faculty member at The School of Art and Design, Hunan Normal University. Brian Caponi is a Detroit based artist and former artist in residence at CAFA. He is currently instructor and chair of ceramics at the Oakland Community College, Royal Oak, Michigan.
Text (edited) and images courtesy of the artists.
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