Sun, Mar 10, 2002 - Page 19 News List

Caught between tradition and innovation

Although Asia has a strong ceramics tradition, at least one of today's artists points out that the real meaning of tradition is to `make new things for tomorrow'

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Visiting artist Suzanne Wolfe, center, peruses works in The Contemporary Ceramics Invitational.


Although the International Asia-Pacific Contemporary Ceramic Invitational Exhibition has been on show over the last month, it reached its high point this weekend with the arrival of many of the artists, who are drawn from eight countries in the Asia Pacific region. Each gave a series of seminars on various aspects of their art, which most agree is going through a crucial transitional period at the present time.

The Taipei County Yingko Ceramics Museum where the seminars were held is one of the largest institutions in the region dedicated to ceramics and pottery. The establishment of the museum, according to Wu Chin-feng (吳進風) the founding chairman, is not just to underline the importance of ceramics to Taiwan -- Yingko is a major producer of ceramic wares, and has also been developed into a tourism center focused on the town's tradition of pottery production -- but also to point towards the new direction that ceramic work is now developing.

The largest groups of artists come from Korea and Japan, who have a similar pottery tradition to that of Taiwan and in many cases face the same obstacles. An entrenched tradition of utilitarian pottery ware, most notably with Taiwan's handmade teapots, has tended to circumscribe the development of new ideas, said Chen Cheng-Hsun (陳正勳), a local ceramic artist who likes to incorporate other materials, such as wood or rope into his works. The most notable example of the interaction between traditional and contemporary could be seen in Ohi Toshio, who led a delegation of nine Japanese artists. Ohi, the eleventh generation of a family that has produced raku pottery in Japan for over 350 years, says he is still strongly attached to the methods developed by his family, but believes that the real meaning of tradition "is to make new things for tomorrow." The work on display, Ceremonial Vessel is a hand-built bowl with amber glaze, the individual sheets that make up the bowl still visible and incised with various texts. While quite clearly a vessel of some sort, Ohi has blurred the lines between its original utilitarian purposes and is artistic significations.

Art Notes:

What: The Contemporary Ceramics Invitational

Where: The Yingko Ceramics Museum 200 Wenhua Rd., Yingko, Taipei County (台北縣鶯歌鎮文化路200號)

When: Until June 6.

Ohi went on to point out that for him, ceramic vessels are not complete in themselves, but interact with their environment. For this reason, Ohi has extended his work to architecture and interior design, creating "installations" in which ceramic work is an integral part.

Much of the work that makes up the current invitational exhibition is very different from that on display throughout the museum in that they are clearly not functional. The first two floors of the museum are dedicated to traditional teapot and vases, along with displays of traditional clay working methods -- so the third floor, with works such as Onlie Ong's Cooking Series -- Stir Frying, a black iron wok containing a stir fry of nuts, bolts and other hardware, all made from clay but designed to look like the real thing, comes as something of a surprise.

Ong, who is from Taiwan, but now works out of his Pine Lodge Studio in New Zealand, said that he approaches his work primarily as an artist -- as opposed to a potter.

"I didn't begin studying pottery until I went to New Zealand," he said. "This gives me much more freedom that locally trained potters. I don't have to follow a tradition."

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