Spring 2015: Memory

Memory is one of the most compelling themes for art that I can think of.  There are so many individual angles to memories, different for each person who has the “same” experience.  Scientifically, as synapses rebuild and form new connections, our memories can change and form deeper trails through out psyche, or fade into nothing as we re-examine what we’ve seen and done.

These changes that evolve in memories as we cycle them through our storytelling kind of haunt me.  I really value accuracy and honesty, so knowing that even by telling the stories I share I change what I remember and how I’ll tell it next time.  The stories that I am trying to share, the memories, are things that I have racked up in little storage units in my head, and there are plenty that I’ve pulled out of their little boxes and then lost.  That makes me sad.  But I keep hoping that as I pull up and release these memories in permanent form, that maybe these lost pieces will pop back up from the synapse connections they got lost in.

The human mind and the human experience are the most fascinating things to me, and if there was a way to collect and compile and represent the special stories that define every one of us, I would like to do exactly that.

10410618_10155365790490294_1628925045659415773_n  My sister punched you out in the snow.

11013484_10152597731077373_3099047787655212566_n  We mostly sang in vowels all day.

11021104_10152597628307373_6246158669684152431_n You said some things I almost believed.

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Spring 2015: Chinese Ceramics- Qing bowl with Landscapes c. 1723-1735

Bowl

This Qing era bowl, drawn with copper stain images and clear and colored glazes, depicts four landscape images intended to be similar to an album of ink paintings, viewed as the bowl was turned.  The copper stain turned red under the overglaze in a firing method that was sometimes difficult to achieve.  This album or page idea, as part of an individual piece, is intriguing.  That this series of images could become a sort of circular narrative is an interesting idea and one that I might have to try sometime.

Spring 2015: Chinese Ceramics- Ding Ware from the Song Dynasty c. 960-1279

Ding Ware is known for its fine craftsmanship and sensitive incised decorations.  Often found with an unglazed rim covered with a metal ring, each piece seems very self-contained and poised. This particular Ding Ware bowl is from the Christie’s Auction site.  I was immediately struck by the simplicity and grace of the carved image, which gives me hope for my own carved images, that they may one day be as graceful.  Many examples of this Ding carving are much more complex and involve lotus and floral images, dragons, and even some cherub-esque figures.  This simple design is eye catching connects with the outer rim, forming a contained and dynamic image.

DingWareBowl

Spring 2015: Chinese Ceramics- Terra Cotta Soldiers of the Qin Dynasty 221-207 BCE

Perhaps the Terra Cotta Soldiers are an obvious thing to write about, given that they are probably the most widely known of Chinese ceramic cultural icons. However, as I was reading about them again during the course of this semester, I was reminded of the Fort Hays State University trip I had the privilege to participate in, during 2006.  I remember the vastness of the excavated space (see my first photo from the 2006 trip), and the surmise that there may be many more soldiers outside the covered area, reaching out into the surrounding farmland.  Seeing as the soldiers were discovered by a farmer working his fields in the early 1970s, who knows what else could be out there, and who will find it?

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The sheer number figures, and environments within the tomb, is mind-boggling, but get this- each soldier’s face is different, or at least vary widely, bringing some historians to believe that many, if not all, were modeled after the soldier being depicted. Each soldier had its place, and a role to play within the overall tomb setting. The second photo, taken at the entrance to Headquarters, shows Generals lined up to keep watch and advise the Emperor.  Their heads were plundered during a raid. (Thanks to Linda Ganstrom for clarifying the details I had forgotten.)

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What has repeatedly dazzled me about these figures is the story of them, the epic layers of a somewhat darkly fairytale setting. On one side you have a tomb complex in dedication to an Emperor who took on great endeavors, like building the Great Wall, as well as his own extravagant tomb, both as a celebration and an exhibit of ego. On the other hand, this multi-layered tomb is a view into how deeply the Emperor may have feared losing his grasp of his nation.  Of course this is a tradition, supplying your tomb with supplies for the afterlife, but taken to the extent of supplying yourself with armies in a maze-like plot, each tunnel and room with its own protective purpose, seems intense. And in the end, even thousands of Terra Cotta soldiers couldn’t keep his tomb from being plundered.

Beyond this element, though, are each of the  individual soldiers, who were (ostensibly) each a real person, with their own stories and views. And the workers who were constructing the soldiers and the horses, and building the tomb environs, were definitely real people, each with their own experiences.  The number of stories and experiences all rooted within this space increases exponentially as you step further out…  There are probably families in this area who had ancestors working on this massive project. Did older generations have legends and stories about their own families tied to this tomb, before they faded away with time?  What are we building that a farmer is going to dig up in 2000 years and try to learn the story of?

Spring 2015: Chinese Ceramics- Blackware from the Late Neolithic period 2800-2500 BCE

As part of my coursework this Spring, we are researching Chinese Ceramics. One assignment is collecting ideas from our research by choosing pieces that relate to our work and writing about them.  For this first entry, I have chosen Blackware from the Shandong province in Northern China.

Blackware

During the Late Neolithic period, this Blackware became prominent for ceremonial purposes. The black and grey surfaces were burnished shiny before firing and blackened by heavy reduction or smothering in combustibles.  The firing process also caused iron in the clay to flux, making the clay body exceptionally strong.

These surfaces, appearing weathered but still smooth and strong, are very appealing to me. The subtle variations and almost waxy finish are something I would love to achieve in my work, in some way.  Layering underglazes has been somewhat effective so far, but the subtlety of the layering is not quite what I am after.  I look forward to possible experiments with reduction and cold finishes to try and replicate some of the warmth of these pieces.