MFA THESIS SHOW
My Motherland, China, is a country with a history of 5,000 years civilization. During this time, our ancestors created myriad of cultural miracles. Thousands of cultural relics and artworks are exhibiting in the major museums in China. They record the progress and changes in Chinese culture, art, military affairs and politics. The ceramic and tea culture are the most famous of them. The earliest history of Chinese ceramics can be traced back to the Neolithic Age, and has since experienced thousands of years of technological innovations including the development of Tang Sancai, white porcelain, celadon, blue and white porcelain, multicolored and many other ceramic technology. The word "china" in English means “ceramics”, which also shows the close relationship between the country and ceramics. The tea culture in China also has a history of almost five thousand years. According to legend, in 2732 B.C. ,Emperor Shen Nung was the first one found the tea. After wards, ceramics and tea had been spread to the whole world along the silk road as the major items exported from China since Han dynasty. It also spread the splendid culture of China to the whole world.
My hometown Quanzhou is the starting point for the maritime Silk Road. She is an ancient and multicultural city.There are over 300 religious and cultural temples of all sizes, with the most famous green tea Tieguanyin coming from here. One of the city DeHua is the world's porcelain capital. Tea shops and ceramic shops can be found everywhere in the town.
I grew up in a small village which has bamboo mountains, rice fields, wild flowers and berries everywhere. From the Chinese New Year’s firecrackers to The Lantern Festival’s lanterns, from the rice dumpling of the Dragon boat Festival to the moon cake of The Moon Festival, from new moon to full moon, all traditions are taken very seriously. All people work hard and live harmoniously. Growing up in this ritualistic place has given me rich thoughts and sensible characters.
When I became a student of CCAD, I wanted to let more foreigners know my hometown and understand Chinese culture through my artworks. From the Orient where I grew up to the West where I live now, there is heavy nostalgia while learning and integrating into the new culture in challenging ways. I often ask myself, what kind of artist do I want to be? What kind of person do I want my child to be? The answer is I want to integrate the Chinese tradition I have learned and the beautiful scenery I have experienced into my works. At the same time, I’d like to show future generations the wonders of Chinese culture.
My original intention was to incorporate lotus elements with profound cultural connotations into the ceramics to design tea sets with a strong oriental element. Lotus in China has a very rich cultural significance, symbolizes purity and elegance as while rooted in the mud, its flower blossom on long stalks as if floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. "Lotus" is called "live fossil,” and it is one of the earliest origins of angiosperms. The records about lotus and its medicinal effects haven been seen in <Compendium Of Materia Medica> which said: “lotus flowers, lotus seeds, lotus leaf, peduncle, lotus root, etc. can be use as medicinal.”
When I was a kid, I lived near a lotus pond. In the early summer of each year, when I saw the spiky pink flower in the lotus pond, It was time for catching dragonflies in the field and small fish in the river with my childhood friends ... The changes on the ponds bring a different kind of beauty day by day: the buds early in the summer, full bloom in midsummer, and finally withered petals, full of lotus seeds. Every moment is vivid. As well as the frogs croaking in the lotus pond, crystal clear dew on the lotus leaf, and sweet lotus seed soup …they are unforgettable.
Lotus, with its practicality, beautiful, and elegant came into people's life and spiritual world since thousands years ago. For that reason, there are many poems and dances describing the Lotus in Chinese culture. Lotus also symbolizes the ultimate purity of heart, mind, and perfection in Buddhism. According to the Buddhist explanation, the lotus is the "Pure Land" in which the place for the Buddha to hide their body, and it shows how the lotus has become a symbol of Buddhism. Buddhists all over the world recognize the lotus as the holy seat of the Buddha.
But at the beginning of my project, my mentor, Gordon Lee, who helped turn my project direction from the tea set with the lotus elements to an abstract lotus-person relationship, said: “Remember that what makes an artist unique is the mindset, vision, idea, objectivity, subjectivity and purpose of is being revealed. Your latest piece shows, albeit at an initial level, how you perceptively investigate (vision and objectivity), react (subjectivity and mindset) and interpret (idea and purpose) a simple lotus plant. Based on its kinship to Asian culture, lotus plant brings a very heavy cultural connotation to your intended mindset. It has a unique conceptual dimension. It is because of that dimension you can use your investigation to create a “system” or “structure” thus the modular format. Please do not afraid to explore further in this direction. Because what makes Western aesthetic so interesting is its emphasis on revealing a conceptual and/or existential intends. Being deeply entrenched in contemporary aesthetic of post-modernism, traditional Chinese as well as Western aesthetics of ‘art for art’s sake’ is not relevant in the 21st century. Perhaps for your aesthetic pursuit, you should try to strike a balance between objectivity and subjectivity.”
I strongly agree with his opinion that an artwork without souls or stories can’t be called a real artwork. I am grateful to my mentor Gordon Lee for the right direction in my project. Under his guidance, I entered the world of Lotus. There is an idiom in China “To do a good job, an artisan needs the best tools ”. If I want to spread the culture and spirit of lotus, I must know the lotus first. So I began to use clay to create the ecology in the lotus pond, including lotus flowers, the roots, pods, leaves and so on. The lotus pond like the community where we live, records the life cycle of humans, birth(roots)—growing up (flowers)—pregnancy(lotus pods)—who give birth to baby(seeds). I combined paintings and sculptures to show the relationship among people in the community through various forms of lotus. In my opinion, a community consists of many different families, each with a different composition.
I think of myself as a lotus, with my own life experience to give this lotus vitality. I was pregnant during that time and I finished the first work of this project soon. It consists of four pieces of white porcelain that are 8” by 8”. They are flawless, clean and beautiful, like the lotus ponds after the rain. I named it “Lotus . Baby”. Lotus seeds and baby have the same pronunciation in Chinese, I sculpted many sleep porcelain babies replaced the lotus seeds in the pod. It is this piece of work that connected me with Lotus.
After this, the study of the relationship between human and lotus became the most important part of my project. I extracted the lotus pods in the pond as the main body, and the main material changed from the ceramic to paper and wax. During the project, my mentor Molly encouraged me to try out new materials and methods. Her advice had a great impact on my job and she took me into the world of contemporary art. I think at this stage, my main role is to act as a mother and secondly as an artist. During the course of the project, I experienced an important life stage from pregnancy, gave birth to a baby, to becoming a nursing mother. I took this experience as the main background of my artworks, as well as the soul of my works.
One of my works— inspired by the empty lotus pods without seeds, I named it “Lost”. I used rice paper and soy wax for the materials. I turned fan-shaped rice paper into a funnel shape, then used multiple funnels to combine into the shape of lotus pods. Finally, the paper lotus pods were repeatedly dipped in melted wax to which I added lotus essential oil to add a sensory component. It abstracted the look of stripped-out lotus pods. It brings forth a feeling of being left out. Through these empty lotus pods, I refer to the experience of the postpartum depression.
Rice paper is and lotus are very organic objects which are born in the soil and attributed to the soil. The wax wrapped around the rice paper like a field of defense, it seems hard but fragile. Just like every new mother's mental state, looks strong but actually sensitive. The completion of the whole piece took almost 10 months. Paper-cutting, pasting together,dipping in to wax, each step is cumbersome and careful, just like the long process of pregnancy.
I experienced a hard time after giving birth to my baby. When I put my sleeping baby into his crip and would sit down for lunch, I began to cry just because the food in my mouth had already become cold. A voice, a color, even an action would turn me into the bad mood, however, in order to take care of the baby, I must to persist. That is why I used around 300 pieces of the multiple sizes of empty lotus and the organic forms of my works to represent the fluctuating moods of a new mom.
A lot of my mentors and classmates asked me: “Have you considered putting all of the empty lotus forms on the floor to display?” I told them: “I don’t want to put them on the floor, they should be shown on the wall.” The reason is people always throw the empty lotus pods on the floor after peeling out the seeds. That makes me feel they are pitiful. Just like when I gave birth to my baby, I have to stay in the bedroom while my wound and body healed from giving birth. I ate by myself while others were eating and laughing downstairs, I took care of my baby by myself while others went outside. It made me feel lonely. I felt like I was the empty lotus pod, I don't want to be abandoned, I should be respected. So I display my lotus on the wall to honor myself and honor other mothers. I hope my works can appeal to more people to pay attention to postpartum mothers.
In the process of making the work, I considered myself as a lotus pod, imagined the shape and mood of each lotus after their seeds had been striped. Every paper lotus is alive and has emotions for me. I can felt the pain when lotus seeds were stripped of their bodies. In order to perfectly present my work, I learned there are many different kinds of wax, and which is fit for my work. I had tried soy wax 415, soy wax 444 and pure bee wax. Soy wax 415 which is original soy wax, it is 100% pure soy without a single additive. Soy wax 444 is the 415 plus a 2% universal soy additive which reduces frosting and allows the wax to hold more fragrance than a pure soy wax. But also makes the wax harder. So, using soy wax 444 will cause surface cracks and fall off, especially in cold weather. However, the addition of beeswax can improve the flexibility, to solve some of the fragile problems. I used to add lotus essential oils when the wax was completely melted. I have two tools for melting wax which were slow cooker and sauce pot. When I used a slow cooker, it was necessary to repeatedly dip the paper lotus into the wax 7-8 times, but by using a sauce pot, I only need to dip the wax 4-5 times to complete. Because melting wax would solidify within half hour in the sauce pot which has no insulation effect. I also pay attention to other artists who use wax or paper to create artworks, I learned the methods of how they install their works, such as Melissa Jay Craig and Jodi Colella. I tried different organic shapes each time when I had my critique, I documented the pictures to find out which is the best shape for my whole piece. In the meantime, the tools for installation changed from pins and nails to the middle part of the Q-tip which is made by paper as well, they are strong enough and connect to the material of my works better.
However, the work ended up with pure freshness and awe-stirring beauty, and the sense of accomplishment it brought to me swept away all the hardships that I experienced in this process. This kind of feeling is very similar to my experience as a mom. Although the process of pregnancy to childbirth and raising up a baby is so laborious and difficult, as a mother, I think it is worthwhile to see children grow up day by day with all of the hardships. The completion of this work gave me have a deeper understanding of myself.
Another piece which I titled “Incision” presents the state of the muscle around the caesarean incision which is taken directly from my experience of giving birth. Caesarean is a type of surgery used to deliver a baby. Today in the United States, Cesarean deliveries account for over 30% of all deliveries. In many Latin American countries, the rate of elective Cesareans is 40-50%. And 85% of C-sections are performed for one of four reasons: previous C-sections, lack of progress in labor, fetal distress, or breech birth. Most Cesarean deliveries are low-cervical Cesareans or Low-transverse Cesareans. This means the incision is made low in the uterus. The low horizontal incision made in abdomen is usually 15-20cm long—this is the cut seen on the skin. It leaves a modest scar that dates over time. The incision made in uterus underneath is 5-7cm long, to keep scaring on the uterus to a minimum. Although having a C-section is major surgery, it can be a life-saving one. Like any surgery, it can carry risks. For the mother this may mean increased blood loss, cardiac arrest, infection of the uterus or uterine lining, bladder damage, complications for future pregnancies, greater risk of future hysterectomy, and long hospital stay. Cesarean incision can damage the muscle’s lateral blood and nerve supply, which may result in the atrophy of the muscle medial to the incision.
From inspiration to the completion of the final work, it has undergone a long evolutionary process. At the very beginning, the sculpture was a piece of white porcelain that inserted many irregular shape porcelain pieces into a 20” by 20” porcelain board, which left a red-glazed wound shape in the middle of the work. Then I changed the materials of my work into printing paper and wax. I dipped the strip of papers into melted wax, and put them on the surface of white wood board to represent the muscle status of stretch, fracture and slack around the cesarean wound.
Finally, I chose rice paper and traditional Chinese paints to finish this work. I dyed many pieces of rice paper the color which we usually use to paint the lotus flower on traditional Chinese painting. Then I bend, fold and stick the dyed paper together, the graded colors mimicking the muscle around the incision from the epidermis to the subcutaneous tissue very well.
Because I have to take care of children, I have always worked at home. My home studio is located in the basement, where the light condition is not very good. After I dye the paper each time, I have to bring them to a place with natural light to see if the color is same as the last time I did or not. Unfortunately, each time the color is different, deeper or lighter. But it reminds me that the lotus flowers in the lotus pond are different from each other. The color of the first blossom has become lighter, but the color of the newly blossomed flower is still very bright. My work is also a very natural process of recording each stage of life, so I think these different layers of color express life’s meaning very well.
I hang them together on the wall in a big circle. There are three reasons why I choose a round shape. The first reason is we use the same character in Chinese for roundness and completeness, the second reason is the period in Chinese is a circle, and the last reason is the belly is round when pregnant.
Caesarean section for me is a significant milestone in my life. The process of changing the material and form of this work is also the process of me gradually understanding my wound. From the outset, I thought the caesarean section wound was cold and ugly, it was just a sign of pain. So the works were dominated by icy white, either the porcelain piece or the print paper pieces were chosen to show the wound with a rough edge. Yet at the end, this wound has bloomed into a beautiful lotus in my heart, which was gentle and wonderful. It was a souvenir that made me feel proud. That is why I was very satisfied with the final work which was created using dyed soft rice paper.
Reincarnation and rebirth are often mentioned in Buddhism, and lotus is also used as a symbol of rebirth. From a lotus seed to a lotus pod, life is constantly reincarnated. The wound of the c-section has become a milestone, a recording of a cycle of life for me, because the birth of a new life gives this wound more meaningful value.
The completion of this project let me have further understanding of contemporary art, but also let me once again feel the profoundness of Chinese culture. Everyone will experience struggles, but when we face it aggressively and bravely, we will find that those moments that once made us feel gloomy become the splendid colors that embellish our lives and make us better ourselves. So I am thankful for my struggles. That is why Chinese people often say Yin and Yang, this is the truth about the balance of all things in the world. Everything will mutually reinforce and neutralize each other. A Chinese phrase says: “A loss, no bad thing or a blessing in disguise.” It shows that things in this world are constantly evolving, blessing and cursing. Under certain conditions, both parts to a contradiction can be completely transformed in their opposite direction.
In the future, I will continue to capture the struggles of people’s lives, and find the most beautiful and appropriate artistic forms to express them. I will add Chinese elements into my works as well. I hope my work will give everyone a positive attitude towards life.