The JN Projects Blog

Past meets present in Jingdezhen: Geng Xue and ''Mr Sea''

Geng Xue, Mr Sea, stop-motion animation and porcelain installation

An extract from a quarterly essay:

“Drifters” in Jingdezhen: Past meets present in the porcelain capital', published in Garland magazine in May 2019

The protagonists of Geng Xue's video 'Mr Sea' are jointed puppets made of blue and white glazed porcelain, brought to disturbing life with stop motion animation. Their undulating, trance-like movements through an eerie porcelain
landscape of coral-like branches and creepy shadows depict the erotic encounter between a scholar and a beautiful woman—a liaison that ends very badly indeed. Mr Sea was beautifully, seductively nightmarish, and the artist’s technical virtuosity was immediately evident. The work includes an installation of porcelain figurines and backdrops (shown together with the video in Ritual Spirit at Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery in 2017) that emphasises both the fragility and the narrative possibilities of the material. I became fascinated by the work of Chinese artists who, like Geng Xue, draw on their history and craft traditions to make work that seamlessly enters the global contemporary

2015_271-Geng-Xue-Mr-Sea-2013-14-video-colour-sound-13-min-15-sec-still-10-768x432

Geng Xue, Mr Sea, 2013–14, stop-motion animation of porcelain sculptures; tableau/installation of same sculptures,
video: 13 min 15 sec, installation: dimensions Variable, Image courtesy White Rabbit Collection Sydney

Geng Xue, who lives and works mostly in Beijing, stressed the physicality of working with clay, and the sense of place that she found in Jingdezhen:

"Jingdezhen is a very small place surrounded by mountains and hills, and when I set up my studio there I worked as if I was living in nature […] I would work with my friends to make clay, make things from clay, and I would work among the mountains. Sometimes we would fire the kiln to make porcelain and stay up very late […] my work contains my own labour and it’s a totally different experience from working in the studio where you are imagining everything. I think in
the real environment, in nature, the working state is very different … I can monitor the dryness and wetness of the clay very carefully and I know how to make them, in what kind of shape, and I’m very sensitive about it […] I can feel it with my hands."


Geng-Xue Mr Sea

Geng Xue, Mr Sea, 2013–14, stop-motion animation of porcelain sculptures; tableau/installation of same sculptures,
video: 13 min 15 sec, installation: dimensions Variable, Image courtesy White Rabbit Collection Sydney

That final phrase, “I can feel it with my hands’, appears simple and yet is so complex. Any artist or maker of objects knows exactly what she means. Musing on the same question, Merran Esson quotes Eduardo Paolozzi on how it takes a thousand tiny hand movements to create a work of art. She wrote: “These words have inspired me for over three decades, capturing the spontaneity that happens when I work directly with clay. The word ‘touch’ is integral to what we do.” Knowledge and understanding are experienced as unified elements of the making process; thought and action are not separate. For some Chinese artists this reflects Daoist beliefs in the harmonious balance of yin and yang.

The entirety of this quarterly essay, which also looks at the work of White Rabbit Collection artist LIU JIANHUA, can be found here

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