On Edge.

My name is Eric Kao and I am the Deputy Director of The Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China.  Two weeks ago I was boarding a “K”-train in Jingdezhen.  After 16 hours on a train, one flight cancellation in Shanghai and 16 more hours on various planes, I landed in Montana.  I was charmed by the warmth of the friendly community on my first visit to Helena.  I have come to the Archie Bray Foundation as an “Edge Artist”, working side by side with other innovative artists in a collaborative and communal studio setting in the Bray Summer Studios.  This community departs the traditional methods of clay construction and incorporates computers that can model 3D images, print with ceramic material, mills that can form unfired and fired clay and robots that can coil build.

As I sit here typing my first blog entry (first one ever!) in the Wynkoop&Deweese Resident Center, I pause and think about how I define technology.  My experience with ceramic materials and firing processes require lots of technology, but the most advanced digital device I have used would be a Bartlett kiln controller.   Just a second ago, Kurt Weiser walked through and said, “Gosh, everyone here in on a computer.  In here and the Summer Studio!”

I was captured by all the equipment these artists brought with them.  There were truck-loads, trailers and crates full of gadgets and gizmos.  This is all in addition to the remarkable facilities the David and Ann Shaner Resident Artist Studio already has, including computer operated kilns, radiant heat from the floor and even a giant kitchen where you can choose from 5 ways to make your coffee!!!

Being here for just over a week, I have learning about the versatility of clay.  Clay can be printed, milled and even scanned into a computer.  Technology and science always forwarded the way we work with ceramics.  The western approach to ceramic studio practice has always found innovative ways to adapt the materials and methodologies to our individual standards.  We create access to materials from around the world and build machines which allow clays and glazes to react in a way in which we prescribe.

Jingdezhen’s unique earth materials have given created a reputation for being “as thin as paper, as white as jade, as bright as a mirror, and as sound as a bell”.  From the Song Dynasty to modern day Jingdezhen, innovative technology has prevailed in facets of forming, glazing, enameling, decorating and firing.  All of these developments revolved around one scientific constant, local geological minerals.

Jennifer Woodin, who just offered me a toasted muffin, helped me realize how fascinating all the various cutting-edge equipment in Summer Studio shares a common bond with the software the group is using.  This constant in the studio allows for a co-nurturing of ideas that activates and increases our ability to work together, problem solve and fold this technology into our studio practices.

It is apparent that creativity and science go hand in hand.  The creativity activates our imaginations and creates unrestrained hypotheses while our scientific processes keep us focused in order to conclude our findings. When I wish to have another set of hands, I know, in reality, that the only sources I can turn to for help are science and technology.

I look forward to a new dialogue in regards to skill of the hand vs. digital assistance from machines and how it is utilized in ceramic practice.  The production of objects with Jingdezhen porcelain is valued only after the hand has effectively elevated the piece from its lowly assembly line beginnings.  I am excited to see the same marriage of hand and machine with the technology the Edge Artists have brought to the Bray.

The Archie Bray Foundation is much more than a residency, gallery, clay business and community studio on the property of an old brick factory.  It is a place that rains and a place that shines, creating rainbows that leave us anticipating when the next one will appear.  As we choose our discourse as individuals working in clay, we all appreciate what the Bray provides, “…for all who are sincerely interested in any branches of the ceramic arts, a fine place to work.”  -Archie Bray, Sr. 1951.

Please leave a comment

  1. Daniela Abel Says:

    Eric, you have expressed with your words what I feel in my heart everytime I am at the Bray. Thank you…