Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Takeshi and Baixu have been working on re-locating RedHouse studio for months. During, my stay they let me come with them to have a look at the new studio. People who have been to Jindezhen in the past may remember the Yuzhoa, or “Cosmic Factory.” It was once one of China’s main producers of dinnerware exports, but,more recently, has been in a state of abandonment. Most remember it as a series of crumbling warehouses, giant tunnel kilns and smokestacks connected by streets crammed with piles of old discarded plates. In recent years, the Chinese government has been working on promoting “Industrial Tourism” and are using the grounds to develop a pristine visitor center, termed Taoxichuan.

Looking out from the Taoxichuan museum 

Taoxichuan is as big as the sculpture factory and has been completely cleaned up, renovated and modernized. It’s full of shops, bookstores, coffee shops, museums, galleries and more coffee shops. The architecture is integrated into the old factory buildings giving the place a striking contrast between old and new. Picture a post-modern room made of fancy glass window panes jetting off of an old, weathered brick wall with remnants of a decommissioned ventilation duct. I loved being able to walk through all of the old deteriorating buildings and look at the giant smoke stacks while sipping on my artisanal coffee. 

Left: An old smokestack stands next to modern, minimal architecture
Right:  View of the Taoxichuan Museum of Art

Sitting across from one of the larger chimneys, flanked by a crisp architectural pond, is the massive Taoxichuan Museum of Art. It’s a stunning building that houses ceramic artwork from all over the world. Inside lies one of the original tunnel kilns from the cosmic factory that runs the entire length of the building. It was part artifact part obstacle, as I could only navigate the museum one half at a time. A portion of the showcase included work from the Taoxichuan International Residency Program, located down the street from the museum. The residency opened in 2015 and has hosted artists from all over the world. In fact, when I went to visit, I found quite a few Americans, including Blair Clemo, Trey Hill, Ryan Labar, and Ryan Matthew Mitchell, the studio director. They, along with other residents Naidee Changmoh and Fran├žois Ruegg, managed to fill up the massively spacious and epic-ly decorated studio with their own artwork. Around the corner from the residency was the China Central Academy of Fine Art (CCAFA). Acting as somewhat of a satellite to the Art Institute in Beijing, this location will house studios as well as museum and conference space for visitors and artists. 

old plates from the Cosmic Factory

Takeshi’s new studio is in this same complex, right down the hall. Baixu told me that moving studio was a very hard decision to make. They were courted by the government for a long time before deciding to go forward with the move, and and the decision required some negotiation. In the end, half of the renovation of the new building was done by the Chinese government and half was left to RedHouse. We visited the studio as the government contractor was just finishing and ready to hand over the job to RedHouse. I sensed a bit of relief from Baixu as she regained control of the project.
I could tell that the move was more than just a change in scenery for RedHouse. The sculpture factory was an embodiment of the real hustle and bustle of Jingdezhen. The city is a fast-paced porcelain machine, always moving and never hiding the residue of its labor. Taoxichuan is a very minimal and polished space that acts as more of a window into the city. In this new studio there won’t be the usual buzz and rattle of scooter traffic, or piles of slip-cast molds around every corner. In order to cater to the collector and tourist market, Taoxichuan has to separate itself from the true essence of Jingdezhen and I think it’s going to be a big adjustment for RedHouse to take on the new setting. Yet, it is exciting to think of the  exposure that they will have on this new and heightened platform.

We all returned back to the current RedHouse studio later that day. Takeshi brought me into the glaze room and pulled out a strange contraption. It was his very own home coffee roaster that he built. He went on to teach me how to roast coffee, and I stood there and watched, amazed at the spectacle. I had traveled from the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, flown across the Pacific Ocean, rode a train through rural China and was now standing in front of one of the world’s great ceramic artists, learning how to roast coffee. I can’t express how much this trip has impacted my life, nor can I be more grateful to Takeshi and Baixu for giving me the chance to be with them in the studio. Also, I can’t thank the Northern Clay Center enough for offering me the Warren Mackenzie Advancement Award and facilitating this whole trip. 

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