Author Archives: Yingxin Huang

Chinamania: A Case Study of the Porcelain Installation Art

Abstract

Chinamania has been phenomenally hit for a long time in history since the appreciation of Chinese ancient art and culture in the European society was developed during the 17th and 18th centuries. In this case study of the porcelain installation art exhibition in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the author tried to explore dialogism between the porcelain installation art works and the ancient Chinese art, as well as their symbolic and cultural meaning in the networks of contemporary art world. Meanwhile, the comparison between the installation art works and Ai Weiwei’s avant-garde ceramic artworks will be applied to see the happening of art reproduction and the rediscovery of artistic values in globalization.

Research problem

  1. What’s the history background of chinamania in the 17-18th European society and what’s the symbolic meaning of the porcelain decorations at that time and now?
  2. Case Study: How is McConell’s porcelain installation art influenced by and dialogic the history of chinamania and the porcelain design and production in China? How is the porcelain installation art work cohesive with the “peacock room” in the museum interface?
  3. What’s difference and shared commons between the types of porcelain installation art and Ai Weiwei’s ceramic avant-garde artworks?
  4. What’s the cultural meaning of the porcelain and ceramic artworks in the networks of contemporary art world?

 

“It’s getting harder and harder every day to live up to my blue and white china.”

– Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

A frenzy mania for Chinese art and culture swept through the Europe during the 1870s, as the Chinese decorations were increasingly exported to the European market. The blue-and-white Chinese porcelain was phenomenally popular and particularly appreciated as one of the most priceless treasures at that time. Oscar Wilde, the great novelist in Victorian society, was famous for collecting the blue and white porcelain during the period of China-mania.

Nowadays, the Chinese art and culture has been widely spread, developed and reinterpreted in multiple genres of art forms globally. For instance, Chinamania, the exhibition currently on display in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C., has epitomized the Chinese and orient culture with delicate porcelains and installation art works, creatively reflecting the obsession and curiosity about Chinese craftmanship during the 17th and 18th centuries in the European society.

History: Chinamania, Porcelain and European Society

Chinamania, a vivid expression of frenzy love for Chinese style art and culture, derived from the global trade during the 17th and 18th century when more and more European merchants crowded into the southeastern coast of China and traded for tea, porcelain and silk.

As Early as the 13th century, the Italian merchant, Marco Polo, has been to China for trade and travel for a long time. After coming back to the Europe, he wrote a book, The Travels of Marco Polo, to record his experience in China and other countries in East Asia with regards to the wealth and culture there. It was so provoking for the Europeans since they, for the first time, were able to know about the mysterious Orient and ancient China for the details directly from a book. Marco Polo’s book greatly contributed to depicting a prosperous ancient China, and arousing people’s imagination of the mysterious Orient country. It was even the initial impetus for the European merchants to explore and trade with China. As the Portuguese and Dutch merchants arrived in China during the 16th century, they began shipping the blue-and-white porcelains home along with the silks and spices that inspired the Age of Exploration, and later came the British merchants in 17th century with larger scale trade in the Orient. On the other side, the developed oceanic silk road also served to export large amounts of Chinese goods to the Europe and they became relatively competitive in the market. In the 1870s, a new word Chinoiserie has been used by the British to describe the Chinese style, to some extent, it represents the progressive understanding of the Chinese culture among the British public, even being proud of collecting Chinese antiques and talking about Chinese culture.

Among the imported Chinese merchandises, the blue-and-white porcelains were particularly rare and precious in constantly high demands due to their delicate craftsmanship and replication complexity, thus being granted as the invaluable gifts usually for the royal families and aristocracies. Gradually, the porcelain as the symbol of wealth and social status was acknowledged by the European public, and until today, we could still see the 18th century exported Chinese porcelains in some western private collections and galleries.

A Theory of Everything, Walter McConnell.

A Theory of Everything, Walter McConnell.

Case Study: the Chinamania Exhibition in Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

As is shown in the video, two porcelain installation art works are displayed near one of the entrances of the exhibition room, as they are the most eye-catching and appealing items in this exhibition. These porcelain installation art works are constituted of stacks of porcelains in diverse shapes and styles, some of which are the well-known characters from cartoons or fairy tales, some are plants and animals in the nature, others are the great persons in history, e.g. Ludwig van Beethoven, and Abraham Lincoln. In the form of tradition Chinese art, these porcelain art pieces were in fact created from 3D scans of the porcelain originals. The multiples were replicated and recombined to produce various tokens of porcelain installation art works, and were granted the name – A theory of Everything. As the supplementation of the other Chinamania exhibition, these installation artworks also serve as another “outgoing” interpretation of the Peacock Room Remix – an immersive installation by painter Darren Waterston, reimagines James McNeill Whistler’s famous Peacock Room – an icon of American art. Inside of it should be a great collection of the ancient Chinese porcelains, however, it imitates a destroyed and after-fighting scene; when stepping into the room and immersed in the dim lighting environment, you’ll be immediately attracted by the broken porcelains and hear some low-mood tunes as if someone is murmuring in the dark.

The creator, Walter McConnell, is currently the professor of Ceramic Art at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. He specializes in installations of moist clay and towering assemblages of cast porcelain, and he’s most recognized for his unfired ceramic installations addressing the relationship between nature and culture. The series of porcelain installation art works, A Theory of Everything, reflected his exploration of nature and culture through the mixtures of figures and characters, meanwhile, they also represented the dialogues between the creator and audience, which is also one of the appealing aspects of the installation arts. McConnell got the inspiration from his travel to China in 2002 and witnessed the porcelain production sites at Jingdezhen, which is honored as the capital of Chinese porcelain. Therefore, this porcelain installation art works obviously dialogic to the Chinese art craftmanship. In McConnell’s minds, the porcelain installation sculptures not only represent the western interpretation of Chinese arts, but also the long-term appreciation of porcelains within the cultural contexts of Chinamania. “This is evidence not only of a collective unconscious but also of the larger cultural contexts in which objects accrue value and meaning.”

A Theory of Everything, such porcelain sculptures as the typical installation art, is an interesting case to look into. From a single porcelain to a great collection of porcelain installation with cultural and symbolic meaning, from singularity to multiplicity, the insight that the context in which an artwork is presented influences the experience and meaning of the work, meanwhile, the creator also struggles to express the meaning to the audience with the utilization of the interface and materials at most.

“The essence of installation art is, according to Reiss, spectator participation.” I’ve been to the exhibition for twice. Though it wasn’t crowded at all in the exhibition, I could still feel the visitors were curious about these marvelous installation art works – everyone spent time slowly walking around and around the stacks, stopped to watch the figures and read the introduction labels on the wall, evaluating the replicated stacks of Chinese style while created by western artist. I ever talked to guarding person in the exhibition room while watching these art works for the first time. I asked him about his feelings to see the installation art works, and he said, “I’ve been serving for the military for many years and hardly did I get a chance to closely look at such high-arts in the gallery, I was curious about it when I first saw it and I think it’s wonderful. And I like to see people coming to appreciate these special arts.” I was glad to hear that he found it amazing, and gradually realized that the installation art as one of the typical genres in contemporary arts, might usually be acceptable and welcomed by the public since it strikes the sensual feelings of people in a more direct approach.

When gazing at the porcelain installation art works at first, I was easily attracted by the diversity of characters and figures of every single porcelain, and I would unconsciously try to recognize as many as I could, or even count how many layers there are; then I would get closer to stare at the porcelain materials and think about how they are connected and attached to each other – for me, a visitor with Chinese cultural background, I would be definitely appealed to this specially designed installation artwork for the sense of familiarity and pay attention to every detail – it is the cultural encyclopedia that aroused my interests towards the art work, “the encyclopedia is a useful description for how we relate interpretants (at many levels) to symbolic information to generate meanings”; “Our learned codes for associating signs and symbols with their cultural meanings are a function of this macro-cultural Encyclopedia”.

A Theory of Everything, Walter McConnell.

A Theory of Everything, Walter McConnell.

Comparison: Ai Weiwei’s Avant-garde Porcelain Work

Ai Weiwei is a renowned Chinese avant-garde artist, architect as well as an activist. He is blunt in expressing his opinions in art, politics and social issues, and this makes him to be a controversial person in China. Other than that, he has contributed a lot to the field of art and design. In his early years, he dropped school in film studies and moved to New York and lived there for over 12 years. There he met some artists, like Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, and was influenced by the new Dadaism and the Fluxus movement, which have strong impact on his later art work in installation, photography and design. He ever served as artistic consultant on the design of the Bird Nest – the main stadium for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Some of Ai’s best known works are installations, often tending towards the dynamic and sparkling dialogue between the contemporary art world and traditional Chinese arts.

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei

In the 1990s, Ai Weiwei has done something surprisingly – dropping the urn made in Han Dynasty. This iconoclastic appropriations of historic clay pots and porcelain vases raised endless questions about Ai and his arts – many people appreciate and even look highly of the precious porcelain art work, while he broke it easily all of a sudden, so what drove him to do so? In his eyes, he broke them because he wanted to preserve and develop the ancient Chinese arts based on the original ways of ceramic and porcelain production. Just like Walter McConnell, Ai was also partly influenced by the mass production of porcelains in Jingdezhen, however, he was kind of unsatisfied with the way of firing them, thinking that it was different from the way of making them in Qing Dynasty. In order to closely observe and record the process of breaking the vases, he broke them.

Dropping the Urn, Ai Weiwei.

Dropping the Urn, Ai Weiwei.

Ai also created other interesting ceramic vases with colorful patterns and even famous brands and logos on it – the Coca Cola Vase, for example, is a smart combination – a Twentieth Century logo painted upon a two-thousand year old vase; the emblem of an American brand emblazoned on an ancient Chinese artifact, a unique hand-crafted object adorned with the ornament of mass-production. The great contrast between the material and pattern are so eye-catching that it even recreate the artifact and more people will be able to rediscover the value of such an antiqued ceramic vase.

Coca-Cola Vase, Ai Weiwei.

Coca-Cola Vase, Ai Weiwei.

Conclusion: Reproduction, Rediscovery and Beyond

Art is emerging, globalizing, and remixing. Even the antiqued and regional artworks are valuable and welcomed to recreate in the contemporary art world. The Chinamania and its progressive development is typical in that it’s constantly being studied, reproduced and remixed even in today’s world. The porcelain and ceramic artworks were originally precious in themselves filled with priceless symbolic meanings. Both Walter McConnell and Ai Weiwei are trying to reproduce them with their own ways of interpretation, bringing them to the contemporary art work and rediscover their artistic values in exhibitions to the public. The installation art work with 3D technologies creating the porcelain replicas and diverse characters has got more people involved to see the porcelain art works, whereas the Dropping Urn  and Coca-Cola Vase are more straightforward in breaking the traditional art forms and reinventing the old fashions. Therefore, the globalization of the artworks, in its essence, is an approach to reproduce and rediscover the art works, which will also arouse more people’s interests to appreciate the global artworks and get them an opportunity to enrich their cultural experience.

 

Reference

  1. Patricia Bjaaland Welch, China Mania! – The Global Passion For Porcelain 800-1900. Passage, 2014.
  2. Vivian Van Saaze, Installation Art and the Museum: Presentation and Conservation of Changing Artworks. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013. Print.
  3. Irvine Martin,  Introduction to Visual and Pictorial Semiotics: De-Blackboxing Meaning-Making in Art and Visual Media, Communication, Culture & Technology Program. Georgetown University, 2017.
  4. Oscar Wilde’s China love: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/chinamania-now-open-at-the-freer-gallery-388091/
  5. Chinoiserie: http://www.cqvip.com/qk/83726a/201005/35869639.html
  6. http://www.asia.si.edu/exhibitions/current/chinamania/theory-everything.asp
  7. Ai Weiwei Dropping the Urn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbHRU9k2zNA
  8. http://fashion.163.com/14/0428/23/9QV2GP7D00264MK3.html
  9. Coca Cola Vase: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/contemporary-art-evening-auction-l14024/lot.56.html

Final Paper: Chinamania – A Case Study of the Ceramic Installation Art

Research Problem: How are the ceramic artworks reproduced and remixed into installation art within the dialogic context of Asian art and culture as well as the exhibition interface.

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The Unfired Ceramic Installation, Walter McConnell.

Ceramic Arts and “Chinamania”

Ceramic art is made from ceramic materials, including clay. It may take forms including art ware, tile, figurines, sculpture, and tableware. Ceramic art is one of the arts, particularly the visual arts. There is a long history of ceramic art in almost all developed cultures, and often ceramic objects are all the artistic evidence left from vanished cultures, like that of the Nok in Africa over 2,000 years ago. Cultures especially noted for ceramics include the Chinese, Cretan, Greek, Persian, Mayan, Japanese, and Korean cultures, as well as the modern Western cultures. (Wikipedia, ceramic art) Porcelain is one type of the ceramic material made by heating materials in extremely high temperature. Iwas first developed in China around 2,000 years ago, then slowly spread to other East Asian countries, and finally Europe and the rest of the world.

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The Unfired Ceramic Installation, Walter McConnell.

A mania for Chinese blue-and-white porcelain swept through London in the 1870s as a new generation of artists and collectors “rediscovered” imported wares from Asia. Foremost among them was American expatriate artist James McNeill Whistler. For him, porcelain was a source of serious aesthetic inspiration. For British shoppers, however, Chinese ceramics signified status and good taste. Cultural commentators of the time both embraced and poked fun at the porcelain craze. Illustrator George du Maurier parodied the fad in a series of cartoons for Punch magazine that documented what he mockingly called “Chinamania.” (Sackler website, Chinamania)

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The Unfired Ceramic Installation, Walter McConnell.

The Unfired Ceramic Installations: Reproduction and Remix

More than a hundred fifty years later, American artist Walter McConnell explores Chinamania in our own time. In this exhibition, he juxtaposes two monumental porcelain sculptures, which he terms stupas, with export wares from China’s Kangxi period (1662–1722). Those blue-and-white ceramics are similar to those that once filled the shelves of Whistler’s Peacock Room in London. These historical porcelains also inspired McConnell to create a new work based on 3D-printed replicas. His interest in replication and in the serialized mass production of ceramic forms began after he visited China more than a decade ago. The large kilns and busy factories at Jingdezhen prompted McConnell to look at China as an enduring resource for ceramic production. (Sackler website, Chinamania)

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Coca Cola’s Pot, Ai Weiwei.

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Ai Weiwei

Another ceramic Installation: Ai Wei Wei and His Coloured Pots

Known throughout the world as one of the most outspoken artists in China, Ai Weiwei works across a wide range of media, encompassing installation, sculpture, photography, video and architecture. Throughout his long and acclaimed career, Ai has always followed a trajectory slightly ahead of China’s avant-garde, for instance exhibiting subversive paintings of Mao Zedong as early as 1985. During the 1980’s, Ai lived in New York City, where his radical conceptual practice was influenced by Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons – all prominent American explorers of artistic territory first opened up by Marcel Duchamp, then founder of Dada. The present lot, a sublime installation of nine brightly-painted Chinese Neolithic pots, belongs to a body of work which Ai began in Beijing in 1993 upon his return from America. Echoing Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain of 1917, Ai aquired nine ready-mades – hand crafted ceramic vessels dating from approximately 5000 BCE – and altered them by dipping them in vats of industrial house paint. The result is not only visually stunning, but intellectually stimulating. With the simplest of gestures, Ai has transformed an art-historical object into a conceptual work of art. Thus, a work of craft – or of ‘low art’ in the context of antiquity – has been elevated to the condition of ‘high art’ , a contemporary masterpiece fit for a modern art museum. (Pillips website, Ai Weiwei: Nine Colored Pots)

Bibliography so far (will look for more academic sources later..):

  1. http://www.asia.si.edu/exhibitions/current/chinamania/default.asp
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_McConnell#Unfired_Ceramic_Installations
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porcelain
  4. http://mocc.pnca.edu/exhibitions/1148/
  5. http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/70/AiWeiweiDroppingTheUrnCeramicWorks5000BCE2010CE
  6. https://www.phillips.com/detail/AI-WEIWEI/UK000210/2?fromSearch=Ai%20Weiwei&searchPage=1

Making a Photograph: A Crafted Artefact in the Social Discourse

People take photos almost at every time and everywhere. A snapshot of the cherry blossom in the spring, a record of the family gathering during a traditional festival, or an artistic photographic work for the exhibition…… “Making a photograph”, which conveys people’s multiple feelings within specific contexts, essentially reflects that a photograph is intentionally created by human rather than just captured from nature. “‘to make a photograph’, which implies that a photograph (in any medium) is an intentional artefact, something composed, something requiring an intervention with a human-designed technology, not a slice of nature already there just waiting to be ‘taken’.” (Irvine, 3) Therefore, we can often understand and be impressed by the multifarious photographs, which are ubiquitous in our daily life, e.g. in a photo collection, the photography exhibition or on the newspaper. However old they are, we can still interpret some feelings from the tokens of representations.

The Scene, Focus and Lens of the Photograph

Working Title/Artist: Young Girl with Portrait of George Washington Department: Photographs Culture/Period/Location:  HB/TOA Date Code:  Working Date: 1850 photography by mma 1994, transparency 1A 8x10 scanned and retouched by film and media (jnc) 5_5_09

Working Title/Artist: Young Girl with Portrait of George 

The photograph Girl with Portrait of George Washington is a work of Daguerreotype, which is typically “exposed in a camera obscura and developed in mercury vapors, each highly polished silver plate is a unique photograph that, viewed in proper light, exhibits extraordinary detail and three-dimensionality”. (The MET) The dim light of the photograph exactly makes the whole scene seem to be serene and sort of mysterious, and the audience may easily focus on the contents of the photograph. However, the daguerreotypes are also pretty vulnerable in that they are easily damaged from abrasion or by chemicals from tarnishing (Baldwin and Jurgens, 18), and are constraint due to the single color and dim light interface.

Looking at this photograph, I would find it interesting that I would unconsciously follow the girl’s views to stare at the iconic portrait of George Washington. After that, I would notice that the focus of this photographic work is the girl (light on the girl was much brighter than that on the painting), whereas the portrait of George Washington as the background is kind of blurred. The photographer probably adjusted the focus, lens and aperture so as to capture this photograph. Additionally, we only see the girl’s side face, but still we may wonder what the girl was thinking when she gazed at this portrait, and what her identity was. Therefore, the audience are naturally appealed by this daguerreotype photograph.

Special Moments Captured in News Photos

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It seems to be hard to define which genres the news photos belong to, and news photos of almost all types are captured on the spot to spread the first-time, first-hand news within the shortest period, especially for the accidental news. “The photographs have become information.” “The different kind of information that photographs have become had been laying in wait for some time.” (Lister, 8) The news photos convey information and cause attention in the natural and visual way, so that people are usually more directly impressed by the news photographs.

This is a photo from gettyimages. It was selected into the collection of 20 most memorable photographs. I was immediately caught by this collection merely because I’m a crazy fan of the Germany Men’s Football Team and I recognized this photographs recorded the great moments when this team won the champion of the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. The two people in this photograph are the midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and his teammate, the forward Lukas Podolski. (gettyimages) They were taking a ‘selfie’ after winning the victory in the extremely difficult extra-time match. The photographer blurred all of the background and only made the focus on the two football players as well as close friends, capturing their excited expressions in such a natural way. Interestingly, the theme of this special photo collection is about the long-lasting friendship between Schweinsteiger and Podolski along with the news that Bastian Schweinsteiger wrote an emotional farewell letter to his former teammate and close friend Lukas Podolski who was retiring from the national football team. (gettyimages)

I always enjoy browsing those featured news photos on the different websites, especially for the sports news. Going through the photo stories gives me a sense of authentic feeling as if I were on those significant and memorable occasions. “The simultaneous ‘it was there’ (the pro-photographic event) and ‘I was there’ (the photographer) effect of the photographic record of people and circumstances contributes to the authority of photographs.” (Wells, 19)

Daily Snapshots – Tiny but Memorable Moments

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This is a funny photograph from my iPhone and I took it when I stayed in the AirBnb during my trip to San Diego. I found a specially designed chess in the host’s living room so I borrowed it to play. I’ve never seen such chess designed in traditional Chinese style, then I put all of them in the right place, took this photo and spent a whole night playing this chess with my friend. This was just one of the tiny but memorable moments in my daily life, but I’ll keep it in my photo collection since I believe I could hardly find another copy in the US, even in China!

For the personal daily snapshots, the so-called “genre” may rarely exists, or rather, they are merely a record or “document” of life. “The terminology is indicative: the Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘documentary’ is ‘to document or record’.” “Accepting that digital photography and digital imaging are now major industries contributing within print and online media, when assessing the significance of particular pictures we take into account image-making contexts and purposes.” (Wells, 18) In the digital age, we have more chances to take photographs and capture the memorable tiny moments of life, and as the social medias are widely spread and increasingly popular, those snapshots will be posted online to share with friends as a tool to communicate with others and express feelings. What’s more, some brands may also advertise and raise campaigns with snapshots so that people are easy to perceive and accept them.

 

Source:

  1. The photograph work from the website of the MET:

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/37.14.53/

  1. The news photograph from gettyimages:

http://www.gettyimages.com/album/a-look-back-at-a-very-special-friendship-bastian-schweinsteiger-writes-an–b7wfpE8o8UeeJy-ashFHvA#germanys-midfielder-bastian-schweinsteiger-and-teammate-forward-lukas-picture-id452111168

  1. The photo from Yingxin’s phone
  2. Lister, Martin, ed. The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. 2nd ed. London; New York: Routledge, 2013.
  3. Wells, Liz, ed. Photography: A Critical Introduction. 5th ed. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. Excerpts.
  4. Gordon Baldwin and Martin Jurgens. Looking at Photographs: A Guide to Technical Terms, Revised Edition. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009.
  5. Alan Buckingham, Photography. New York: DK, 2004. Excerpts.
  6. Martin Irvine, Introduction to Photography and the Optical Image. Communication and Technology Program, Georgetown University.

Art Interpretation in the Technological Age

“In principle, the work of art has always been reproducible. Objects made by humans could always be copied by humans. Replicas were made by pupils in practicing for their craft, by masters in disseminating their works, and, finally, by third parties in pursuit of profit. But the technological reproduction of artworks is something new. Having appeared intermittently in history, at widely spaced intervals, it is now being adopted with ever-increasing intensity.” (Benjamin, 252)

In Benjamin’s words, the work of art can be reproduced by means of the technology. The applications of this theory are ubiquitous, though I never realized such phenomenon until I read this paragraph. The reproduction of art work with new media technologies helps refashion the old works in the digital era, increasing the popularity among the audience, moreover, it expands the geographical range we appreciate the valuable work of art around the globe. “Furthermore, media technologies constitute networks or hybrids that can be expressed in physical, social, aesthetic, and economic terms…New digital media are not external agents that come to disrupt an unsuspecting culture. They emerge from within cultural contexts, and they refashion other media, which are embedded in the same or similar contexts.” (Bolter,16) It’s relatively insightful in the quotes that the media technologies constitute the networks in the art world, which get more audience involved in an interactive interface of the museum, more experts to evaluate the aesthetic values in the contemporary art world as well as more marketing values added to the refashioned art work. Additionally, the refashioned interpretation of art work is developed within the cultural contexts, thus never destroying and alternating the original cultural meaning. This reminds me of my visit to the Expo 2010 in Shanghai, where I was fascinated by the vivid depiction of the ancient painting of China, “Along the River during the Qingming Festival”.

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(“Along the River during the Qingming Festival”, China)

It’s a well-known painting finished in Song Dynasty (over 1000 years ago), and the above picture is just a smaller part of the whole painting. In the exhibition hall of China in the Expo, the artists utilized the multimedia technologies, e.g. 3D projection and digital animation, to recreate the whole painting, and represented this great art work in the central space of the hall with ancient Chinese music and sounds of the streams. In my memories, this representation of art work was the most appealing part of the exhibition hall of China, and even became one of the most popular attraction highlights in the marketing advertisements for the Expo 2010. Such exemplary refashioned art work has reshaped the art and social network by connecting the nodes of the audience, exhibition museums, curators and all other elements in the art world.

animated Chinese painting in Expo 2010

“Virtual reality, three-dimensional graphics, and graphical interface design are all seeking to make digital technology ‘transparent’. In this sense, a transparent interface would be one that erases itself, so that the user is no longer aware of confronting a medium, but instead stands in an immediate relationship to the contents of that medium.” (Bolter, 21)

Another interesting point in Bolter’s work is the logic of transparent immediacy. To make the audience fully immersed in the art interface and the art work with less manual interruption, the utilization of the digital technology has succeeded in enhancing the amazing sensate experience. I used to try wearing the VR equipment to watch some documentaries and short videos in the Newseum in DC, as I turned around, I found that I could see the whole three-dimensional real scene, and it felt as if I was on the spot! At that point, I think I better understand the purpose of being “transparent” when creating the representations in the interface, so that people will be able to involve into the intended situation without noticing they are just in the exhibition. The accomplishment of transparent immediacy, in some ways, achieved people’s dreams of time travel, where they are able to date back to wherever and whenever they want, only wearing a VR equipment. And another example came into my mind is the 4D simulator ride in the Universal Studios. We are used to watching movies in the theater, staring at the screen and the actors and scenes are there, just behind the screen. We are distant from them. But how about approaching them and trying to experience what they are doing? Yes, the 4D simulator enables us to gain such experience!

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the heart of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, an expansive new environment at Universal Orlando Resort that will bring the world of Harry Potter to life. This all new adventure combines a powerful storyline with spectacular new technology so effectively that guests will be completely immersed in the experience. Film stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and others shot an exclusive piece of film just for the ride. Guests can experience Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter grand opens on June 18.

Many people are crazy about the latest 4D simulator – Harry Potter in the Castle. Undoubtedly, so do I.  When I was on the ride, I was completely obsessed with the Quidditch competition and felt as if I was flying on the broom and playing the game with Harry Potter! Actually, I was just sitting on specially designed vehicle and wearing a 3D glasses all along. How magical it is!

In the digital media era, various interpretation of art has largely enriched people’s life and visual experience in visiting the art world. We are always exposed to more and more media technologies, however, most of us pay less attention to the art theories behind the applications. As I approach these theories after doing the reading this week, I’m even more interested in this field. That’s also one of my takeaways from this week’s reading.

 

Reference:

  1. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” (1936; rev. 1939).
  2. Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2003. Print.
  3. Video from Youtube: the Ancient Chinese Painting exhibited in the Shanghai Expo.

The Hong Bowl – Yingxin Huang

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The Hongs Bowl, made in 18th century (1785-1795), China, porcelain

The first time I saw this punchbowl was during my field trip to the Lyme House, a 14th century aristocratic manor located in Cheshire of UK, and it was also the scenery of Mr. Darcy’s house in the movie Pride and Prejudice (BBC’s version of 1995). On the top floor of the Lyme House, there was a room called “Long Gallery”, which used to be a ball room but currently as a museum opening to the public. Several delicately carved oak cupboard cabinets were properly displayed, together with series of porcelain bowls, cups and plates, almost all of which were from China and Japan.

Among those decorations, I was attracted by a porcelain bowl called “The Hongs Bowl” produced in China during the 18th century. Wrapped around the bowl were images capturing life in Chinese trading warehouses. In Chandler’s words, “a symbol is ‘a sign which refers to the object that it denotes by virtue of a law, usually an association of general ideas, which operates to cause the symbol to be interpreted as referring to that object’” (Chandler, 28); “‘It ‘is constituted a sign merely or mainly by the fact that it is used and understood as such’” (Chandler, 28). This punchbowl struck me so much in that I realized the scenery of the setting in this image, which I regarded as a conventional and habitual symbol, for example, I could see the warehouse, where the officers and merchants were talking and coolies were carrying merchandises as well as the national flags were waving in the wind. The warehouses, national flags, officers and merchants, and coolies, all of which depicted a trade scenery – to me, it was all of the symbolic codes in my knowledge that made me notice this work. This also reminded me of another concept, the “cultural encyclopedia”, “The conceptual model of an encyclopedia entails describing multiple overlapping and intersecting contexts (historical, social, political, ideological) in conceptual structures that form networks of meaning beyond a dictionary list” (Irvine, 41); “the encyclopedia is a useful description for how we relate interpretants (at many levels) to symbolic information to generate meanings” (Irvine, 42); “Our learned codes for associating signs and symbols with their cultural meanings are a function of this macro-cultural Encyclopedia” (Irvine, 42). I’m totally into the description of “macro-cultural encyclopedia”, since I’m from China and have the knowledge background of Chinese ancient culture, and that’s the reason why I echoed with those symbolic information (punchbowl, the warehouse, merchants and etc.) and consciously referred to the cultural meanings behind this art work. For instance, I would describe and introduce this art work to others that, “in this scenery, the warehouses were so crowded together that it can be an indication of a prosperous and developing trading in Southern China during the 17th and 18th century; it seems to be an area of the concessions where merchants from various countries gathered and dealt with commercial issues, as the national flags were all around the warehouses”. Here, you can see my narrative is based upon my knowledge background and that again, the cultural encyclopedia enables me to reflect the cultural meanings behind that symbolic information.

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The Hongs Bowl, made in 18th century (1785-1795), China, porcelain

 

As I was wandering around the long gallery, a question came up to me: why was it preserved in the Lyme House? When I thought of this question, I suddenly realized that another interesting explanation in Chandler’s work was meaningful, “Signs cannot be classified in terms of the three modes without reference to the purposes of their users within particular contexts” (Chandler, 34).

The Hongs Bowl in the Lyme House were much the same as the case inferred in Chandler’s work – the Rolls-Royce, therefore, the Hongs Bowl can also be regarded as an index of wealth because one must be very wealthy to own one. The upper class manor masters, who were in possession of the properties and estates in the countryside, were in great demand of fine decorative objects to fulfill their luxurious country houses. The oriental origin ceramic objects by long-time transportation from the Far East should be rare, and they were a special and fantastic option for the housing decoration for those aristocracies. In the long gallery, those porcelain decorations were mostly bowls and plates, however, the masters would have displayed them in the oak cabinet, rather than use them in daily life.

Except for analysis with the theories and principles I learned in this week’s reading, I want to tell more about this art work since I was so impressed by it the first time I saw it the UK. Honestly, it was not the only time I saw such punchbowls, as the increasingly popularity of Chinese culture among the European aristocracies as well as the trade traditions with foreign merchants, large amounts of the hong bowls were transported to the western, and finally displayed in different museums nowadays. One of them was exhibited in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

 

Reference:

  1. Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007.
  2. Irvine, Martin,  Introduction to Visual and Pictorial Semiotics: De-Blackboxing Meaning-Making in Art and Visual Media, Communication, Culture & Technology ProgramGeorgetown University, 2017.
  3. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History: http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_587576