The Far East May be a sensitive topic to pose discussion upon of late, but that does not in any way diminish their strength, rich history, incomparable culture and artistic development. Meet Li Lihong, a sculpture from the Jiangxi province of China, or more precisely from the famous village Dezhen Jin where the royal porcelain of China has been produced for centuries.
This is a man who has learnt the art of ceramics with artist Qin Xiling, a fellow porcelain master whose work details the whimsical sceneries of lapis lazuli coloured geese and traditional Chinese plants on porcelain plaque. It is the work of his master, which is albeit far more traditional, that Lilong has been inspired by to preserve Chinese ceramic culture... but with a modernistic twist.
Allowing media, Hollywood culture, celebrity dominance and mainstream imagery to infiltrate his designs, Lihong has consequently captured a fine niche of a bizarre, yet alluring range of ceramic works - each with the ancestral quality of porcelain; highlighted by contemporary society as we know it today. The confrontation between tradition and modernity, East and West is prevalent throughout his compositions. Just take the Buddha Michelin man as a prime example: seated peacefully in the same stance as the profound Buddha... but... the Michelin man we all know to merely pump up our tyres when our cars fall flat. Or in a Ghostbusters scenario, when they blow up to the size of the Eiffel Tower and rampage through New York City. Or how about my favourite bitten apple, capturing a remnants of Snow White biting into the forbidden fruit of the Evil Queen... or more plainly, the apple we all iTalk and iMessage and iPhoto our entire iLife about. Enough “i’s” for you? Or lastly, our good friend Mickey Mouse, who has been cast into porcelain, dabbled with gold and slicked with that infamous blue tone so familiar to that of Chinese ceramics?
Lihong’s sculptures, which are dominantly based of gold and silver, utilise a range of experimental techniques that aren’t initially obvious. He achieves this surprising mix of minimalist shapes, geometrical and curved lines, and goes beyond the limits of traditional ceramics, which in my eyes, draw in modern societies to appreciate the history of Chinese ceramics. How many young, daddy-money-tweens would otherwise be interested in porcelain if it weren’t for the power of contemporary art? When something ain’t broke, don’t fix it: renovate it. “ZzZshuzsh it up” a little, as I’d say. By combining something old with something new, art can empower younger generations by feeding them history coated in something sweeter.
Through the elements of daily life, Lihong adequately expresses the profound changes in Chinese society, and its capacity to assimilate various cultures to which it is faced. “Made In China” is often used jokingly or in a derogatory fashion... but it’s a certainty that these ceramics Made In China, are here to be preserved, to have longevity, and above all else: to prove that art in a historical format will always pave the way into the future.