THREE TAKES ON BROKEN CHINAWARE
Beijing, 31 August 2012
When I was a boy, I spent a fair amount of time with my English grandmother, on my way to and from boarding school. One of my memories of her is a set of china plates which she used for meals. The plates carried polychromatic designs of butterflies, flowers and trees on a white background, and I liked studying the designs as I ate my meat and two veg (making sure to keep my elbows well in; my grandmother was quite particular about table manners). The strange thing about these plates was that they had all been broken, often quite badly. But rather than throwing them away, my grandmother had had them carefully stapled together! By that, I mean that small pieces of metal had been fixed across the breaks. Here is the picture of such a plate.
I suppose my grandmother was very attached to the plates and preferred to keep them in this strange, cobbled-together form rather than not have them at all. But I won’t ever know because I never asked her the reason.
On our living room table, in a wide wooden bowl, my wife and I have carefully laid out some broken pieces of porcelain. I think they are from a bottle. They all have a blue pattern on a white background.
They are part of our larger collection of odds and ends we’ve picked up in the streets during our three years in Beijing: broken bricks from construction sites, chunks of coal, a set of Chinese chequers. But our collection of broken porcelain has a special significance; we collected the pieces on the verge of the road outside Ai Weiwei’s house. We feel that somehow they have been bathed in his aura.
At the window near the entrance to the Opposite House, a chic hotel on Sanlitun, stand two wonderful sculptures. They represent an old Chinese dress and an old Chinese jacket. They have been created out of bits of broken Ming pottery, and all have blue patterns on a white background.
China’s old Ming pottery works are littered with broken crockery from all the runs that failed. The artist collected some and has turned these failures into pieces of real beauty. A wonderful example of arte povera.
the stapled plate: http://jwcsybaritic.blogspot.com/2011/11/stapled-porcelain.html
other pictures: mine