The Vase Project: Made in China—Landscape in Blue

This exhibition presents 101 identically shaped and similarly painted porcelain vessels, which feature scenes of modern industrial landscapes in China. The ceramic vessels were thrown by hand at the ceramics factories in Jingdezhen, China and painted by artist who specialize in blue-and-white ceramics. The purpose of the project is to consider the nature of artistic individualism within a heavily industrialized ceramics workplace.  

To create the vessles, Barbara Diduk commissioning 101 ceramic painters in Jingdezhen to make blue-and-white ware representations of the contemporary Chinese industrial landscape on a series of vases; one per artist, each based on the image of pervious painter’s work. The first artist—Wang Zhangliu, was given instructions to paint the industrial landscape of Jingdezhen, and to include the many kiln stacks visible today in the city. His finished vase became the model for the next artist, and so on. Thus, each successive artist was presented with two vessels: one that was finished and fired and the other blank and unfired. The artists then painted the blank vessel, using the finished vase as a reference for their interpretation of the scene represented. The result is a "chain letter" about ceramic practice and manufacturing in the city.

 "I walked the city's street with Zhao Yu, looking for artisans and artists who would be willing to participate in the project. We spent months combing city alleys, factory neighborhoods, and the Ceramic Institute. In two and a half years, we collected 101 vases. Painters were selected randomly to reflect a broad spectrum of the community, with respect to age, gender, workplace, and painting style."

The resulting 101 vessels are at first remarkably similar—by design—in their identical shape, the homogenous nature of the blue-and-white painting style, and the narrow range of subject matter. However, closer examination reveals fascinating differences among the painted scenes, differences that the artists are otherwise trained to suppress in the normal factory workplace. 

 "The project confronts a confluence of Western definitions of the artist-producer and addresses issues of modernity and development identified with contemporary China. The collection of blue-and-white vessels challenges the contradiction between serialized mass production in industrial practice to the handmade object. Indeed, the vase sequence reflects individual invention and unique interpretations of the traditional landscape motif."  

Barbara Diduk is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Art at Dickinson College. She studied anthropology at William & Mary College and the visual arts at the Surrey College of Art & Design and the University of Minnesota. 

This touring exhibition is organized and circulated by Lafayette College Galleries & Collections. Funding provided by Lafayette College, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and Dicknison College.