Cultures Colliding: New Work by Sin-Ying Ho

By Marshall, Jane | Ceramics Art & Perception, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Cultures Colliding: New Work by Sin-Ying Ho


Marshall, Jane, Ceramics Art & Perception


IN VIEWING THE WORK OF SIN-YING HO, ONE IS REMINDED of the nature of art as a time machine: there are remnants, nuances of the past, but there is also the stream of modern context. Like a good film that can transport you to another time and place, Ho's work, rooted in Chinese blue and white porcelain, recalls the 1000 years of ceramics history of Jingdezhen. Ho's motifs, however, are unmistakably modern and reflect the complexities of the digital age: multilingual, trademarked and motherboarded.

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Ho has personally experienced the merging of peoples from different cultures that has come about in the 21st century, caused by political, technological and economic globalization. Born in Hong Kong, she received her training in Canada and the US and is now a professor of ceramics at Queens College, City University of New York. Initially trained as an actress, her focus was largely political. She carries that political awareness in to her ceramics, centring on how difficult it is to navigate cultural divides because of the restrictions of language and seeking a way to express this issue in her work. Symbols have now replaced language.

In the mid 1990s, Ho, while an undergraduate student at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Canada, was fortunate to be able to revisit China as an exchange off-campus student and translator with 'honourable professor' Walter Ostrom. Already interested in Chinese blue and white porcelain, which she saw as symbolic of the duality of China and of its influence on the rest of the world, she encountered Jingdezhen. A recognized centre of porcelain production since the Emperor Zhenzong decreed that the city would provide all of the ceramics used at the imperial court from 1004, Jingdezhen remains a city devoted to ceramics. Ancient and modern equipment and processes, apprentices and masters, production as well as art porcelain and old and new designs: all coexist in a supportive atmosphere that is steeped in Chinese tradition. Ho became enchanted with the possibilities in Jingdezhen and with blue and white porcelain, which she saw as the visual history of cultures colliding.

Ho noted that when Portuguese traders began to export Chinese porcelain to Europe in the 16th century, potteries in England, The Netherlands, France and Germany began to grow. It was then that the world began to experience cross-cultural fertilization on an ever-increasing scale. People across the world today, as then, share many words, designs and patterns. Corporate branding has now replaced traditional images and globalization dominates most parts of the world. Ho believes that critical questions of politics, communication, language, cultural identity, economy and power are volatile issues for many societies and that ceramic art is a powerful vehicle for bringing attention to these ideas. To reflect these concepts, Ho has adapted classical Chinese pottery shapes and motifs, decorating them with hand-painted images and computer decal transfers reflecting contemporary commercial logos and cultural icons. She has cut and rejoined the shapes to produce new and evocative hybrid forms.

Her current body of new work had its genesis in 2000, when she visited Jingdezhen several times and started experimenting with larger sculptural forms. During Jingdezhen's 1000-year city celebration in 2004, the city's nine-metre-tall ceramic lampposts lining the streets particularly intrigued her. Resolved to continue working large scale, she started to explore issues of how to create such massive ceramic forms, what type of content would be involved and how to transport the completed pieces. She was accompanied to China in 2006 by filmmaker Jeremy Edwards, who was making a documentary on her work. She produced table-sized sculptural pieces, which were exhibited in the Gardiner Museum in Toronto in 2008. All of these endeavours led to the awarding of a Canada Council grant to allow Ho to complete her vision, working in China. …

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