Cathy Lu: Porcelain and Practice
Cathy Lu is an independent artist and lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, and Mills College.
She received a two-month ACC/BCAF Contemporary Arts Fellowship to research traditional ceramics production in Jingdezhen and to travel in southern China and Hong Kong to connect with local artists and observe developments in contemporary arts. A well-respected ceramics artist whose work often explores issues of Chinese American identity, Ms. Lu wished to be in Jingdezhen, the spiritual heart of porcelain, to deeply explore this ancient art form.
Ms. Lu arrived in China in in July. “My time in Jingdezhen was invaluable,” she wrote. “While in Jingdezhen, I was able to take workshops from Blue and White (Qinghua) masters and now have a much better understanding of how Blue and White techniques and materials changed over the dynasties in relation to what was happening in history. I learned how cobalt came to China via the silk road from the Middle East, and how the color itself changed due to advances in technology and improvements made in processing the cobalt.” She reflected on aesthetic changes during Mongolian rule and the Warring States period, and how traditional Chinese patterns on Blue and White pottery were influenced through exchanges with Muslim traders.
Ms. Lu was able to immediately put what she learned on her fellowship into her teaching practice. She has incorporated her research in a new project called “Future Artifacts,” where students research traditional techniques and create contemporary versions of their chosen artifacts. “I’ve been able to talk about Blue and White, carving, overglaze, as well as colored clay techniques—all techniques I learned in workshops that I took in Jingdezhen.” One of her master teachers, Huang Fei, taught her how he used peach sap and green tea in his cobalt, an unusual recipe Ms. Lu is now sharing with her students. “My students are now able to learn new techniques and I am able to teach more deeply about the materials.” She asks her students to “think about what we consider ‘authentic’ culture, intercultural exchange, and how interrelated art and politics are.”
For herself, Ms. Lu finds her artistic practice transformed. “After being exposed to so much porcelain work in China, I’ve started incorporating it more into my work now. Much of my work has revolved around Chinese American identity, so being in China has truly inspired a new body of work. I was also so inspired by experiencing the evolving identity of China. The ACC network was extremely valuable in helping make connections during my travels and bringing me together with artists everywhere I went, enabling me to accomplish much more than I could have on my own.”
Below: Cathy Lu (right) visits ceramic artist Fiona Wong