"Life Unmanifested" by Ting Ju Shao
(See English version following the Chinese version)
《邵婷如：捻花不語》Ting-Ju Shao: Silently Holding the Flowers
《捻花不語：日本京都惠風藝廊邵婷如個展 2019》是探討邵婷如研究材質與內容之最新成果的展覽。邵婷如今年春天在荷蘭歐洲陶藝中心（European Ceramic Work Centre, EKWC）的駐地發展一系列模製與人像的骨瓷作品。從她最後的成品，可以看出她在三個月內密集完成系列作品所投入的心力（註1）。由於採用了要求極高的材質，其經典角色的基本小型人像系列，顯得尤其精緻而令人不安。陶藝創作過程始終是邵婷如回應世界、回應大地、回應陶土、回應自己的基本方式。在這些作品中，這種材質讓人像超越塵世，同時打破了肉身與瞬息的關係。
再現人性是一種行為。邵婷如深具風格的再現策略，橫跨東西方，並揉合了不同時代歷史的過往與當代儀式或文獻的表達方式。她創造脈絡，作品運用的情緒既不會損害人像的裝飾姿態，也不會減少其隨葬品般的儀式肅穆性，邵婷如為這些情緒「重訂用途」。這些人像向動畫致意，也有幾分電影場景的意味，從傳記和哲學的角度來看，他們是必要而豐富的，具有龐大的潛在影響力。邵婷如於2018年臺灣國際陶藝雙年展擔任策展人所寫的論述中指出，最古老的陶器遺跡下維斯特尼采（Dolní Věstonice）的維納斯像（公元前29000至25000 年）代表著我們再現自身的動力與行為，而這是人類韌性的基本要件。她透過「土」這種耐久媒材來探索當代內容與具象再現能否做為貼切的表達方式，這是一種人文主義，對觸動當代人的想像力是必要的。今日人類的韌性已受到質疑，讚揚與哀悼那高聳脆弱的白色花朵，感受到我們可能失去很多的後果。如果人心對有限生命的抗拒，阻撓了我們關心自然界的能力（即使我們明知自己必須關心），這有可能侵蝕我們的同理心，也許只有美的複雜性與醒目的影響力，才能引起我們關注（見伊蓮．史卡里〔Elaine Scarry〕的著作《論美》〔On Beauty〕）。邵婷如在其近作中就提出了這點。
邵婷如對事件相關性的雕塑刻劃，瀰漫著從神秘到詩意的氣氛——但它們不是虛構，也不寓居於歷史。她的作品比較接近當代神話，蘊含著歷久彌新的智慧。正如R．D．錐普斯（R. D. Dripps）在其著作《第一間房屋》（The First House）的尾註中指出的：
Linda Sikora/琳達。希寇拉 美國阿爾菲德大學紐約州立陶藝學院藝術與設計學院(Alfred University ,New York State College of Ceramics)教授暨陶藝系主任
Ting Ju Shao: Silently Holding the Flower by Linda Sikora
Silently Holding the Flower -Ting Ju Shao’s solo exhibition at Gallery Kei-Fu, Kyoto, Japan - is a first look at her most recent research into new materials and content. A residency at the European Ceramic Work Centre (EKWC) in The Netherlands the spring of 2019 became the forum to develop a series of modeled and figurative work in bone china. The expanded series, produced in a succinct period of time, necessitated an intensity of focus evident in the final output. Elemental, the small-scale figures that have become signature characters in Ting Ju Shao’s exhibitions, are especially exquisite and unsettling in this extreme material.(1) The ceramic process has always been essential in Shao’s response to the world, to the earth, to clay, to self. In this body of work, the material renders the figures transcendent while simultaneously collapsing the space between the corporal and ephemeral.
The bone china figures are rendered to a ‘standing height’ of consequence; larger than the stylization of the figure might lead one to expect, this uncanny physicality together with the density and translucent whiteness of the clay body is alternately alluring and eerie – making the ultimate presence of the pieces seem much greater, much more overbearing, than their actual size. Single, in pairs, in vignettes, the figures are doppelgangers as in The Moment I Meet Myself; gendered pairs as in Stay Quiet Like This; or multiples in larger groups that read like time-lapse film frames or a flipbook as in I And My Mind Are Here, There, Where？ The vitreous, bone china’s density and glow, slows our approach and interrogates our assumptions. It has authority. Raised, framed and isolated on small sites, the figurative groups are no longer in our world, as some of Shao’s earlier work has been – or, if they are, they dwell in the unseen. Previous work, of darker iron bearing clay or painted bodies, brought the figures, more insistently into identity and the present-tense. Regardless of each figure’s stance, eyes are closed; looking is not to be confused with seeing. The uniformity of the figures does not assert anonymity, rather an architype that shifts between identities of masculine and feminine and, states of peace and disturbance. Childlike in body proportions, the anatomical types are that of adulthood. A skilled formalist, Shao’s sculptural strategies are acute.
To represent humanity is behavioral. Shao’s stratagem of stylistic representation hybridizes historic and contemporary figuration from across hemispheres and histories that ritualize or document. Shao invents context, employing an emotional range that discounts neither the decorative stance of the figurine nor, the ceremonial gravity of burial objects. Shao ‘repurposes’ this emotional range .The figures nod to anime and seem cinematographic in their staging. Biographical and philosophical, they are consequential and generous. The impact has monumental potential. In a recent statement that Shao wrote to frame the concept of the 2018 Taiwan Ceramic Biennale - she points to the oldest ceramic relic, Venus of Dolni Vestonice (29,000-25,000 BCE), the impetus and agency to represent ourselves, and how this is essential to human persistence. Shao’s case for the endurance of ‘earthen’ material as a medium for exploring contemporary content and figurative representation as urgent expression, is a humanistic one and necessary to move the contemporary imagination. Human persistence is in question these days and, the consequence of how much could be lost is felt in the fragility of towering white flowers that celebrate and mourn. If the human imagination’s resistance to our mortality interrupts our ability to care for the natural world (even when we know we must) it also risks eroding empathy. Perhaps it is only the complexity and arresting impact of beauty that will snap us to attention (see On Beauty by Elaine Scarry). Shao posits as much in this recent work.
Ting Ju Shao learned of clay’s potential in grade school and soon paired it with her need to write and record. Shao’s personal writing at this time was part biography, part fantasy. Both materials - words and clay - guide her creative output. She advanced her practice in the private studio space instead of an academic art program and fed the work conceptually through contemporary texts about Zen and Buddhism. She has followed the teachings of ancient Chinese wisdom and names Zhuang Zhou as one among others she has explored deeply. Unequivocally, the material of bone china has opened a conceptual opportunity for Shao to mediate the content of her pieces and her spiritual thinking.
Shao’s sculpted account of connected occurrences range from cryptic to poetic – yet they are not fictive nor, do they rest in the historic. The delivery is more akin to a contemporary mythology that holds wisdom through time. As R. D. Dripps endnotes in his book, The First House :
It is necessary to understand myth not as fable, fiction , or illusion but rather in its original sense as that which is the most real. In this sense myth, unlike history with its necessary intellectual detachment from matters in the present, is a living presence supplying models for human behavior and, by that very fact, giving meaning and value to life.
Ting Ju Shao’s present-tense ephemeral figures may carry timeless teachings, but they are also insistently corporeal in their posture, clothing, physical burden of standing, sitting or otherwise negotiating the stages they are set upon. The added elements of color and thread generate more idiosyncratic context and are material markers of the temporal. Transcendence is a disposition; the mundane a rite of passage and, the experience of beauty (awe) an arrival.
This is the work of forgetting and remembering.
Professor, Division Head ,Division of Ceramic Art ,Robert C. Turner Professorship
School of Art and Design ,Alfred University ,New York State College of Ceramics
Silently Holding a Lotus
In 2019, I spent three months at the European Ceramic Work Center (EKWC) as an artist-in-residence and worked on the transparent white bona china to exemplify the way the human body serves as a vessel for the pure human essence. Our bodies in the bustling physical world move unconsciously every day, while our consciousness joins and disjoins the particles flowing ceaselessly in the cosmic. Every fleeting encounter with the cosmic light is incarnated in the pure and clean body of the bone china.
Gautama Buddha held a flower, and Maha Kassapa smiled. Humans experience joy and love in the evolution of consciousness. Bodies and inner consciousness gaze at each other in a room with ancient flowers and stones. We had been attracted by a flower we passed by in the busy world and gazed at it attentively for a moment, or had raised our heads to see the shifts of clouds and felt touched by their ethereal tranquility. A grain of sand contains a world; a flower contains a heaven. When the noises in our minds halted, we perceive our symbiosis with the world in the serenity of the instant. The Zen garden with white stones and thin porcelain flowers is the garden for the clean and peaceful mind that had experienced the human world.
「未顯化的生命- I am Here. Here I am」，各自微微轉動頭部的閉眼冥想男孩站在圓形的白色台座，象徵零與無限的永恆，每ㄧ位頭部緩緩移動的瞬間，身心ㄧㄧ安在於每個當下，透過當下的默觀寂照，與原存在內在的本體再度相遇，重連世世代代已失聯的平安。透過這兩個相對面，作為對我們的良知的提醒與反思。
ARTIST STATEMENT "Life Unmanifested"
For me, art is not about objects of high monetary exchange, its about reasserting our firsthand experience in present time”-Antony Gormley
As indicated by scientific research, humans had developed mental capacity as early as fifty thousand years. They created artworks, such as cave paintings, contemplated the meaning of existence, or made ceramic figures to relate themselves to the unknown cosmos. For the last thirty years, I have been making figures with the ancient, traditional medium of ceramic clay to denote the age-old, inherent connection between humans and the earth, the strong and fragile sides of humanity, and to explore and remind one to continually resume the process of spiritual evolution.
“About the Egos of – The Battle of Mind”: While the 2014 series Children Meditating with Closed Eyes is a record of an individual seeking internal peace, the 2016 works are an inquiry into the collective evolution of human life and the limitation of established experiences.
Our minds have been relentlessly conditioned by the human experiences accumulated over generations. Before Hitler became a dictator, he might have been an ordinary person like you and me. When our id is allowed to expand immeasurably to devour our ego, and incessantly prompt us to fulfill its insatiable desires, it may result in individual unease and discontent, and even sufferings of us and others.
In “About the Egos of – The Battle of Mind,” crowned boys in uniform stood in V formation on the red pedestals, as an implication of the desire for power, the blood-red battle of the mind. They, who follow the endless command by their ego longing, chase blindly and anxiously for insatiable desires with stream flow confusion.
In “Life Unmanifested – I am Here. Here I am,” the boys meditating with closed eyes on white pedestals symbolize the eternity of zero and infinity. Each of them is at peace with themselves in the moments they slowly tilt their heads. Their introspection and meditation reunite them with their inner self, and reestablish their ties with human peace that have been lost for generations.
Through constant reflection and awareness, “About the Egos of – The Battle of Mind,” together with "I am Here. Here I am," act as a double reminder to our conscience by revealing the collective anxiety of this generation with constrained egos, and contemplating the stillness in every present moment.
As a symbol of the innocent origin of humanity, the fine texture of clay is as immaculate as children. Plaster molds and casts signify the bright side of humanity, and the conditions circumscribing all egos.
「We are not moving toward some kind of goal, we are at the goal, and it is changing with us. If art has any purpose, it is to open our eyes to the fact.」-John Cage.
TING JU SHAO
「What’s wrong?」 一作中10 具翻模的白色人塑群體，「檢視」隊伍中最後ㄧ位自由在仰望天際「與眾不同」的紅色人塑。「翻模的白色人塑」象徵當今世界強權的龐大勢力，不斷壓擠少數族群與所有獨立自主的生命體系，企圖以政治、經濟與流行文化強勢引導或「同化」所有的「異種」．當今世界強勢的價值，卻是向宇宙自然的掠奪，與心靈世界的失聯，對生之價值的失覺。十具翻模的白色人塑與唯一的紅色人塑，這中間多數與少數的量比中，暗喻哪邊才是被「集體模化」的「物體」，哪邊才是擁有心靈自由的人類。
2006年於日本發表的「21世紀所有的頭銜都可炒作販售，唯有自由的心靈無價」，以石膏模具翻製ㄧ群白色陶偶，這些白色陶偶頭戴金色皇冠，胸口正前方標示著商業銷售條碼，頭朝前方集體舉步往前邁步，白色人偶的最前方，站立著ㄧ位仰望天空的手捏暗紅色人偶，此人偶的肩上停留著ㄧ隻小鳥。以模具量化的概念， 象徵工廠生產線上製造的規格化與統一性， 代表著失去獨特特性與思考性的族群。
ARTIST STATEMENT -TING JU SHAO
Being a participant in this universe, I have been asking the following questions ever since my younger days: "Why was I born?" and "Why am I here?" For the very reason that I am so strongly interested in our species, my work in ceramics has always used the sculpting of human figures to reflect the artist's concepts.
I recorded a single shape to explore the suffering and imprisonment of souls and bodies, as well as the desire to free the minds. Using different combinations of clay figures, I demonstrate the tension, hostility and dependence of people with their society, as with the harmonious or destructive relationship between man and nature.
In recent years, people have abused the resources in this world. A lot of damages have been done to nature, and that resulted in a lot of disasters of magnitude. This is a warning signaled by Mother Nature to us. For this very reason, the exhibition in Kyoto, Japan, 2002, was meant to be a reflection of the respective relationship between nature and us, with birds representing Mother Nature. For a bird that is manifested to 100 centimeters, and a human figure shrink to 10 centimeters, their relative ratio is a reminder for us who are the guests passing this world. The work was titled “The Seventy-Seven Gentle Warnings”, and its theme was represented by seventy-seven birds positioned in a circle around the small human figure in the middle. The number seventy-seven is taken from the bible, in which Jesus once told Peter “to forgive seventy-seven” times. Effectively, it is telling us to be generous in our forgiveness, which is what Mother Nature has been to us as well.
“Meeting the beautiful green light of the universe” is another work, represented by a human figure of 68 centimeters. He was looking at the small Angel positioned in the middle of his palm with a mutual understanding. Only when people can understand this intricacy of wonders created by God, and through his own humbling, then we can achieve a balance in the geo-cycle with Mother Cycle.
For the past 22 years, the clay figures always took on a small head with a fat body. The toes protruding from underneath. This is a reflection of the greed in this polluted world, people have lost their innocence, and all the efforts were used to think of obtaining small advantages. The size of the head became relatively small in this disproportion of energy. Yet, the toes are a remainder of the true nature of ourselves, one that cannot be hidden and should be drawn back into focus.
The use of multimedia is also a reflection of the contrast between material substance and the concept of time, just as the physical existence and the time of existence of all life on earth. The final disappearance of the physical body mirrors the fact that one day, the ceramic bird or figure can also be broken. The use of iron and wooden frame denotes the eternity of time. The use of feathers, which could represent the feather on the back of the angels, or the little wings on the angles; in turn draws on the symbolic representation of our faith in trust, hope and aspiration. While there are something in this universe which does not take on a physical form, our faith will remain the striving force that seek to maintain a balance with the universe.
The title of the work also constitutes an important poetic element; it is in itself like a narrative poem, revealing the in-depth meaning of the ceramic art.