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Currents of Light: A Special Exhibition on Plant Glazes

Currents of Light: the Strands and Spectrum of Ash Glazes


Materiality has become the focus of contemporary art and cultural studies while the boundary between craftsmen and artists is diminishing.  Consequently, many artists and professionals in the domain of art devote themselves to ceramics, which require advanced technical expertise and possess a wealth of cultural implications. Museums, on the other hand, examine the characteristics of the materials and their cultural significance to expand art history as a field and explore new avenues. Once more, they become assets that enable the creator of the message or object to develop the materials and elaborate the content.


This exhibition is based on Ash Glazes: The Stories and Applications published by our museum. It covers the cultural evolution and scientific characteristics of these specific materials. It showcases their artistic and expressive forms. It gathers examples from pottery production sites from various eras, with works from the same styles being grouped together. This provides a chance to satisfy intellectual curiosity, but the juxtaposition of works from different eras and styles is also an opportunity for the aesthetic appreciation of these pieces.


Ashes transform into glassy ash glazes on ceramics. The discovery of naturally fallen ashes, resource collection and stylistic innovation are part of millennia of the history of East Asian civilization. This expression of the material is now studied and explored. It also has a socio-psychological aspect, having recently been used as a way of social participation. This exhibition hopes to explore the links between material, properties and the creative processes of ash glazes. It also intends to uncover possibilities for the expressiveness and significance of ash glazes.



From Discovery to Exploration


A kiln is a cosmos for rebirths.


The raw ware gradually changes its structure as the temperature of the fire increases in the kiln, making it hard and strong. The flames, airflow and ashes in the kiln soar, float, fall and evaporate, leaving behind various types of marks on the clay. The alkaline substances from the plant ashes combine with the acidic substances in the clay at high temperatures. They melt and fuse to become a glass-like material: an ash glaze.


The word “glaze” has only been used in the past 1,000 years. However, there are artifacts with artificial ash glazes that are from nearly 4,000 years ago, from the Yin (Shang) dynasty in China. Some of the earliest pottery has unintentional glossy areas on the inside and outside. They were important practical vessels because they were waterproof and durable.


Different plants’ ashes were discovered and experimented with. Ash glazes continued to be used on utilitarian vessels. Furthermore, areas with highly technical, professional factories developed, and official ware (guan ware, made for palaces) arose. They became notable examples of East Asian culture.


The Succession of Ash Glazes in Taiwan


The use of ash glazes in Taiwan partly stems from pioneers’ practice of woodfired pottery that included natural ashes. In addition, the glazes are influenced by the techniques of modernized industry and education. For instance, LIN Pao-Chia came into contact with ceramics during his early education in Japan. He then studied ceramics scientifically and systematically in vocational schools and pottery factories. After returning to Taiwan, he collected clay samples and experimented with them, working as a consultant for factories and individuals before establishing his own studio, Taolin, which influenced many ceramics professionals and artists, such as TSAI Jung-Yu of central Taiwan, his son-in-law HSUEH Jui-Fang, and the military veteran CHANG Chi-Tao. They went on to also teach classes on glazes. Based on LIN’s system of ash glazes, they invented their own styles and strands that influenced the subsequent series of expressions and approaches to ash glazes. Even though compound glazes are common, they still adore how natural ashes are still vastly unexplored and insist on challenging themselves. For example, LIN Chin-Chung and LO Shao-Chi have experimented continuously with local materials and have invented a unique set of homegrown systems of ash glazes whose records are extraordinary and effective.


Enjoying Life with Ash Glazes Elegantly


Ash glazed ware could be a lifestyle indicator. They are unlike official ware (guan ware), whose exclusivity, isolation and rarity drew curious collectors to them and drove up their values. On the other hand, ash glazes have always had practical functions; their aesthetics interact with people directly and genuinely.


This section features CHIU Huan-Tang and his wife Nadia Shih(SHIH Nai-Yueh), accomplished pioneers of modern ceramic art. They jointly developed ash-glazed painted plates in their early years. They also share their love of music, languages, and painting as they share their golden years with ash glazes. CHIU Yu-Chi and KUO Ya-Wen are another couple from that esteemed generation. They run a school and share the skills and perspectives acquired from ceramics manufacturers and masters. They work as ceramics artists, farmers and educators. At the same time, they share with the public a lifestyle mingled with ash glazes. In addition, tea and pottery have always been inseparable, so what possible roles can ash glazes and tea demonstrate in modern life?


 The recent reorientation of traditional private-sector pottery workshops and the cooperation between schools and rural areas have given ash glazes a socially involved character. These are some other roles that ash glazes can be expected to play in the spectrum of modern life.