TAIWAN, PART 2: WHY TAIWAN?
So why did I decided to go to Taiwan? Because I want to learn how to fire ceramics with wood in a way they fire it here, at Zhunan Snake kiln.
It was year 2014. I went to Singapore for a Chawan exhibition, in which I participated along with about 130 artists from all over the world and around 50, who attended the exhibition in person. We stayed in Singapore for a week, listening to artist talks, going to demonstrations and participating in master classes. My first encounter with Zhunan Snake kiln was of course Mr. Lin’s 3 Chawans, of which everybody talked they were fired at temperatures near 1500°C.
I remember how I one received e-mail from a Slovenian ceramic artist, who specializes in naked raku technique. He sent me an article about some Japanese potter, who lives in the mountain and fires his anagama kiln with wood to 1500°C and beyond. I read it and replied to the artist it is hardly so, and that usually temperatures go to 1300°C. In another words – I did not believe it.
1500°C is a lot, every ceramist knows that.
So I saw Mr. Lin’s presentation, signed up for his master class about firing and building kilns and at the end I was mostly impressed about their way of firing and understanding of wood-firing. The temperature they achieve is still very extraordinary, but it wasn’t the reason I liked what they do – the reason was their way of firing.
In September 2015 I again joined Chawan Expo. This time in Belgium. Mr. Smedts, a renowned Dutch ceramist, formally introduced me to Snake kiln crew again, although I knew most of them from Singapore. I talked to them; to Serina, who is an art director at the Snake kiln, and mostly to Mr. Wu, one of the important firers and who technologically explains all the little details in English very well, and Sofia, Mr. Lin’s wife. Unfortunately I cannot speak to Mr. Lin directly since he only speaks Chinese. In a way, this wall between us makes him even more interesting. I can only imagine what and how he speaks, and because of that, my mental picture of him is very respectful.
At Chawan Expo Belgium I was invited to come to their ceramic center as artist in residence in order to learn to fire.
So here I am now, working my second week here at the Zhunan Snake kiln. Times goes quite fast: second day I already finished test works, and on forth day fired mini kiln, designed by Mr. Lin.
Yu-Ting helped me. She is Mr. Lin’s niece. She just finished art school in Taipei and is now at Zhunan Snake kiln as Mr. Lin’s apprentice. She helps around the ceramic center, prepare wood, receive guests and in her free time make ceramics. She is under careful eye by Mr. Lin, so she gets many critiques, advice and guidance. So she knows a lot about wood firing. She showed me and taught me how to load into the kiln, how to fire, which wood to use at what times, and most importantly – not to let out of the chimney too much carbon, which is a fuel not to be wasted. That means no black smoke coming out of chimney. The mini kiln was fired for 35 hours non-stop and at the end I asked myself if it is worth sleepless nights for just around 15 pieces. Yes it is, I keep telling myself, and usually convince myself when I open the kiln after firing.
Mr. Lin watched us fire the whole time and only came few time, to give some input, like showing me early in the morning shift, when I struggled to raise temperature. He first sat behind me, watching, and then decided to finally show me. It was like he was playing the piano; just slightly pushed the right wood, few with the right size and left others. The kiln loading door were full of wood with different thickness at all times, long about one meter and leaning to some support with chair. It was all about timing and pushing the right thickness wood into fire, watching temperature and smoke.
This method is about dropping minimum degrees at loading time. Usually when you load wood, temperature drops for around 15 – 20 degrees, sometimes more. But here this drop is minimal. This is one of the reasons why their way of firing is so successful. Going to max temperatures in min time and wood. And I believe this is what every wood-firer wants. Again: for the same max temperature someone can use 4 cubic meters of wood, and someone just half that. Or: someone can reach 1300°C , someone can’t, and some can go higher than 1400°C. Mr. Lin can go higher than 1500°C.
Results of firing were nice, so now I have about 2 more weeks to prepare works for their big kiln: anagama. Firing will take place in beginning of May!
This is anagama: