TAIWAN, PART 5: 7 DAY WOOD-FIRING
Here in Taiwan ceramics plays an important role in people’s lives. Tea culture and their rich history of ceramics are responsible for that. There is almost one kiln every 10 min of car drive apart just in Miaoli county. I have seen many. Each is different in design and more importantly the way it is fired. Different ways give different results. And people who make ceramics and fire kilns have strong opinions about it and stick to their principals and styles like it’s their religion. Competition is tough and you better be careful what you say about ceramics to a ceramist artist.
This post is about firing a train kiln for 7 days and its results.
We visited Asia Pacific Institute of Creativity last week. Institute is actually a large complex of schools. Department for ceramics has 7 wood-fire kiln. Miaoli wood-fire association hired two: a downdraft kiln and an anagama to fire for its members. On the same day just few hundred meters away another kiln was being fired and they were just finishing and closing it after 7 days. We decided to observe their closing and we did. It was made in a way I didn’t see before with actions, which I still clearly don’t understand.
After 6 days we attended their opening. It was exciting to see how many people came, not just the participating artists but also professors from university, students, non-participating artists and random people passing by. I was warned before not to touch. This is a rule, which actually makes sense and is established to avoid possible damage. But we couldn’t resist so we asked and were finally allowed to touch too.
Results were beautiful with their main characteristic of cold green crackled glaze, a result of such a long firing and consequentially thick ash layer and also of heavy reduction. I observed ceramics and people involved. Atmosphere was pleasant and a little exciting for some, especially owners of beautiful pieces, which were just taken out from the kiln into the light, being seen for the first time – being born. I agree with Bernard Leach again: ‘’Ceramics is not made, it is born.’’
Each piece was taken into hands many times by many people. It was a cause of deep discussions. I liked that very much. There was some sad revelations about it too. For example: one pot caught our eyes. It was of simple shaped porcelain, but the color development was so exquisite that everybody lifted fingers upon it and praising ‘wooow’-s. It was snow white, it has charcoal black spots, it was blushing with apricot, it had crackled layer of icy ash glaze and a deep green ash drip on the side. It was delicious. But then someone told me it is machine made, so slip casted… We, the hand-builders and wheel-thrower, well, we do not respect slip casting as much. We appreciate good design and quality for large production, but for wood-firing it just sounds wrong. Because so much effort and time is invested in firing itself, that no machine-made ceramics belongs to wood-fire kiln. After that discovery, we also found out that the large majority of fired ceramics was made by a big ceramic company and were already sold to main land China, where wood-fired ceramics and tenmoku glaze are popular right now and are sold for big money. That means that many of the ceramics are just some slaves to the big ceramic business, made with no heart or soul, with no love. And it makes me sad.
Another hot topic of our conversation was also the length and the point of tiring for such a long time. I think it has something to do with man pride also; if you say you fired for seven days, maybe that builds up your ego. Isn’t it easier to dip the pots to ash glaze prior to firing and fire with half the wood? Isn’t it? I forgot to tell you how much wood they used. For the 2 kilns Miaoli wood-fire association used 9 iron-framed boxes. One box is about 1.5 – 2 cubic meters. This team used 20 boxes. Think about the trees and the energy optimization here. At least it makes you think.
I have to add, that doing my residency at Zhunan snake kiln affected my way of thinking about wood and firing too. I am being taught differently and I am consciously aware of that. Wood is fuel; we have to use it wisely.
What do you think?