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Monthly Archives: April 2020

TALES OF TEA

In the Blog Her Light in Native Colours the artwork is based on the tradition of Tea Drinking in my Western Culture.

All my years traveling to China, I have drank tea in many and varied environments; I have been fascinated with the Tea Ceremony. In 2006 I wrote an Article that was published in Women’s Art Register, The Bulletin No. 41 Summer 2006/7 and Victorian Artists Society, The Quarterly Journal DEC-JAN 2007. The article titled Tea and Teachings reflects on a specific period of time that I was in China in 2006. Tales of Tea is an extract from the article. In 2011 I was Artist-in-Residence at the Dapu International Art Centre in Daqing Northern China. The accompanying images were taken during that residency, drinking tea with the other International and Chinese Artists.

The Artwork Drink Tea 喝茶 was made during the residency, from found crates and Chinese Calligraphy Practice Paper.

TALES OF TEA

About 10 days after arriving in Beijing I met with an artist whom I had met in 2005. After the opening of his exhibition and a superb dinner we went to his studio to drink tea. The conversation was limited due to language difficulties but we drank tea, discussed his artwork and enjoyed the challenge. Lu Yunting and I and sometimes with others spent time drinking various teas that he collected. He would ritually wash the cups, pot and tea leaves exactly the same way each time we sat to drink. In Bo Shan we met with his favourite tea seller where I was introduced to aged tea. These teas were 5, 10, 20 years old and many formed into rounds similar to cheese rounds. Over time and tea our conversations expanded. At times my frustrations of not knowing the words I needed were calmed by Lu Yunting’s patience. If we didn’t know the words we would draw or check my electronic dictionary. I learnt many new words, gained confidence in the language, strengthened our friendship and returned home with a supply of 5-year-old tea.

Deng Gaishan loves to drink tea on the mezzanine overlooking his latest paintings in his studio. When we first met and drank tea I was intrigued that his ritual was different to that of Lu Yunting. The tea equipment was also different and we drank 10-year-old tea. I endeavoured to ask at what point he knew that the tealeaves were past drinking. He broke out in full flight, talking about the qualities of the tea service, the importance of the teapot, the type of clay used, the colour of the pot, and the way to drink the tea. I did not get the answer I wanted and I did not understand all of his words but he was most intent in giving me a full explanation.

The second time I drank tea with Deng Gaishan I took along my Australian friend and Deng Gaishan invited several of his friends from other studios to meet us. As we drank tea Deng Gaishan showed all of us different teas. My friend Tony and I sat and listened for some 20-30 minutes as four Chinese men discussed the finer nuances of tea.

I expressed to Tony that in Australia we would never hear a group of males discussing tea as we had just heard in Beijing. “No,” he said “but is it any different to a group of Australian men discussing the finer qualities of wine.” Well that was true. I then decided that when I buy my teapot, I will ask Deng Gaishan to assist me.

Drinking tea with Zheng Xuewu and Sun Baijun in Zheng Xuewu’s studio with the door open to visitors or late at night usually consisted of trying at least two teas and Sun Baijun’s insistent that the tea be drunk as hot as possible and immediately it was poured into the cups. In all scenarios we drank from tiny cups about half the size of an eggcup. The teapot was constantly topped up with boiling water either from the water dispenser or in Deng Gaishan’s case the electric kettle that sat by the table.

Beijing is a city growing upwards and expanding outwards. High-rise developments and western style housing impinge upon the ancient Hutongs dwellings and outer suburban villages. The mechanical cranes fly almost 24 hours per day when the air is clear. Way out of town where our single storey buildings sit by the railway line that takes the train to Mongolia we discuss art, travel and the differences of cultures.

Anyone for coffee and cake?

A few Tea Quotes:

Find yourself a cup of tea; the teapot is behind you.  Now tell me about hundreds of things.
Saki

Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world.
T’ien Yiheng

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.
Thich Nat Hahn

The first cup moistens my lips and throat.  The second cup breaks my loneliness.  The third cup searches my barren entrail but to find therein some thousand volumes of odd ideographs.  The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration – all the wrongs of life pass out through my pores.  At the fifth cup I am purified.  The sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals.  The seventh cup – ah, but I could take no more!  I only feel the breath of the cool wind that raises in my sleeves.  Where is Elysium?  Let me ride on this sweet breeze and waft away thither.
Lu Tung

Drinking a daily cup of tea will surely starve the apothecary.
Chinese Proverb

 

Her Light in Native Colours

Nearly one month of isolation and some rising melancholia in missing cuppas with my daughters, I found myself reflecting on an artwork I created several years ago.

Sandra Angliss, Chair for International Women Artists’ Association Australia Inc. extended an invitation to participate in Her Light in Native Colours: Her Presence in Colours VII Australian Chapter 2006

Artists were invited to create artworks reflecting their personal social and cultural backgrounds, culminating in an exhibition at Manningham Gallery in Melbourne in celebration of Cultural Diversity Week.

I am in possession of an Art Deco tea trolley that became the basis for the artwork. A description for TEATIME and my artist statement for the exhibition are below:

Tradition

Emigration

Australia

Transition

Influential

Mother/daughter

Endowment

TEATIME 2006

The Duchess of Bedford is credited with inventing afternoon tea about 1840.  My ancestors emigrated to Australia in the late 1840’s bringing with them traditions from the ‘Mother Country’.

Although transition into a new life in Australia offered far reaching experiences and investigations; formed traditions were passed onto the next generations. Within my family, from mother to daughter the pleasure of enjoying each other’s company over a ‘cuppa’ continues to enrich our lives.  During teatime we chat, discuss, inform, plan and grow.

Using my Aunty Nell’s tea trolley, I have included the names of my female ancestors, my generation and the next two generations of females in my family.

Their birth years and names reflect the influential history of my female line.

Thanks to my sister Carol for her genealogy expertise and Ian Graham (Glass art) for his etching and assistance.

Artist Statement

In creating my artworks, a major influence is history, being a combination of long and short-term collective events, rituals or personal memories.

Production includes working in multiples to form a series or a single artwork.

Major interests are in the diversity of people, cultures and environments, particularly regarding spirituality within personal and cultural belief systems.

I completed a Master of Fine Art in 2002 at RMIT Melbourne Campus and in the same year traveled to China.   Since then I continue to work between my studios in Melbourne and Beijing where projects, research and influences from both cultures are integrated and reflected in my artwork production.

Mediums are varied to suit the particular installation with consideration for the site or environment.  Indoor and outdoor installations, site-specific works and individual artworks include materials such as textiles, paper, organic elements, found objects, porcelain, glass or bronze.

Denise Keele-bedford

A Public Program was included with the exhibition and I was invited to present a talk on my 2004 Bundanon Artist-In-Residence experience. After two years I was very surprised to read the diaries written during the residency in preparation for the talk. I decided to read extracts from the diaries as part of the presentation and slide show which were well received by the audience.

Thanks Cecelia Bedford for photography: Two details (cup, saucer, jug) and promotional header images.

LOVE IT AND LEAVE IT: Australia’s Creative Diaspora Part Two

LOVE IT AND LEAVE IT: AUSTRALIA’S CREATIVE DIASPORA

Is the publication to accompany the Exhibition of Photographs by Nathalie Latham

Held at the national Portrait Gallery, Canberra May – July 2007

Below is Part Two of the Transcript of Interview Nathalie Latham (NL) with Denise Keele-bedford (DKB)

at the Confucian Temple in Beijing China on 30th October 2005.

NL This time you have rented a studio here.

DK-B  Yes it is rented, it is not a residency.  I have a contract to rent that studio for five years at this stage with the option of taking it on for ten years or more.  Last year when I was here, I was introduced to these studios and decided to take one up and have it internally constructed; I am currently living and working there.

NL Can you tell me a bit more about the studio as it is quite a particular part of the community?

DK-B  Suo Jiacun village and the Beijing International Art Camp (BIAC) is out on the North East of Beijing heading out towards the airport, it is an area where there are little pockets of groups of artists studios. BIAC is on the edge of Suo Jiacun village.  There are approximately 100 studios where artists live and work.  Some use them as day studios and there are several internationals who also have studios.

NL A lot of people live there too, don’t they?

DK-B  Yes, many, many Chinese artists live there.  Laetitia, a French lady who is director of Imagine Gallery, lives there with her Chinese husband Xiao Rong, a musician.  The complex is a mixture of day studios; artists’ homes and there are also some galleries.  It is a great hub of artists, of various disciplines.  A lot of different work is being produced there.  BIAC is a compound and as an Australian going there I feel very safe and secure in knowing that I can be there really without any concerns.  It is comfortable, I am interacting particularly with many Chinese artists and of course other internationals coming in and doing the same thing.  Originally the developers were growing grass here to sell.  Li Gang who I mentioned before, along with his wife and the developers designed the whole centre and Li Gang introduced me to it when I was here last year.  I was with an Argentinian artist and a New Zealand artist who were having residencies here and we decided to take up studios at the same time and design the interiors.  Mine was not even built at the time.  Simon’s was built and he was well into designing the interior. Gabriella’s was halfway through being built and mine was a dirt plot and I was asked if I wanted one spot or the other spot so I just picked one.  Eventually He Ying, Li Gang’s wife sent me photos of the studio and what it was looking like.  I was in Australia at that point, had made up a design, sent it across and asked her opinion.  She liked the design and overlooked the erection for me.  I returned in June to furnish and finish it.  Now it is up and running.

NL  It was interesting because we were walking through that hall and there was a strong sense of design

DK-B  Yes, we were talking about the studio before and I was saying how I really enjoyed designing the interior of my studio.  It was kind of like here is my big moment in architecture to design the interior of my art studio.  Yeah so, I guess it is the love of the buildings or the way things are designed that still all comes into it.

NL It is also the fact that you are interested in places of worship

DK-B  Yes, and I was just thinking that looking over here and the way these buildings are designed, and all based on a grid.  It is very interesting when you look at Chinese architecture very much based in grid forms.  Everything is very precise and in line. I was talking before about Feng Shui and the good Feng Shui of how a building is set and the place.  The Imperial palace for instance had to have a mountain behind it because that is Feng Shui.  So they made a mountain, it is a man made mountain that is why it has a moat; something had to go in the hole.  They dug the hole to make the mountain at the back of the Palace, then filled the hole with water.

NL       So what does this mean to you as an artist? What does it mean to you being in this place called Beijing?

DK-B  It means many things actually.  My studio is a large space of 90 square metres, so it physically has floor space, has height and great light.  For me it is an ideal space to be able to produce work. I have a great trough, which is very important for water, washing brushes etc.  So there is that part to it.  Another part is that I can come to the studio here in Beijing; I can focus on a particular body of work that I want to produce.  I don’t have to think about the everyday things that I think of at home, like driving a car.  I don’t drive a car here I ride a bike.  I don’t have to worry about maintaining a car, maintaining a garden or the bills, all of those things that come with everyday living at home.  I have so much more time, so much more thinking time, so much more time to be able to produce and that is extremely important, especially the thinking time because we can get tied up with life and all that is going on around us, with family and all.  When I am here I have a concentrated time to be able to think and to work.  Another factor too, is that it is a different place to work.  I like to work with different environments and when I come here I can discover different environments.  Once this exhibition is in the gallery (see Footnote) and open I already have another project that I am working on here.  Access to materials and access to assistants are also reasons for being here. To get materials and to get things done here can be frustrating and can seem like it takes a long time but then all of a sudden it all falls together.  Even during my time here this time I have days of extreme high and other days of questioning what the hell am I doing here and so there are those extremes.

I find China very challenging but what it makes me do is slow down.  I have to slow down, I have to listen, I have to be prepared if I am going out for the day.  Like coming here this morning becomes a journey.  It is not just jumping in the car and whipping down the street.  Yesterday we went to the art supplies.  It was not just a matter of jump in the car go to the suppliers get what you want and back home.  It is quite a journey to do it because of the language, planning what else I can do while I am out, and these sorts of things.

NL       It is also difficult to get around Beijing, it takes so much time

DK-B  But then on the other hand, I wanted steel curves for the work that is going up next week. So the questions, where do I start? How do I find somebody?  So I get on my bike and head off down the road, go in and out of all the little factories and shops and here is a man making stainless steel balustrades with curves.  I ask him can he do something like this for me, okay so I’ll come back.

So I went back to the studio, did a drawing, took a piece of work that I needed the curves for and returned.  Every time I have a discussion like this it draws a crowd.  The shop was quite small and we had about ten people in there and I was the only female.  I was really quite pleased because I was able to go through the whole negotiation with only one phone call to Li Gang to help me translate.  I went back the next day and he had a sample for me to look at, he asked if I was happy, and is it what I want.  I went back yesterday and here they were all finished, perfect, just what I want.    So things can happen very quickly too.    That work was done in 3 –4 days.  Again another reason for being here is that access to what I want is available.  It seems that it is matter of slowing down, looking, talking to people.  Another reason is the interaction.  Beijing is a hub for internationals, I am not just interacting with Chinese artists, I am also interacting with others, like you.  International artists come flooding in, some come, stay a little while then go, others I suppose like me, fall in love with the place and keep coming back.

NL       So how much of the year do you plan to be here?

DK-B  It is getting that way that two months at a time doesn’t seem long enough.  I do have commitments at home, I have a family, and I have a husband.  He is extremely encouraging; he survives quite well by himself.  At this stage he has been to China with me, he came last year for a couple weeks while I was on residency.  On my first journey he said “No it is not a place for me”.  But when I asked him to come last year, his brother had been here and he said, “Walter, you are mad, you must go, just try it”.  He really loved it, he enjoyed the art scene, coming in and meeting artists, seeing what the art world is like here and one day I hope he will come back when he could stay much longer.  But for me there is a tug of the commitment in Australia and wanting to be here.  I could stay several months at a time.  It is early days yet because the studio is only very new and it is here whenever I want to come and it is here for other people to use.  Yeah so there is… I don’t know if you know, that pulling.  There are also such great opportunities here.

NL       So in terms of your practice – how has it effected your practice?

DK-B  The culture, there is still a sense of the historic, not so much the modern for me with China it is the historic.  I go back to the belief systems, significant places.  I mean even the project that I will be working on once the exhibition is up is still based on history and belief systems.  So is using Chinese materials, papers.  I have worked with paper a lot; I love some of the papers here.  The paper that we used for the ‘tuo’ is just a gorgeous paper.  So those sorts of things are coming more and more into my work.  I was talking earlier about the illuminated manuscripts and vellum, I went through a whole process of working out how to get paper to have the same sense of vellum.  I was very pleased at getting to a particular point where I felt that I achieved it, with beeswax actually.  When I was here a couple of years ago the work that I made was casting some very big cooking pots.  I was at the Pickled Art Centre that had been a pickling factory and I was casting some of the old cooking pots that were used in pickling.  I was using rice paper then filling those bowls, the castings became bowls, with different coloured rices.  The colours came from a particular banner that sits in the Lama Temple and the colours are in a particular order. So the bowls of coloured rice mimicked the order.

When I went home I made an installation using rice and paper again. Red and yellow, which are very significant here.  Multiples of nines, in the installation there were 81 bowls, nine being the highest number in the culture here.  It just kind of keeps coming through, I see these things all the time.  It keeps continually flowing through.

NL       And where did your original interest for illuminate Scripts come from?

DK-B  We were talking earlier about when I started my art practise.  As I said photography had been an interest of mine, which then went onto video.   My parents used to bred Maltese dogs and went to shows with the dogs.  The Maltese Dog Club wanted to have their shows video taped so they came to me and suggested that I make videos of their dog shows.  That was all very well but how was I to do titles, so I learnt calligraphy.  I took myself off to calligraphy classes.  I could make little title cards for the films.  It actually became quite a good little business.  I was doing more than just the Maltese, I would go out to the Royal Melbourne Show and film a lot of the different breeds, tell people about myself and make films for the dog clubs and sell videos to the members.  I enjoyed the sense of the writing, the mark making and then made discoveries.  On my first major trip overseas I was introduced to different cultures.  I went to Thailand, onto Italy, France and England and I was seeing different cultures and different places of worship and through this came upon illuminated manuscripts.  I am not exactly sure where or how.

The discoveries were about the sense of one God, but how different cultures see what we call God or energy or spirit.  There is some kind of energy that we can never quite put our finger on, so different cultures put different names to it and I find it really intriguing.  Illuminated Manuscripts are part of the story telling.  In my history, going back to the Celts and it will be interesting for me because I have been coming here now for quite a few times and next year my husband and I are going to Scotland and Ireland.  There is a little island off the coast of Scotland called Iona where the Book of Kells was written.  The book is an ancient Illuminated Manuscript.    I am kind of in being with China and Chinese culture and how that has been influencing my art practice, so I am interested to see how going and revisiting aspects of my cultural history will affect me, because it has been China for sometime now.  How that melds together in the future I don’t know.  There are things like the stone circles, not so much Stonehenge because it is so commercialised now that in a way the spirit of the place has been scattered, so I am looking forward to going up into Scotland visiting some of those stone circles and just walking on the ground.  This year when I went to Central Australia walking on the ground around Uluru just literally brought me to tears.  It was a shock to my system that I had that reaction.  We were driving, my husband was driving and I could hardly see the place because the tears were just pouring.  I was overwhelmed by the sense of the place, the age of this rock and how people have abused it.    They have climbed on it when our indigenous people are saying “please don’t climb, we prefer you not to”.  Yes, yeah I was very, very surprised at how it affected me.  Again, Uluru is a significant place.  But I don’t know whenever that emotion is going to strike me.

NL       Going back to the interview and the reason for the photograph – many people don’t know their favourite place, but for you, you came straight out with the answer

DK-B  I think because, even though it was a year ago and a year can be very short or it can be very long depending on whom we are and how things work for us.  In some instances it can be a long time.  It felt like a long time coming back here but now that I am here it is like it feels like it was only yesterday.  I think because so much happened in this place for me.  I still don’t know if it was a major shift within me or what it was.   Because of the opportunity to be here, as I said before I felt very privileged.  Here I was a Westerner being taught this craft by this man who is acknowledged in his position.  The crowds coming the interaction and then just being able to spend time by myself in the hall and just working away there in the quiet.  There was a great sense of solitude and occasionally people coming in.  I remember there was one German guy who had been studying Chinese writing and he had been here for about three years with his study and he said, “I am just amazed at what you are doing, I would love to be doing what you are doing”.  He again was a bit blown away that here was a Westerner in this place doing this.  There were many, many Chinese people coming in and questioning me.  Laoshi Ho was working in a room at the end of the hall and I would point down the hall and say there is my teacher.  I could not hold great conversations because of the language.

It still has a lot of those memories, it is a very quiet place, and you can see it is a lovely place, quiet, peaceful surroundings.  People like to just come and sit.  When we were working on the stones out the front there was a Westerner coming in each day and just sitting and watching.  I went over to him and asked what was his story.  He said “It is so hectic, it is chaos outside of these walls, I come in here it is so quiet and peaceful. Watching what you people are doing is my thing.”    I think it is probably the memory when you ask, “What is your favourite place”.    For me it is probably still that memory and the experience of last year.

Footnote:

  1. The Exhibition mentioned in the Interview was the first that became an ongoing series of seven Cultural Art Exchange Touring projects. Nv Yishu: Series One with Melbourne based artist Liliana Barbieri was held at Imagine Gallery November 5, 2005 – January 15, 2006.

LOVE IT AND LEAVE IT: Australia’s Creative Diaspora

LOVE IT AND LEAVE IT: AUSTRALIA’S CREATIVE DIASPORA

Is the publication to accompany the Exhibition of Photographs by Nathalie Latham

Held at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra May – July 2007

Below is the Transcript of Interview Nathalie Latham (NL) with Denise Keele-bedford (DKB)

at the Confucian Temple in Beijing China on 30th October 2005.

(DUE TO THE LENGTH OF THE INTERVIEW the Blog will be uploaded as two separate blogs.)

NL What’s your title?

DK-B Visual Artist

NL Where were you born?

DK-B Adelaide in South Australia.

NL Where were your parents born?

DK-B  Both in Melbourne.  My father was born in Carlton and my mother in Fitzroy, so I am very much Australian.

NL When did you start practicing your art?

DK-B  I started formal studies about 15-16 years ago.  I have three children and growing up with the children my interests were mainly photography and various crafts.  I did a lot sewing making my children’s clothes.   When the opportunity came to do formal studies I grabbed it.  I started with private lessons and got to appoint of wanting to do institutional studies.  I did a Diploma of Arts, Bachelor of Arts then onto Masters.  I finished my Masters in 2002.  That was at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), since then, well I am still learning, I continue to learn, will always be learning, researching and making art.

NL When did you actually start painting or start doing art as a child?

DK-B  I always liked to dabble but one of the things I mainly remember as a child was that I loved to design.  If I was sick at home in bed I would have big sheets of paper and I would be designing houses and streets of houses and towns.  It would grow and grow.  I remember doing that and thinking, oh one day I would really love to be an architect.  Then when I went to High School I had to decide on what stream I would take.  In those days you had a choice of academic or commercial stream.  My parents asked what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to be an architect.  Their response was that girls don’t do that.  I am one of seven children, most of my siblings were factory workers and they had one girl go into an office which made them very proud.  If I wasn’t going to be an architect what would I do so thought I should become an office worker, so that was the stream that I took.  My parents were very happy because their last three daughters became office workers.

I think as soon as the opportunity came for me to do some study I did. I loved school even though I had nearly been expelled at one point.  I loved the fact of learning and then as years went on and the opportunity did arise I took that up.  I had left school at fifteen.  I had a breakdown about 1989 that caused a whole shift in my life.  When my therapist asked was there something that I had ever wanted to do and I said architecture, she told me that I could, that anything was possible.

I also loved the idea of drawing and painting, my school art teacher had been the influence, and so I decided to take up lessons in drawing.  It really leads from there.  I also returned to study and undertook an ACRACS course (Advanced Certificate in Residential and Community Services – Intellectual Disabilities)

NL In terms to your relationship with Beijing. When did that actually start?

DK-B  In 2002. I had an interest in the age of the place. In Australia as we are aware indigenous people have been around for some 40 – 60,000 years but white Australia is so young and I am interested in seeing different cultures and looking at their places of worship, like this, and belief systems.  I was intrigued to come to somewhere that was vastly different to the country that I know and looking at its history.

A girlfriend of mine was coming to China with a group to do Feng Shui studies so I decided to come with them.

NL Can you describe the journey in a bit more detail?

DK-B  On the first journey we had to do some prerequisite studies in Feng Shui.  When I travel I also like to do some research, to find out a bit about where I am going and what I will be doing there.  We were only going to be in Beijing for a few days and then travel.  We went to Guilin and Yangshou in the South.  I knew that in Xi’an there is a museum of stone tablets and I have an interest in calligraphy, mark making.  Illuminated Manuscripts have been a big influence in my art making as well.  Because that is all on vellum, I was interested to see how the Chinese put calligraphy into stonework. When I went to the museum   I was blown away with what I saw and the mark making on the stone.  That was the end of that particular trip.  It was very moving for me to be in that particular museum.  I could have stayed there for so long.

The opportunity happened for me to come back, so I did.  I had a residency in Beijing with Red Gate Gallery in 2003.  While I was here for that residency I discovered the Confucian Temple, the stone tablets here and what is called the craft of ‘tuo’ that I had first seen in Xi’an.   It is an ink rubbing of imagery and text of the stone.  I applied to the Australia-China Council for a residency to come back again. Then in 2004 I came back for two months.  Again I had a fantastic experience in learning that particular craft.

I was talking to a lady last night that did her studies in Chinese Art History and she told me that there are some other terms for that particular process.  I said that there was a lot of discussion at the time of what the correct word was and ‘tuo’ seemed to be the correct word for what I was doing.  When I took some private lessons my teacher Laoshi Ho invited me to come to the Confucian Temple and work with him.

NL How did you find this teacher?

DK-B  I found him through a dear friend of mine who I had met in 2003.  Li Gang is an artist. He is a sculptor and has a place at Bei Gao called the Pickled Art Centre. It is a hub where many international artists come for residencies.  He also has a foundry and does a lot of bronzing for people.  He seems to be a central contact for artists here.  If you need information about a particular form of art making, Li Gang is the person you go to.  If he doesn’t know he will find it for you.

When I approached him and said I wanted to learn this form of craft he found my teacher and then said that he hadn’t even met him, himself.  He knew that Laoshi Ho was the top ‘tuo’ craftsperson, and is the head here at the Confucian Temple, so Li Gang said, “he is the person I have approached and he will teach you.”  He does teach the craft to Chinese people.

NL How many foreigners has he taught?

DK-B  None.  Just me.

He has had modern stones made, based on old designs and they are the stones that we learn on.

‘Tuo’ is a very involved process and perhaps if you walk around here today you will see some of the stones where, throughout the ages, people have tried to make rubbings of the mark making but haven’t known the process.  So a lot of the stones are very badly stained with ink and the concept of the process is to be able to take a rubbing of the markings on the stone without leaving any residue of ink.  That is why we worked on new stones.  After my lessons at his home had been completed, he then invited me to come here.

NL How long was that?

DK-B  It went over about five or six lessons.  It was always quite a journey because I was living in the North East of Beijing in Chaoyang district and he lives on the South West district, so to travel there was quite a journey.  I travelled mostly by taxi.  Sometimes I would catch a train across town and then take a taxi the rest of the way.  I’m learning Mandarin that I call survival Mandarin.   The first time I went there a Chinese friend of mine, who lives in Beijing and speaks English very well, came with me so that he could translate.  Working with another artist, I think, is a beautiful process because you can learn so much without language just by showing and looking.   My teacher knew about six words of English and most of the time it would be NO because I was doing it wrong and then take me through the correct process.  Because we had the lessons in his home, quite often his small daughter would come in to have a look and we would interact.  We had many cups of tea and worked on the stone tablets.  When we got to a particular point that was the end of the lessons, he asked if I would like to come to work with him at the Temple and make some rubbings here.  So I did. I came in and worked for several days on the big tablets you would have seen as you came into the Temple.  Those tablets are listings of scholars.   Next-door is the old university where people from all over the country would come once per year and sit for exams.  The best, then the people who came second, then the people who came third would be listed on a stone tablet.  They were the tablets that we were making rubbings of.   That system of examination ceased in 1904 because it was deemed to be a bit on the corrupt side because some of the examination would be whether you were beautiful.  If you were good looking of course you were given a better position of work.  For me, it was again a fabulous experience working with him.  We always drew a crowd and had many people around us asking questions and looking at what we were doing.  We always took the opportunity that if we had a person who could speak English and Chinese we grabbed that person and he would say can you tell my student this or I would say could you ask my teacher this.  So this was another way for us to be able to communicate.

NL Were you actually doing this in the gardens?

DK-B  Yes, out in the front area that we just walked through.  Bus loads of people come through and many, many Chinese people.  This temple is a very quiet area.  The Lama Temple is very popular and many people go in crowds there and this place is a beautiful place.  Some of the trees here are believed to be some 700 years old.

NL Please give a background of your teacher and how does he become the head copier.

DK-B  It seems that this particular craft is passed on like most crafts.  It is a bit like our indigenous people and the story telling, how artists pass on particular symbols onto the next in line.  It doesn’t seem as though it is something that is vastly popular.  I think because there are limited stones and limited stones that they will now make rubbings from.  In the history of these stones people would take rubbings and then they would destroy the stone so that their rubbing of it was all that was left and that would become the famous piece of writing.   He was taught from somebody else who retired and passed on and he has been at the Confucian Temple now for ten years with this craft.  This has made him the head person and he now passes onto others.  In a section that is now being renovated there were a couple of people who, for the tourists, would make rubbings of modern stones.  I’ll explain the process a little more.    If you know anything about brass rubbing, copies or facsimiles are made of, say church, brasses that people could then do rubbings from.  It is the same with the stones.  There is the old original carved stone.  They make a carving into a new stone as a facsimile, which then becomes the stone that student’s make rubbings from.  That is how I learnt.  There is a particular set of new stones here that the students use and sell the rubbings to tourists.

Talking with one of Laoshi Ho’s students I asked how long she had been a student and she said “four years”.  She is still not at a point of being able to take rubbings from ancient stones.  She takes rubbings from the modern facsimiles.  Laoshi Ho does the rubbings from the old original stones.

I was asked why. What do they do with all of these rubbings?  They are generally passed onto other museums.  He will make copies that then go to other museums and people can purchase them.  There is a set of stones here called ‘Da Xue’ which is Confucian writings and perhaps we can walk down there and have a look at those.  While I was embossing he was making copies of these stones and they were to go to other museums.

NL So he physically sculpts them out himself.

DK-B  No. No, he does the rubbings.  These stones are hundreds of years old and he does rubbings using ink onto paper.   So when I talk about a rubbing I am talking about a rubbing on paper made with ink that then goes to other museums or is sold to the public. The rubbings are for the museum archives.  This is his main job here.  It is interesting one day I walked in and he was digging in the garden.  So even though his main job is the main printmaker or rubbing expert he does other things also.  When something else needs to be done he gets involved in that as well.  For him to do a rubbing of the ‘Da Xue’ stones it would take him one week, a good five days for one rubbing of this set of stones.  This is where I say it is quite an involved process and I felt extremely privileged to be here.  Because as I say he had not taught another weiguoren, anybody outside of the Chinese, this craft before.  So I was in a very privileged position.  It is very hard to put into words because I felt……. it is overwhelming to recall the experience that I had because when we had finished the formal lessons, he had invited me here to work with him, which I did and then after that because the first process of the rubbing is a form of embossing.

Embossing is using paper.  You could put paper onto the cobblestones here and wet the paper then the paper is pressed into the indentation.  When it dries the pattern of the indentation stays in the paper and that is an embossing.  When we make a rubbing, a ‘tuo’, the first part of that before you put the ink on is an embossing.  You ink the paper on the stone when it is still damp but if you just allow the paper to dry and remove it from the stone the mark making or the incisions in the stone stay on the paper and that is what an embossing is.  Because I was so very new at the ‘tuo’ craft I was not allowed to make ink rubbings but was allowed to make embossings.  In the Forest of the Thirteen Classics I was basically given free reign to be able to make embossings where ever I wanted to.  We would discuss different stones and a lot of the stones have images of dragons and clouds and so forth in them apart from the text.  I spent about the next two weeks or so in the hall making embossings.

When I applied to the Australia-China Council for the residency to learn the craft, I wanted to be able to take knowledge of the ‘tuo’ craft and put it into a contemporary practice.  The way I was going to do that was to go to the Dashanzi Art Centre, which is a major contemporary, art centre here in Beijing and make rubbings of the ground hole covers.  The ground hole covers are beautifully designed with patterns and have text in them to explain that the cover is for, electricity or for water or sewerage or whatever it might be.  Many of them have dates on them.  One of the oldest at Dashanzi has a date of 1953 because that is when the ammunitions factory was built there.  Between working at the temple here, depending on the days, I had to watch the weather because it was starting to get cool.   The drying time is influenced by the weather.  I went to Dashanzi and marked on a map where the covers were that I wanted to make rubbings from and check that it was possible.  I then needed to buy a hammer, a chisel and sandpaper to be able to clean these things down.  I endeavoured to find groups of them so that rather than just working on one and having to wait around for a few hours for the thing to dry I could work on three or four in an area.  It limited in a way specific covers.  That was to do with time restraints.  Next time I come here to do it I would come in the summer because the drying time is quicker but getting towards halfway into October and into the weather we are having now, it takes much longer to dry and so I was working between the two.  Coming here to the Temple and going out to Dashanzi.  I now have a lovely body of work of embossings from the Temple.  I don’t have as many of the rubbings from the ground hole covers at Dashanzi but have some embossing of those.  It is because I was too late with the weather, it was getting very cold and things were not drying.  I did put the process into practice and it is one of those things that I will revisit next time or maybe another time when I come back.

To be continued……….

Thanks to the image takers, Walter Magilton, Jennifer Kearney.