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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

 

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