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Sin-ying Ho – a ceramic artist and designer originally from Hong Kong who now lives in New York and is an associate professor in the Art Department of Queens College – is a citizen of the world and she herself likes to call herself a global sapiens. She holds a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and an MFA from Louisiana State University, she studied at the Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute in China, one of the most prestigious institutes dedicated to the study of the ceramic arts and Jingdezhen is considered the birthplace of porcelain. Her multiculturalism blends a strong sense of Chinese heritage and identity with influences from the Western world. In her works Sin-ying Ho selects European and Chinese elements and also takes inspiration from the history of the Silk Road.
Ho, you describe your life experience as “your personal journey on the Silk Road” in an exclusive and continuous search for cultural exchanges. Tell us the highlights of your adventurous journey that forged your art.
My journey is a continuous life adventure that is still ongoing. There are two aspects of my Silk Road journey; one is the ‘soul and humanity’ of the cultural journey and the other one is physical and geographical. I believe that the most rewarding and influential aspect is the ‘soul and humanity’ represented by the diversity of people that I have met and those of the past that make up the history and development of global cultures.
Soul and Humanity: I was born and raised in Hong Kong, emigrated to Canada and currently live in New York. My work reflects the impact of globalization on the cultural borrowings and interactions in an accelerated “global village”. Growing up in a colony like Hong Kong generates a sense of displacement and involves a constant negotiation of my identity. At birth my given name is Ho Sin-Ying, a Cantonese- English name that was translated from Chinese phonetics to English. In school I studied English but did not use it socially or domestically outside of school. This created a dichotomy in my life that was effected by the colonial environment of Hong Kong in the 70’s and 80’s. This paradox is a phenomenon not only for me but it also affects our global village.
My works focused on expressing and describing the collision course of Eastern culture and Western culture. The context of this work includes new vs. old, technology vs. tradition, communication vs. language, aesthetics vs. cultural identity and economy vs. power. I examined the relationship between the language of symbols and the symbols of ornament inspired from Chinese porcelain export-wares. I used icons, signs, and corporate logos to re-contextualize the intersecting cultures of East and West, new and old, in the 21st- century economic globalization. I demonstrated that visual signs and linguistic symbols are equally important for tracing and recording human history, culture, and geography. Drawing from written languages, symbols, international signs, computer binary codes and symbols of ornaments, densely painted decorative motifs from both East and West onto a classical porcelain vessel to signify the identity of the cultures. These details cross the boundaries of time and geographic distance.
Highlights of my adventurous journey that forged my art: When I was living in Hong Kong, I was an actress working for Chung Ying Theatre. The theatre was sponsored by British Council and Royal Jockey Club. At that time, Hong Kong is the colony of British, under the imperialist, British rule. I emigrated to Canada and serious study ceramics at Sheridan College and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I had a chance visited Louisburg Museum in Nova Scotia. There were Chinese porcelain export ware shards displayed in the museum because there was a shipwreck found in the ocean nearby Louisburg. I learned from books about Marco Polo, a merchant travelled to China and brought porcelain goods back to Rome. I was intrigued by the story. I made a visit to cities such as Gubbio, Faenza, Venice etc. When I travelled to Turkey, I could still trace the mark of silk road, caravans, an architecture. I imagined myself walking and riding a camel along the silk road.
Using yourcut-and-paste technique you create works, even large ones, where hand-painted details, digitally drawn and then transferred to an enameled surface mix, merge and blend with elegant harmony. You can create a perfect mix between analog and digital where you mix life stories and words, even here mixing alphabets and languages. Can you tell us about your particular technique that fascinates us?
I combined a traditional Once Fire technique from Jingdezhen and employed the hand painted fine line cobalt painting style (Gong Bi Qing Hua) that flourished in the Yuen, Ming Dynasty of China. I use digital decal printing on clay to form juxtapositions in my work. The decal printing allows me to produce homemade images and patterns, using a computer, that can be transferred onto the glazed ceramic work. The decals are made permanent by re-firing the artwork. Aesthetically, this method forms a strong red and blue colour contrast. Conceptually, combining old and new means to create art is another way for me to negotiate the shift and change between technology and hand tools such as the brush.
“I was born and raised in Hong Kong, emigrated to Canada and currently live in New York. My work reflects the impact of globalization on the cultural borrowings and interactions in an accelerated “global village””. These words of yours reflect your “way” of making art. The shapes and colors of some of your ceramics that combine traditional techniques – Once Fire by Jingdezhen and the Gong Bi Qing Hua hand- painted cobalt painting style that flourished during the Yuen, Ming Dynasty of China – are the result of long studies and technical skills. Can you tell us about your first experiments?
For this technical skill and combination is a steady path of conscious and unconscious decisions that were influenced by external events and contacts. These meetings stirred my imagination and fuelled my concepts and ideas. They formed a steady path for evolution and development.
I learned the Gong Bi Qing Hua hand cobalt painting in Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute in Jingdezhen China, today Jingdezhen Ceramics University, when I went to Jingdezhen in 1996 as a first Off- Campus study student from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I planned to focus on ceramics sculpture. None of the classes fitted in the schedule. Then, I decided to learn all famous surface decoration that were offered by ceramics design department. I was curious for a long time about the execution of fine details of Gong Bi Qing Hua on porcelain. I wondered why this technique and style flourished since and became a culture identity. Understand the use of fine tip of the brush, the mixture of Qing Hua (cobalt pigment) with tea water, control the blue shade from dark to light, painting on bone dry stage of porcelain, glazing without bisque firing and once fire to 1330°C, these are the accumulation of our ancestors’ experience and their wisdom. For a long time practice, I am still amaze the intricacy of the process. Without the very first class assignment to learn from my teacher in Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute, I wouldn’t get it just by experiments.
In your current Constructed Realities: Life Beyond Borders exhibition hosted in the prestigious Nilufar Gallery in Milan, we may find, among others, your most recent works from the Garden of Eden series. In monumental forms, between one meter and eighty to more than two meters high, inspired by the human figure and its nature, you touch the themes of greed and consumerism, hopes and technological transformations. Please tell us about your latest series.
Garden of Eden (GofE) represents stories of human behaviour from cross cultural observations and personal experiences. GofE was inspired by the Iron Butterfly rock anthem called ‘Innagaddadavida’, which is a contemporary translation of Garden of Eden. This body of artwork was not meant as a direct religious connections but as a mirror reflecting my observations of contemporary modern life experiences.
GofE is a mythical garden, a place of pristine and natural beauty. Eden is the search for paradise, a mythical place of bliss, delight and contentment. It is a place for reflection, meditation, and a safe haven from earthly delights.
The crash of the Real Estate market, the stock markets, and the economic collapse inspired me to make life size vessels depicting universal human nature and the human traits; greed, materialistic desires, hopes and technological transformations. This universal human nature and human traits are intrinsic to the concept of this series.
The life size vessel is inspired by the silhouette of the human figure and each vessel is six to seven feet tall. The size of the vessel produces a visual appearance and is a reference to the human form. I paint the traditional hundred flowers Chinese painting with cobalt pigment to juxtapose a silhouette of ‘Adam and Eve’ as referenced from Renaissance paintings. Inside the silhouette of ‘Adam and Eve’, I use contemporary digital symbols, corporate logos, stock market index charts and different languages that are then transferred by a digital decal technique. These images of consumerism and the trace of technology create a visual metaphor that expresses the relationship between never changing human Nature and the continuing change of our physical world.
As the world moves into a new age of globalization, people of many nationalities and cultures merge together and evolve into an unknown. I reference the collisions of my own experience being Hong Kong-Chinese, living in North America to speak to the universal. My work invites viewers’ to contemplate the questions of whether there are meanings or discernible patterns of human endeavors.
Are you working on other series? Tell us about your future projects, your artistic hopes projected into the global world, never as now perhaps too small for a quarrelsome and ever-growing humanity.
Yes, I am working on an installation of 1000 Rabbits.
My Chinese animal birth sign is Rabbit. Represents the global feminine beauty. Each rabbit will have different women images from the many cultures and countries around the world.
I continue to develop from an art work entitled Graces. Rabbit to me has significant symbolism and has a broad global cultural representation. Rabbits in the animal kingdom have a lack of defence except for their speed and fleet of foot. Therefore, they are associated more with peace, innocence, gentleness, and vulnerability. Also, due to their prolific breeding they are often associated with abundance and fertility. People born in the sign of the Rabbit are thought to be elegant, kind and approachable.
As a woman I see the above descriptions as a representative of all women in the world. Porcelain is one of the great treasures of China and the world. It is as a white gold in the realm of the world of ceramics. I chose to combine the precious material of porcelain in wood and salt firing with the symbolism of the Rabbit to visually project an image that becomes more majestic than the physical
size of the object. The wood and salt firing process yield to an unexpected and variety of surface representing the diversity from identical slip casted form of rabbit.
Each Rabbit represents a narrative of cultural significance symbolized by the women portrayed on each Rabbit. I have selected women from many cultures and countries. They represent a world that goes beyond religion, language, custom, or gender. Each women have her own cultural story that is more significant than their personal representation.