Folds and Creases
Eshen Ceramics⟨ 25 July 2022 ⟩
It was 2019 when I first got to know Eshen. At the time, she was opening her first exhibition of ceramic lamps at Muer in Tainan. It was her first time using ceramics to make lamps, the ceramic lampshades were unglazed and in a perfect cone form that evokes the feel of an “umbrella” – plain, raw almost. For the first time, I came so close to functional ware in such a real and naked way. And it was especially amidst those lit umbrella-shaped ceramic lamps from three years ago, and inside that intoxicating exhibition space, that I felt as if transported back into the womb from the very beginning, a warmth like no other.
In the blink of an eye, I am already in my third year in Tainan, and because of the ceramic lamps, we crossed paths again at Muer. Eshen’s works still retained that careful craftsmanship and humble touch, but it seemed to me that there was an added touch of spontaneity too. She allowed herself to, and even deliberately, folded the clay, to imbue the lamps with more space for imagination.
The exhibition introduction this time goes, “The days are never smooth and orderly, we get by in folds and layers”. When we first met, we hardly needed to wear masks, it is the days throughout these three years that had not been smooth and orderly, isn’t it? I rode my bicycle past the cobbled road before Muer, halted only with much difficulty, and thought, “Perhaps the days are never smooth to start with.”
“Yeah! It’s never smooth to begin with, that roughness is like accidents and disappointment in life. But once we have gone through and overcome them, life naturally works out for the better, and becomes smoother and shinier,” said Eshen, her responses ever so gentle and understanding.
“So the saying goes, ‘only the polishing makes the shine, I think life is all the same’, and that is what it means.” Lately, I have also been learning to make ceramics again. One procedure that I have never given much thought to before was “polishing”. After the clay is bisque fired, the work has to be polished, and all the points and edges filed away, so that the palm of one’s hand is not scarred upon contact with the work.
“But when polished to excess, doesn’t it lose its personality?” Perhaps we all fear being homogenised, or becoming too compromising. So why don’t we add some “folds and creases”? Eshen’s theme this time is “Folds”. The lamps were all folded, and when seen from a distance, they do look like pieces of soft fabric.
“Don’t be afraid of folds and creases, they occur only when it’s soft and flexible enough!” Cute and tiny in build, Eshen went on talking with ease, and I realised all the more that a convincing statement needs no forceful delivery, that words of encouragement come from real experience.
“This is probably because during the course of clay making, I gradually experienced aspects of it that echo life.” When Eshen said that, I was reminded of the times when I first made ceramics. I would be so caught up with the shaping that the clay dried up entirely and cracks emerged at every fold. But add just a bit of water to the crack and give it a rub, and it is smoothened out. That water might just be our sweat and tears.
“Clay is actually very soft and malleable before firing, and can be shaped into all kinds of forms. That hardening transformation is very similar to how people grow. I hope for adults that whatever they grow to become in their exteriors, they still remember their inner soft hearts.” In light or darkness, be it smooth or creased, Eshen remains soft and gentle as her clay.
“At the same time, you need to accept yourself. You don’t have to fear becoming the imperfection in other people’s eyes.” But I actually do think those folds and creases are very beautiful.
It has been raining very heavily these few days, and entire days have gone by without light. “We who live in Tainan already have it way better than our friends who live in Taipei. Last year, there was no rain in Tainan and there was even a water shortage.” Taipei people say that it never gets sunny for more than three days at a time, and the laundry never dries naturally after a whole month; with this rain, however, there will be no water shortage this year. Rain fell hard on the sheltering shed. It was not even midday yet, but I turned on the lights, and felt more grounded.
“Light, to me, is vitality, stability and hope.” Looking at Eshen’s work, they appear to be merely fragile ceramics and opaque ceramic lampshades. But she likes the ideas that light signifies and that bright, warm feeling. As such, when clay is turned into ceramic lamps and powered by electricity, at the moment when I clicked the switch, some parts of my body suddenly felt as if completely embraced, almost like I was floating in warm water that had been exposed to the sun, gentle and clear.