Twelve Tales on a Ming Flask

HD Video / Stereo
Twelve videos, durations variable

These works were commissioned by the British Museum and Hampshire Cultural Trust as a contemporary response to an object in the BM’s collection: a Ming flask.  For this I travelled to Jingdezhen, China, where porcelain was first invented and the flask made, to make a series of short films, or ‘tales’, which a rare opportunity to discover this seemingly familiar object’s heritage and origin. 

Some of these tales speak of the history of porcelain, and the myths surrounding it, while others encourage us to consider China’s long and complex relationship to Europe and the Middle East. Throughout them all, however, there is a concern with Chinese aesthetics and thinking, and at times we are simply encouraged to look and reflect upon that which is in front of us. As such, these tales might be thought of as a contemporary form of biji, or ‘brush-notes’, a form of writing popular during the Ming period, where fragments of incident and anecdote are juxtaposed in ways which — despite first appearances — are never unrelated.

Each film can be viewed individually, but as a whole take the viewer on a journey exploring landscape, culture, skill, and tradition. Change has been both restricted and embraced. At times we are transported to the Ming period, only to be sharply drawn back by the backdrop of contemporary Jingdezhen. The overlaid narration introduces perspectives of great travellers and thinkers on the importance of Chinese culture, politics, and society that were influential to the wider world; this, and the attentiveness of his images,  provide us with a greater understanding not of Chinese porcelain production, past and present, but also of the compexity of Chinese culture and its relationship to our own.

Commissioned by the British Museuum and Hampshire Cultural Trust for the exhibition ‘Made in China: An Imperial Ming Vase’.