A Vase's Journey And Rebirth

A vase’s journey and rebirth

by Wang Min An         Translated by Phillip Grant       2011

 Wan Li Ya’s creative powers have here been focussed on a Qing Dynasty vase, one which he has reproduced on a grand scale. An antiquity from the court of the Emperor Yung-Cheng, this olive vase featuring a bat and peach motif has behind it a story of loss and rebirth, of dispossession and reclamation. For one working in the field of the ceramic arts, this story should seem like some sort of dream come true. It seems however that Wan Li Ya was not content to allow this tale – one  with a resolution both eminently satisfying and yet almost cliché - to end on some happy albeit somewhat  meek note. On the contrary, he determined to ensure that the circumstances surrounding the resurrection of what is regarded as a national treasure should then be joyously emphasised in a manner that the world could partake of. The story goes something like this: a magnificent and celebrated national treasure of ancient China, having been plundered and spirited away on some unknowable journey to distant lands, consequently undergoes a conceptual metamorphosis from its original incarnation of luxurious adornment of the imperial court to that of commonplace appliance of an American household, to wit, a desk lamp. Through this process of dislocation and relocation, the vase can thus be said to have suffered two dispossessions.  One, it had been dispossessed of its true home, and two, it had been dispossessed of its true value and significance as a work of great art. This does however beg the question as to how it could be that a single object could have had two such widely disparate values attached to it simultaneously. Does it follow that while this revered object of a Qing emperor’s court sat on that desk - largely ignored and unknown as it was in the context of that American household which was for so long its home - its actual value and significance were also similarly diminished? Then comes a further complication to consider: beholden only unto some random act of chance the vase undergoes yet a further transformation to then become a marketable commodity of immense value, its appearance at auction instigating no less than a feverish reaction from a clutch of bidders frantically thrusting forth their cards in panicked efforts to procure it! Then subsequent to and as a consequence of this random discovery it is finally donated to China thereupon having its status as national treasure fully reinstated. Thus we have this vase’s incredible journey - a journey that took it from being a national treasure to manifestations as domestic appliance and then as auctioneer’s lot, before finally and fatefully leading to its resurrection as national treasure. Wan Li Ya’ s reproduction is a proclamation – an extravagant  symbolic flourish that adds yet another chapter to this vase’s story. And why has he sought to write this extra chapter? Because the resumption of the vase’s status as national treasure – and a highly exalted one at that – naturally entails that, as befitting its status of rare and valuable objet d’art - it should now be prudently sequestered, its new life of confinement within a protective case writing the symbolic full stop that concludes the last sentence of its fateful tale. Wan Li Ya’s vision, however, has been to reconstitute the vase’s accessibility, to send it once again on a journey to distant lands, and by extravagantly exaggerating its dimensions, once again to force it into conspicuousness, placing it in a public context for all to see.  In this way he compels the vase - reclaimed but now secreted away - to engage in a long distance dialogue with its conspicuous other and through its conspicuous other it is once more, and most emphatically, reborn.



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