May 9, 2019

John Bennett

Last year, during my MA Ceramics at Cardiff Met I had the good fortune to secure a residency in the Pottery workshop in Jingdezhen, China.

I had only been working with clay for a year and had very limited knowledge. I had gone to China as part of a Cardiff Met field trip and spent the first two weeks integrating with universities in Beijing with the support of my colleagues. After the rest of the group returned to the UK, I went on to Jingdezhen with the focus on my Master’s development.  

The China field trip was just the start of the adventure for me

With the material of clay as my babel fish, I stepped out of the local airport into the fabled air of Jingdezhen (sometimes known as Changnan). This city is built on a bedrock of shardsand and has been steeped in pottery since the beginning of time. It is a city that would change my life.

I arrived as a blank page, no knowledge of the language, limited access to the West, no familiarities, no preconceptions and no distractions. This meant I could focus on exploring this unique material’s cultural landscape. This ancient town of ceramic craft, community and clay became my schoolroom.

It took some time to find my feet after I arrived but it all clicked into place

I spent my first week in the Educational Centre, a community pottery centre with public wheels, waiting for my space on the residency to begin. Here I sat, on a milking stool, bent over a wheel, trying to decode this new material environment. It took over a week to get familiar with the porcelain and to become familiar with the processes.

Initially I struggled, got frustrated with trying to mediate a foreign land through clay. I struggled with the environment – the transport, shopping, eating. Crossing the road was seriously the scariest! Yet surprisingly, the day I crossed the road without thinking was the day that the porcelain started to work for me.

Everything was contained in my residency: 24-hour studio access, a great chef, bed and board. I worked with a group of international Ceramic artists of all ages and experience levels, and we became a family. I felt a part of the sculpture factory. Part of a site with hundreds of small, independent craftsmen and artists, a micro-climate of ceramic production. 

Taking in some of the spectacular scenery

In Jingdezhen and the sculpture factory, I found a fusion of art and crafts in clay. I recognised the ability of ceramics to globally connect, to promote social change.  

I returned to Cardiff Met seven weeks later with a head full of stories and skills, plus a new language of material, tools and clay to share with my fellow students and in my first solo exhibition. I was able to display cultural artefacts that I had bought in thrift markets along with all the experimental vessels I had made.

My residency to China was fully facilitated by Cardiff Met, and the support of my course lecturers at CSAD was incredible.

I had become part of the ancient migration of ceramics from East to West, moving from the historic into the future of my ceramics education.

* The title of this course changed to MA Ceramics & Maker in 2019