The view out of my train heading to Shenhou, Henan.
Long-distance travel from Baoshan, Yunnan to Shenhou, Henan.
The travel from Conggang, Yunnan to Shenhou, Henan is crazy and intimidating. it was such a long distance starting from the southwestern broad of China to the central plain of China. I traveled by motorbike, bus, and train from Conggang to Shenhou County, Henan, where I will be implementing my proposal for art and ceramic education. It was a true adventure. This intensive comparison educated me about the polarization, complexity, and diversity of this country with rapidly growing economic levels. Even though we are focusing on art education in Chinese rural areas, it remains a bold and challenging endeavor to efficiently and practically implement these educational activities. Nevertheless, the potential, talents and creativity still surprised and empowered me after witnessing the actual teaching in Conggang, Yunnan.
To be honest, the arrival of me at Shenhou bewildered me. Skhenhou is much more urbanized and developed than where I came from, especially in people’s recognition of the arts. I looked forward to starting my field study of the residents and having a connection with this county. My collaboration with Miao, the leader of Rye Wave, who is a native of Shenhou, Henan, greatly facilitated my integration into the Shenhou community. In addition to knowing the basic rituals, arts, ceramic market and even folk cultures, I exploited the resourcefulness of Miao’s family ceramic industry Song Royal Kiln. They gave me a brief and clear introduction to the general ceramic world in Shenhou, plus a vehicle – an electronic motorbike – to help me hang around in the county. Besides, I gained big privilege to profoundly dive into every step of this huge ceramic industry, including design, production, marketing, administration and delivery. Song Royal Kiln is like a cat’s eye on the mysterious Mansion, allowing me to quickly glimpse into the secretary world of traditional Jun ceramics.
The help from Song Dynasty Royal Kiln
Location of my Chun ceramic workshop: Shenhou, Yuzhou
Song Dynasty Kiln helps me fitting in the Jun ceramic industrial smoothly
This whole county is all about Jun ceramic making
Tranditional wood-fire process
You might find Jun ceramcis EVERYWHERE…
Except for the teaching and administrative part of my job in this fellowship, all communication between me and the residents is becoming my largest gaining in the process of my practicing. I enjoy this kind of old-fashioned way chats with the neighborhood on the street, purposelessly. Some of them take a walk after eating dinner, and some of them cool off under trees in this little county. Everything goes slowly and peacefully, while everyone slows down their steps. After talking with some local parents and elementary students, I found the absence of professional art education. The Chinese government has implemented nine years of compulsory education, but art classes in actual schools have often been overlooked or crowded out by other subjects such as math and literature.
Even though people are surrounded by traditional Jun ceramics, most of them have no concept of generic ceramic arts or the arts. To the public, Jun ceramics have become an iconic symbol in the historical culture. Nevertheless, one of the essential distinctions between parents in Henan and Yunnan is that they were more than willing to send their children to participate in the non-profit program. They were aware of the demand for art education in rural areas. So the advertising and enrollment of local students have been very smooth and successful, and some parents are fully supportive of our public education organization. However, most of the parents in Yunnan just considered us as babysitters for their children’s summer vacation.
Family and studio visit with the local residents.
The advertising and enrollment of local students have been very smooth and successful
Potteries, vessels, pots, jars, and cups are everywhere.
In conclusion, conceptual thinking and creative art education are notably absent from their elementary schools, particularly in Shenhou County, as evidenced by my street interviews with local residents. In Shenhou, most of the children and families I interacted with are living in a more developed, urbanized, and open-minded environment, especially when compared to the situation we encountered in Yunnan. They have access to relatively abundant art materials, convenient transportation, and favorable living conditions. However, I can clearly discern a lack of support for arts and cultural education.
The location of this south-western frontier county Conggang on my Chinese map.
The landscape of the Mountain Gaoli at Conggang, Yunnan.
I am sorry that I began my Maharam fellowship in person quite late, following the completion of my local residency in the United States and the return of all my belongings to China. However, this delay did not equate to minimal participation in meetings and communications with the collaborative NGO organization, Rye Wave. I truly appreciate Rye Wave’s patience during all those Zoom meetings and online chats.
In Conggang, Yunnan, where Rye Wave initiated its non-profit ritual art education program, approximately ten young volunteer artists conducted eight innovative art courses. I was honored to preview and co-prepare for the art classes with the rest of the artists from Rye Wave. Even though I just audited most of the syllabus meetings online from July 4th to July 10th, I gained a clear understanding of Rye Wave’s rural educational goals, styles, and methods while discussing the syllabus and teaching process led by Miao Linyu.
The communication between us and the local residents in person
For instance, after researching and visiting those minor ethical families, we learned how to use simple language to engage with local minors aged 10 to 14 years old. Some kids might have never left the village, so we had to consider introducing basic art materials and tools that were not easily accessible in Conggang. While auditing and observing volunteers specifically involved in this Yunnan program, I fully comprehended the challenges of conducting art education in rural China, especially one in ritualistic situations. Establishing an avant-garde art space in a frontier county of China is demanding, exhausting, and time-consuming, yet Rye Wave has persistently invested three years.
- Linyu Miao
- The leader of Rye Wave
- BA undergraduate of Barnard College, Columbia
- Now she is working as a journalist for independent publications
After I arrived in Conggang, Yunnan, on July 24th, I joined the large Rye Wave group, which had already established local ties, engaged with the students’ families, and conducted art activities. It was also the first time I met the leader, Miao Linyu in person since we have known each other through Instagram for more than half a year. I was curious and excited while stepping into neither this minor ethical village nor a big voluntary artist group.
- Meeting with the rest of the volunteers and teachers in Conggang, Yunnan
- Discussion with ten art teachers from Rye Wave about the preparation for art classes and the results of local family and minor ethnical cultural research.
The first day of our art summer program began at the local residences’ basketball playground. Kids who registered for the program and we teachers were sitting together and listening to the speech given by Linyu Miao. Some of them even did not put any shoes on. First impression with Conggang County–Wild.
There was a little mix-up that our opening conflicted with the residents’ basketball practice. It was quite awkward and intense when they thought we occupied their playground without permission from the local administration. And they started to get mad and present some wild and violent tendencies. I have to admit it was chaos for a while. But we solved the little trouble after carefully and patiently explaining to them what happened and why we were teaching for free in this county.
The big group of artists at Rye Wave and I was arm-wrestle with Xinpei
I did not create any art classes for the children in Conggang, Yuannan, but I still built up a close relationship between the artists from Rye Wave and the ritual kids. I guided a small group of children to use the camera and make some portraits for each of us. It was also engaging and enlightening for me to briefly participate in the art classes, activities, and experience in person with those children from the realistic Chinese countryside.
Photography team and me
me and my drawing in an observative drawing class
The Recess —— Basketball Hour
The 10-day audition with the first program of Rye Wave in Conggang is not easy. I started to grasp the cruel problem involving local administrators, political organizations, residents, children, and artists within a realistic society. The poverty of their family, an incompleted system of elementary education, limited geographical conditions, developing family educational awareness…… Like Miao said, we little art student NGOs can not entirely address the systemic inequities deeply ingrained in Chinese rural education, a challenge that the CCP has been working on at its national administrative level for years.
Nevertheless, the united teamwork, young energy of Rye Wave, passion from the artists, and the smiles of the children inspired and empowered me to reflect on my section of the program in Shenhou, Yuzhou, Henan. I got more confidence and responsibility about making efforts with my coming section.
The night of the Mountain Gaoli
My months of gathering, conversations, and research has led to my final design deliverable! I’m designing, writing, and curating a digital collection! Based on the themes of “The Queer Home”, I’m designing a book to be published in The ArQuives digital library as well as set to be displayed physically later at the end of the year! An incredible opportunity that has become a true passion project of the last few months.
The collection will entail three sections based on: placemaking, domesticity, and forgotten narratives. After processing and transcribing my interviews I went to straight to work on the collection’s visuals. The aforementioned sections will be accompanied by photographs that I’ve gathered through archival digitization and fieldwork throughout Toronto. These will also be accompanied by self-made designs and architectural visualizations. The goal is to reframe a period of Toronto’s queer history from the 1970s-90s through the perspective of home and architecture. The alternative and revolutionary lives lived by thousands of queer people in Toronto has been inspiring to study, and I’m excited to help spread that spirit in further. Below I’ve attached some excerpts of two spreads for my section on domesticity!
The process of putting together this work has been tough. I had never realized a book could be so much work! Besides archival categorization and research, digital design programs, writing/transcribing, I also have to worry about copyright and sourcing! I’ve grown an immense amount of respect for anyone who has to do any of this work professionally. It has definitely been a community effort and I’m so thankful to the archival, library, and research staff at The ArQuives and several friends that have helped me review and check my writing and designs—I write this book on the backs on so many people who have made groundbreaking research before me.
Below are some pictures of my everyday work at the end of this fellowship! Spot my fun little work corners that I would set up in the deepest, darkest corners of The ArQuives’ libraries!
And that’s really all for now! My next post with my finished book will be my final sign-off! So super excited!
The Crazy Ball Adventure!
Friday 1st September
Throughout this week, the toy project has truly blossomed. Each day, it transformed into something new as various groups of students put their unique spin on it, experimenting with diverse combinations of the mechanisms we’ve crafted. The children have been in a constant state of refinement, figuring out how to fashion additional mechanisms from the materials readily available and generating remarkably inventive concepts. One young boy ingeniously devised a curving trajectory for the ball employing only wooden dowels and rubber bands. He meticulously engineered a method to balance the dowels within the board’s holes, harnessing the rubber bands’ elasticity to create a stable path. Meanwhile, another child independently conceived a mechanism that employed water, plastic syringes, and discarded materials to generate motion, resembling the functionality of a crane. He introduced this innovation to the workshop and enlisted the assistance of fellow students in designing how it could be integrated into the initial stages of the ball’s journey. The field officers expressed their surprise at discovering this young innovator’s creative side, and they were delighted that these workshops provided a platform for his inventive and imaginative ideas to shine.
Through a fruitful collaboration with the same local steel product manufacturer responsible for crafting the stand, we managed to procure pegs of precisely the right size—3 inches, to be precise! These pegs proved versatile, capable of securely supporting a wide range of items, from PVC pipes to the Ferris wheel. As the children embarked on crafting a ball path using these newly acquired pegs, it was truly inspiring to witness how they challenged the conventional usage, deftly manipulating the angle and positioning of the pegs to accommodate various objects. Additionally, their newfound efficiency was remarkable; they constructed the path almost as swiftly as they conceived it in their imaginative minds.
Crazy Ball Adventure
During the construction of one of the iterations of our ball runs, the ball unexpectedly tumbled out of one of the pipes, embarking on a spontaneous adventure, rolling onto the neighborhood streets. Amidst the laughter that ensued, one of the children exclaimed, “Crazy Ball!” – a name that instantly resonated with everyone. Consequently, we decided to christen our creation ‘The Crazy Ball Adventure’ Toy. The field officers and the manager of the No Child In Trash Program were thoroughly thrilled with the evolution of this toy and recognized its potential for use across Chintan’s various centers in New Delhi. To facilitate its broader adoption, they’ve tasked me with designing a guide that can introduce new children to its usage and highlight its potential as a valuable learning tool. I’ve already initiated some sketches for this guide and am committed to completing it within the next few weeks.
In the past week, I conducted two plastic crocheting workshops, where I had the opportunity to teach waste-picker women the art of transforming plastic bags into useful products through crocheting. Each participant crafted a small sample, roughly the size of a fist, during which they learned the fundamentals of crocheting, including how to begin, execute chain stitches, build upon layers, and explore various crochet techniques. We ventured into experimenting with different plastic bag thicknesses and made an interesting discovery: thicker plastics allowed us to create surfaces more quickly and were easier to work with due to their visible holes and knots. Conversely, the thinner plastic bags, typically used for fruits and vegetables, presented a slipperier challenge, especially for beginners. However, experienced crocheters among the women managed to craft sizable pieces from these bags. Many of the participants had some prior experience with crocheting but hadn’t practiced it in a while, so they were delighted to rekindle their skills through these workshops and now have the tools to create something beautiful.
We also explored the potential of using various materials, such as old clothes, yarn, or even natural elements, in crocheting. One woman shared her grandmother’s tradition of crafting grass baskets through crocheting, highlighting the versatility of natural materials. These baskets, once dried, become tight and incredibly strong, serving multiple household purposes while remaining biodegradable—a wonderful example of harnessing and transforming natural resources into marketable, eco-friendly products.
In addition to the workshops, I successfully finalized the plastic crocheting manual. This comprehensive guide encompasses a wide array of potential products the women can create, detailing the necessary materials, step-by-step instructions on commencing crochet projects, proper crochet hook handling techniques, and an exploration of various crochet styles.
These past few weeks have been incredibly thrilling as I’ve had the opportunity to introduce the children to the world of design. Witnessing their creative thinking and their willingness to challenge their usual thought processes has been truly inspiring. Moreover, the collaborative efforts they put forth to develop innovative designs together have left a lasting impression. As my Maharam fellowship at Chintan comes to a close, it’s astonishing how time has flown by. I find it hard to believe that it’s time to bid farewell, and while I’ll miss this experience, I’m eagerly anticipating the future, where I hope to see the toy project continue to evolve and ignite inspiration in countless other children.
Sunday 20th August 2023
Connecting the Dots: Materials and Assembly
The exciting journey towards finalizing the toy design has officially begun! After studying the various components envisioned by children during our last workshop, I embarked on the task of acquiring materials that would facilitate diverse ball motions in our marble run. Among the materials I have procured are PVC pipes, a round pipe, large and small joints, wooden dowels, as well as assorted pieces of wood in varying sizes. These elements form the building blocks of our innovative ball run, and I am eager to see how the children will come together to create a captivating and interactive toy design.
6 Different Mechanisms
With a comprehensive understanding of the available materials and insights from the prototypes crafted by the children in the previous workshop, I conceptualized six distinct mechanisms for guiding the ball through our marble run: a car, a Ferris wheel, a hammer, a thread-based contraption, a lift, and a seesaw. The children were organized into six groups, each tasked with drawing out a design that incorporated one of these mechanisms, followed by group discussions to refine their concepts and select the most promising idea to pursue. And then, the magic began as they delved into the construction process, employing cardboard, dowels, wooden ice-lolly sticks, and various discarded materials to bring their visions to life. The level of creativity and innovation on display was truly remarkable, with some groups devising mechanisms to adjust the ball’s trajectory through string manipulation, while others crafted a dual Ferris wheel with two distinct entry points, showcasing the children’s extraordinary ability to think beyond what the task asked them.
During the workshop, a valuable insight emerged: the children required a foundational structure on which to construct their ball runs effectively. In response, I conceived a versatile, disassemblable stand featuring a grid of perforated holes. This design allowed for easy attachment and reconfiguration of various components within the ball run. Collaborating with a local steel product manufacturer, we brainstormed ways to optimize the design, reducing material usage and overall costs while ensuring its disassemblability. Our solution was a single-sheet central structure that could be utilized from both sides, enabling two separate groups of children to simultaneously build their ball runs, ultimately fostering friendly competition as they vied to create the longest and most imaginative designs.
Measure, Cut, and Sand
The next phase of our ball run adventure saw us diving headfirst into the creation of the permanent ball run! I introduced the children to the world of PVC pipes and posed the question of how to cut them to allow visibility of the ball while crafting those thrilling zig-zag paths, a recurring feature in their marble run prototypes. The room buzzed with anticipation as I guided them through the process: measure, cut, and sand! There was palpable excitement as I demonstrated the use of a cutting saw to trim the PVC pipes into smaller sections and then meticulously smooth the edges with sandpaper. To address the challenge of connecting two pipes at a corner while maintaining ball visibility, we collectively decided on a clever solution: slicing a pipe horizontally and leaving two inches of the full pipe on one side, ensuring it could be securely affixed into a connector piece.
Peg Design Testing
As we delved into the design of pegs for affixing various mechanisms to the perforated board, a collaborative brainstorming session ensued. Our initial approach involved crafting 3-inch-long wooden dowels, designed to fit snugly into the board by carefully chiseling them down to a size just slightly smaller than the hole width. We tested this configuration with four pieces to support a pipe, but it lacked the necessary lateral stability to keep the pipe securely in place. Subsequently, we explored the addition of smaller vertical pieces at the ends of the dowels to enhance support, yet this approach occasionally resulted in unwanted rotation. Another avenue we explored was metal pegs, commonly used in commercial stores for hanging products on shelves. However, the sizes we tested proved either too small or significantly larger than the pipe’s width. Currently, our quest is focused on sourcing pegs with dimensions that are just right for our unique needs.
I split the students into two groups, each focused on distinct aspects of our marble run project. While one group diligently constructed various components, the other group embarked on testing different assembly methods. For the time being, we opted for the simplicity of tape to connect the different mechanisms to the stand, facilitating swift experimentation. As I observed their progress, it became evident that employing standardized pieces streamlined the construction process, enabling them to build intricate runs with remarkable speed. This dynamic exploration also led to insights into how the ball’s velocity could vary at different stages of the run. Moreover, they quickly discovered ways to maximize their available resources by introducing breaks in the path, relying on the ball’s own momentum to bridge these gaps. The children’s enthusiasm soared as they contemplated the prospect of two distinct entry points for the ball, igniting a spirited race to determine which route would allow the ball to reach the end first.
In a recent meeting with the Voice of Waste team, I introduced the concept of a plastic crocheting workshop, and I was delighted to find that they were receptive to the idea. They appreciated how this skill could empower participants to craft a diverse range of products while demanding minimal equipment. As a result, they have tasked me with creating a comprehensive workshop manual that provides a step-by-step guide to the crocheting process. In designing this manual, I’ve been exploring ways to convey the intricacies of crocheting through visual graphics, aiming to minimize reliance on textual instructions since several of the women involved may not be proficient in either Hindi or English.