“Meet me in my home on the hill”, is what Qiyi didn’t say, but what was clear since the beginning: he makes things that need to be touched, with both hands and lips, and his introverted personality demands the same proximity to be undisclosed. Then, what else: we packed and we made the travel.
We found the first traces of Qiyi a couple of years ago, when he and his wife published a photo-book regarding a one year no stop travel they did around China, sleeping, eating and making the laundry in their car, with one, clear aim: visiting all the artisans they could, to stay with them looking, learning, crossing hands with them.
Hands, this is by far Qiyi’s most explanatory keyword. It is true in his practical life, since he has built by himself even his home – with his own hands -, he grows his own rice, tea, and all the food he can.
On a more intimate meaning, his hand-work is the expression of his own self: he doesn’t use text nor decorations, but he communicates with the choice of the raw materials, his own clays, shaping them by hand and colouring them varying the baking techniques.
He works in his laboratory every day, but both in his sculptures and his works as a ceramists is impossible to find any sign of repetition: he never reproduces the same series of pieces, he changes the way he works season by season instead. He is an anti-standard, he doesn’t live to achieve the perfection of a single piece, rather to produce, with his pieces, a closer and closer concrete evidence of his intimate self.
He has chosen to live in the countryside in the East of the city of Jingdezhen, the most ancient pottery district in China, where for 1700 years the best pottery artisans have been working in the same studios, using the same raw materials and improving the same techniques. The Jingdezhen subsoil is extremely rich of old pottery: the ceramists have always been used to bury the defective pieces, and the actual artisans continue to do the same, leaving an heritage for the centuries to come.
Qiyi has built his home several dozen of kilometres away from the city centre. It is placed on the verge between a a flat clearing cultivated with rice and a typical Southern forest.The house varies between bricks and wood: the first includes his pottery laboratory and ovens, while all the living spaces are made with self carved wood.
We stay in a veranda suspended like a tiny bridge between the farmland and the forest, drinking the tea he made by himself, in his personal pottery tea-ware. It takes hours, actually days, to get in his personal, introverted world; it is soon clear how much that isolated environment, that life made of artefacts, suits his personality, and his life looks, simply, pure.
Both me and Vivian wandered among his works and we have found ourselves with the hands full of clays and stonewares, each of us with his or her own pieces.
On the spot we didn’t notice how emotional were our choices, and how different the things we chose for ourselves; and still, how complementary we have been.
Once we got home from our long travel and we start using them, we felt all the intense power, that rare, but so human, mix of natural raw materials and the emotional, personal touch of a great artisan.
Daily-use art, thousands of year old culture, still available now. It requires a long trip, a climb on the hill, hours in the heat, but it rewards with objects made to last forever.