I’m endlessly fascinated by sculptures that utilize trompe l’oeil, which is why I love this line of 9 chairs by Sam Durant and handmade by talented people at the Jiao Zhi studio in Xiamen, China. Durant adopts those widely used and familiar “mono-block resin chairs” and remakes them out of porcelain. The artist explains that no single company holds patents or copyrights on the the methods, techniques, or design of these chairs which are easily mass produced. These factors explain the chairs ubiquity as “probably the cheapest and most universal piece of furniture, found in nearly every country in the world.” With his chairs, the artist is conveying a multitude of criticisms and comments, which I think is worth reading in full:
In producing a ceramic copy of the resin chair several “transformations” take place, allowing the viewer to make comparisons between the functional original and the “copy” (artwork). These comparisons might extend to the economic, political and aesthetic systems in which both the mono-block resin chair and the artwork on which it is based are embedded. Utterly functional in terms of its cost-benefit ratio, western standards of taste obviously assign very little aesthetic value to the resin chair. By hand crafting it in porcelain and rendering it as a unique art work the original functionality and following low aesthetic value of the resin chair are brought into comparison with the value added status of the artwork. I titled each of the chairs with its color and the names of all the workers involved in their construction to ensure that this information will never disappear as they circulate in the art world. Foregrounding the fact that the chairs were made by Chinese fabricators introduces more comparisons for the viewer. Globalization and the liberalization of China’s economic system have enabled the spread of mass-produced goods throughout the “West”. The label “made in China” has become synonymous with cheap and low quality. Apparently standing in contradiction to this stereotype, the hand made porcelain chairs status as objects of aesthetic value rest on the fact that they are Chinese goods, conceptually and physically. Viewers with even a modest grasp of history know that China has been producing masterpieces of ceramic art for centuries, far longer than any comparable tradition in the “west”. This contrast between China’s “cheap goods” and its unmatched ceramic art might open another line of questioning. There is also the issue of authorship, of how my position as a recognized North American artist creates value for any work attributed to me, and especially in this case of “outsourced” fabrication. Because I contracted with Chinese producers have I engaged in the same type of exploitation that global corporations do? Through these questions and comparisons the work’s relationship to modernism and design, to globalization and trade, to cultural history and to systems of aesthetic value and cultural capital will hopefully come into focus.