Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Terracotta Warriors – feats of clay

As I mentioned, last week I was away briefly. We had another short holiday in Sydney, this time with some very specific aims. We had tickets to see Uncle Vanya at the Sydney Theatre Company. The major drawcard of this play was the star-studded cast, which included Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh. In Brisbane it is extremely rare to see a cast like this, so we decided it would be worth the trip.
Secondly, as soon as I heard that China’s Entombed Warriors were coming to Sydney, I was desperate to see them. Believe it or not, they actually did visit Brisbane (back in 1988 for Expo) but I somehow missed them. Of course, that was before I had studied ceramics so I would not have appreciated the technical achievement they represent, at least not in the same way that I can now.
Clay can be a wonderful, adaptable material, but constructing life-sized sculptures is no easy task. The exhibition is well constructed, introducing the viewer to the types of works the crafts people were making before they began work on the Terracotta Army. The potters made roof tiles and vessels, which were lovely but can hardly have prepared them for this project.
Parts of the warriors are solid (the feet, lower legs and hands) while the rest of the bodies were constructed using a combination of sections formed in moulds, slabs and coil-building. It was an honour to realize I have a small part of this heritage, representing all the potters who work using the same techniques, down through not only the centuries, but the millennia. While the solid feet and legs would have been necessary to provide the strength required to support the life-size statues, they would also have presented one of the most challenging technical aspects. Solid clay areas need to be handled very skilfully when it comes to firing.

Art Gallery of NSW advertising for the exhibition of the Terracotta Army

My only disappointment was the small number of warriors on show. There are only about 8 warriors plus two chariots with horses (these are half-size). This isn’t disappointing as a display, they are still very impressive. It’s just when I looked at photos of the 1000s of warriors that were found, it seemed a bit meagre. I can’t imagine how it would feel to be confronted by the army as excavated in China, but this photosynth by Robert Sprout is amazing.

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