Carryman’s Handle, 2015–16. Porcelain, glaze, red thread, wood. Dimensions variable. photo: Susan Einstein
KEIKO FUKAZAWA: Homage to A.W.
For the past three years Keiko Fukazawa has had residencies in China, in the fabled "ceramics capital" of Jingdezhen. As an artist working in ceramics, she created artwork by transforming prefab forms and decorations to express what she felt about modern-day China, a complex and often contradictory country caught up in the fast-spinning gears of modernization. She was keenly aware of Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who had spent time in the city during the production of the components of his epic installation Sunflower Seeds (2010) for the Tate Modern, London. Ai put hundreds of people to work making and painting millions of porcelain sunflower seeds, which were eventually shipped abroad and covered the floor of the Turbine Hall of the London museum in 2010–11. Subsequently Ai ran into trouble with the Chinese authorities—he is ever outspoken about the government’s censorship and mismanagement—and starting in April 2011, he was incarcerated for eighty-one days. Even after his release the government kept his passport so that he could not travel. Still, he managed to create art by remote.
During the time Ai was prevented from traveling, he implemented a simple act of public protest. He set a bicycle in front of his Beijing studio, locked it to a tree, and put fresh flowers in the basket every day. This bicycle had a backstory: apparently it was a gift from a young German who had been detained for ten months by the Chinese authorities on dubious charges of smuggling. When the young man finally managed to leave, he told a German journalist that he wanted to give the bicycle to Ai Weiwei.
The artist quickly figured out what to do with it. "It's just like the kind of bicycle you would see anywhere in the world," Ai told an interviewer in 2013. "In China, the owner may have been taken by the government or whatever, so it’s very symbolic. So I decided to put flowers in it, and I will do it every day until I get my passport back." Why flowers? "I think flowers are the most common language. For one thing, they’re about life." (1)
At the center of Fukazawa's installation Homage to A.W. is a Giant bicycle, similar to the one Ai used, placed in a stagelike setting, surrounded by black curtains. Small white porcelain flowers made in Jingdezhen, set at intervals on red thread, hang like rain falling over the vehicle and are also wrapped around it. Scattered around the bicycle are the tattered remains of exploded red firecrackers—red being a color associated with China and firecrackers something often used in Chinese celebrations. Last summer Ai Weiwei got his passport back, so that is indeed something to celebrate.
Fukazawa has long admired the Chinese artist on several counts. "I admire his spirit, being so strong," she says. "It's quite tough being so outspoken, especially in China." Also, she says, he has helped elevate the status of ceramics as an art form. "He has worked with the ceramics medium, and he's worked at Jingdezhen." (2) For decades after the communist revolution of 1949, bicycles were a very popular form of transportation, and Fukazawa also sees the work as a tribute to the Chinese people.
1. Ai Weiwei, in Didi Kirsten Tatlow, "Q. & A.: Ai Weiwei on Creating Art in a Cage," Sinosphere: Dispatches from China (blog), New York Times, December 31, 2013.
2. Keiko Fukazawa, interview with the author, December 19, 2015.
Born 1955, Niigata, Japan
Lives and works in Los Angeles
MFA, Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design, Los Angeles, 1986
BFA, Musashino Art University, Tokyo, 1977
2016 Made in China: New Ceramic Works by Keiko Fukazawa, Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles
2016 Keiko Fukazawa / Culture Clash: A Mid-Career Retrospective, El Camino College Art Gallery, Torrance, CA
2016 Lineage: Mentorship & Learning, American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona, CA (group)
2015 Crossroads in Clay at Chouinard and Otis: The Ralph Bacerra Years, Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College, Monterey Park, CA (group)
2015 Petraphilia, Curators Lab Gallery, Fellows of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (group)
2014 White Gold: The Appeal of Lustre, Racine Art Museum, WI (group)
Cheng, Scarlet. "Keiko Fukazawa: The Art of Remaking." In Made in China: New Ceramic Works by Keiko Fukazawa. Los Angeles: Craft and Folk Art Museum, 2016.
Goldman, Edward. "Chairman Mao and His Hundred Porcelain Flowers." Art Talk, KCRW, January 26, 2016.
Knight, Christopher. "An Outsider Sends Message." Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2016.