ART SEEN - Gallivanting Teapots (Ariana)
Artist Uli Van Neyghem has delving into the world of tea...
'Gallivanting teapots' or the birth and evolution of an art of living
The title of this exhibition made me think of Mrs. Potts of Beauty and the Beast and the tea party in Alice in Wonderland.
Tea and the pots it is served in have made their way into so many parts of our life: even into films and books, not only children's but also the historic ones, as for example in the case of the Boston Tea Party.
'Having a cuppa' can be refreshing or comforting, a century old ritual or a tradition, it has certainly become an art of living.
At Geneva's Ceramics and Glass Museum Ariana, teapots are presently taking centre stage in the beautiful first floor gallery under the cupola of the building's Grand Hall.
Making the tour, we are taken on a journey from the origins of the ancient shrub in China and the legends that surround its discovery, to its arrival in Japan thanks to Buddhist monks (who discovered that tea helped them to stay awake during hour long meditation) and finally Europe in the luggage of travellers, sailors and missionaries coming home from their endeavours.
You are bound to learn something you haven't yet known about the beverage. For example, tea was originally pressed into small tea 'bricks' or 'cakes' which soon became a sort of bartering currency, existing in a range of values and shapes, sometimes decorated with carved inscriptions and motifs. To prepare the tea, the bricks were first roasted to eliminate insects, then ground and boiled with salt and 'enhanced' with ingredients that might take a bit of getting used to for European taste buds, like onions or yak butter. This way of drinking tea is still practised in Tibet and Mongolia for example.
But let's not forget about the 'star' of the exhibition: the teapot, which first appeared in China in the early 16th century, pretty much in the same ingenious traditional form it is composed of until today: a body with a lid, a handle and a spout. 'Only' the materials they are made of, the decoration, size and individual design of these simple elements have varied.
You will be surprised by how much creativity has gone into the variations of this basic theme in the course of centuries and depending on geographic origins. The body, for example can be round, square, rectangular, cylindrical or shaped like a pyramid, pear and even a lotus flower. The spout, for its part, can be straight, curved, S-shaped or inspired by plants or animals. You get the picture.
The exhibition's information leaflets (available in French, German and English) illustrate the wealth of varieties creatively, sporting 'collaged tea pot creations'.
The Ariana collection includes purple clay teapots from the Chinese province of Yixing, blue and white Chinese porcelain teapots from the Middle Kingdom, ancient examples of the teapots used in Japanese tea ceremonies or specimen from the legendary European manufacturers such as Dutch Delftware or German Meissen and English Wedgewood porcelain.
Ariana's teapots are still 'showing off' until 13 September 2020 and the entry is free.