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Xue Geng's Stop-Motion Film "Mr. Sea"

The Beijing artist's porcelain characters come to life in an interpretation of a classic Qing Dynasty supernatural tale

by Alessandro De Toni in Culture on 11 June 2014

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From the masters of Jingdezhen to contemporary artists, porcelain is intrinsic to China's history. It can be the sublime expression of beauty that gets condensed in a daily life object, but it can also tell a whole story: strength, toughness, purity and resonance are all features of the material which can serve as elements of a symbolic language. It's for these reasons that Xue Geng, a Beijing-based sculptor and mixed media artist, works with the material.

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A former student of the renowned master Xu Bing, president of the highly selective Central Academy of Fine Arts, Xue Geng tells CH about her affinity for porcelain; "My preference traces back to my passion for Chinese traditional art and porcelain carries a long history. I was playing with modeling clay since I was a kid, and the first time I tried to craft some pottery was at school. I was fascinated by the richness of transformations this material can undergo."

Xue Geng’s last creation is an animation video called "Mr Sea" (Hai Gongzi in Chinese), showcased during the last month at CAFA Museum and Zero Art Center in Beijing. The film is a breathtaking stop-motion film, a dreamy story in a world of porcelain entirely created by Xue Geng: "I wanted to try a new language and combine it with my love for porcelain, so Mr Sea can be considered my first experience with video. I did everything on my own and I had friends from the industry teaching me how to deal with a camera and lights."

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The short film is based on a story from Liaozhaizhiyi (Strange Tales of Liaozhai or Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio), a classic from Qing dynasty that was written by Pu Songlin. The book is a collection of supernatural tales which is widely known in China, but the story Xue Geng unfolds in her short is called "Killing the Serpent" (translated to "The Mystery Island") and tells the tale of a young explorer who reaches the shores of an eerie island, to fall in a spiral of passion and death—somewhat akin to the Western myth of Ulysses and the Sirens.

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The story is short but full of emotion—its fable-like structure is understandable for people of Western and Eastern cultures. Xue Geng says, "I chose this tale because I wanted to rely on a story that was well-known instead of writing my own script—everybody knows Liaozhaizhiyi in China, so it can be easier to understand for the local audience—and Mr. Sea has an ideal mix of beauty, eroticism and violence which I found ideal for my movie."

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The final result is truly impressive: Xue Geng’s porcelain pieces come alive, the shadows and light deliver a thrilling atmosphere, and an entire world of magic and darkness becomes incredibly vivid. From the smoothness of the jade-like surfaces, the moisture of the dense forest, the echoes of love and pain that resound in the porcelain bodies—though fantasy, everything seems very, very real.

Trailer images courtesy of the artist, all other photos by Alessandro De Toni

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