At the beginning, when I’ve picked up the topic of “How is to be a contemporary jeweller in/from China” for my final year research I thought that I’ll have an overdose of contemporary jewellery. I thought that galleries, schools, and artists were probably a lot hidden in the middle empire! I thought that a huge country like China would obviously got a lot of people working into the field of “contemporary jewellery”. Well, actually not really!
China is the most populated country in the world, but quite far behind western countries (however much smaller) when is time to talk about contemporary art in a wide way. When I say contemporary art, I’m talking about reflective thinking, philosophic and artistic approach. There is a difference between mastering skills and making things by questioning the world arround us and ourself in order to create something with a meaning, a message behind.
During a conversation with my friend Patricia, from Hong Kong, she told me that: “Chinese people are reserved. It’s difficult for them to think in a conceptual way and to have a critical thinking. Contemporary art is not something really appreciate, you have to follow many rules and to stay in a right way. (eg: Ai Weiwei) . Nowadays, philosophy thinking is not something usual in art, Chinese likes pretty things with values, financial and social values! Chinese are hard workers, they appreciate skills based work but most of them don’t understand what an artistic and philosophic approach is. Now things are changing a bit, people want to open their mind”.
So, I’m not saying there is nothing, but in proportion of the population and the size of the country, contemporary art is something not widespread. During my research, I found out that new jewellers from China spent few years abroad to learn not at the first place skills, but learn to think! Creative and reflective thinking. Contemporary jewellery department in Chinese art schools are new ; and because being chinese involved that you’ve got a really strong history and cultural identity (even if teachers nowadays are trying to push new students to think by their own), it’s still difficult to going away from all the traditions. Also because some schools abroad China are well knowing internationally, Chinese jeweller students want to move away from the past to face new cultures and new ideas! Which I think, is good, even if students are not many staying in Chinese art schools (probably one of the reason why contemporary jewellery is starting slowly). Most of the time, once the students are abroad, they stay in the new country. That is because during your studies you start making contacts, connections, links with the people arround you. Your new country is now your working and social network! (And this is for all the foreign students, not only Chinese). So, it’s mush easier to start your own business in the country where you’ve been developing “a name”, knows as a contemporary jeweller. I think the number of jewellers working in China will not only pair with the number of schools and their reputation but also the international reputation of foreign schools (such as Birmingham). Also because Chinese have been stuck with the same art traditions since centuries and centuries, new artists want to go ahead in order to create new things. I think mixing culture, traveling, is always a good way to bring new ideas into your mind.
About galleries; well, the few I found (hardly found with a lot of help I should say) are not properly in China! The first in China (not Hong Kong or Taiwan) has open 4 month ago and runs by a Swedish woman! To be honest, I was surprised, a bit disappointed and glad by that. I thought galleries will be many and that will be helpful for me to find new artists on their website. And I also thought it will be an interesting way for myself to make contact and connection for my future. This is for the disappointing point. At the opposite, I was glad to see a western person running a gallery specialised in contemporary jewellery in China. Which means there is a big potential for European people to share and build something over there! This fact show us actually, how contemporary jewellery is new! Except Ubi Gallery in Beijing and Twocities in Shanghai, the two others, Hammer gallery, and Ame gallery (I’ll post an article later about Ame Gallery) are in Hong Kong!
I’ve also been confronted with the difference between China, Republic of China and People’s Republic of China. I’ve been asking arround me a simple basic explanation, and , it seems to be hard to obtain. Chinese from China told me that Taiwan is Chinese. Taiwanese told me they are not Chinese, and Hong Konger told me that it’s an intricate topic, not easy to understand especially for a foreigner who have no clue about asian politics like me! So, to be sure I’m not offending anybody, I’m talking about People’s Republic of China, not only China. Which means I’m including Hong Kong and Taiwan. Both of the two islands are nowadays connected strongly with China (without talking about politics), but many differences remain between them.
One difference is the internet. Nowadays in China you still can’t access to social networks. And nowadays, facebook and twitter are really useful to share instantly everything. Many jewellers and galleries create a facebook and a twitter account to stay connected with their “fans”, followers, customers, and people from the same field as well. The lack of such sharing platforms are also responsible of the slowness of the contemporary jewellery development. In a wide country like China, social networks would be a good way to share faster and to promote new designers! It’s a reason why Hong Kong and Taiwan are different from China. Internet in the two islands is not censored. Western people can access to website over there and Hong Konger and Taiwanese can also see through internet what happening on the other side of the globe. I think, today, being on the web is one of the key to stay in people’s mind and also to stay aware of everything. Especially in the art/fashion field.
Another difference: Honk Kong used to be English during a long time. And Taiwan used to be Japanese. The fact that they were owned by different countries give to the citizen a different way to think. Mainly for Hong Kong. Often described as the “East meets West”, Hong Kong has been influenced a lot by the british culture, and Hong Konger are now very tempted by Western luxury goods. Many luxury brands such Cartier, Vuitton, Dior, etc, found a way to attract new customers in Asia! Because Hong Kong used to belong to the United Kingdom and got that “double culture”, it’s easier now to make relations and contacts over there, than anywhere else in China!