Artist Series: Zi-Han of A⊆Z
Zi-Han is a potter based in Lukang, a small town full of history in Taiwan. She believes creativity happens in the process of making. Through rigorous working routines, Zi-Han expresses her artistic spirit through pottery and wishes to exchange the experience with people who share the same passion.
We met Lukang-based potter Zi-Han of A⊆Z through John, a mutual friend who runs an art gallery/exhibition space called 萊兒費可唱片 LIAR FAKE MUSIC RECORDS & TAPES @liarfakerecords in Lukang, Taiwan. When we first saw Zi-Han’s work, we immediately fell in love with the design and the elegant details of her work. We sat down with Zi-Han to talk about her pottery experience and the creative process behind her work.
Would you please tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you start to do pottery?
When I was in college, I majored in the Department of Visual Design. Even though the name was Visual Design, it was actually more of a traditional fine art program. I studied pottery, oil painting, printmaking, watercoloring, etc. in college. Through the creative process of using different media, I found that I prefer to create three-dimensional work, so I started to focus more on pottery. Based on one of my professors’ recommendations, I decided to go to graduate school and continue my study in pottery art at Tainan National University of the Arts in Taiwan. When I was in graduate school, my relationship with my professor was more like a master-apprentice system. The professor treated the students as artists, and focused more on shaping and guiding me to develop my creative thoughts and process. There were also some classes involved more on the functional sides of pottery, such as how to pour plaster, trimming, and wheel-throwing, etc. When I was in graduate school, I didn’t do a lot of tableware. After graduation, I started to do more tableware.
How did you come up with the name A⊆Z?
The symbol "⊆" means "is a subset of". It’s a combination of Arts and the initial of my name Zi-Han. A⊆Z is my tableware collection, where I focus on the balance between elegance and practicality in tableware.
Lukang is a beautiful town of Taiwan. As far as we know, you are not a native of Lukang. Was there any reason why you decided to live in Lukang to do pottery?
After finishing my master’s degree, I worked in an art gallery in Tainan for a while, but I still wanted to continue to do pottery, which I had been doing for six years at that time. One of my college classmates is from Lukang, and she had a pottery studio in Lukang. That’s why I moved there, and the two of us shared a studio together in the middle of a farm. Because the number of tableware orders I received was relatively stable, I started to make more of them (Zi-Han *laughs). I like to make tableware, and I also feel that when I see the customers like the tableware I make and enjoy using them, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. It has been two or three years since I moved to Lukang. The living atmosphere in Lukang is kind of similar to that of Tainan. The people here are down-to-earth and very lovely compared to northern parts of Taiwan. Lukang also has many beautiful old buildings, small alleys, and temples with interesting stone carvings. The pace of life here is not so fast. I like to take a walk in the alleys.
Note: Lukang is one of the three important birthplaces of Taiwan's historical and traditional culture. It’s been over 300 years since the establishment of Lukang’s commercial port. Lukang's streets are the epitome of the development and evolution of Taiwan's cities and towns. Lukang is a collection of achievements in crafts, opera, architecture, literature, art and other fields. It is a treasure of Taiwan's history and culture.
What is your usual creative process?
At the beginning, I would start thinking with a basic shape, such as a round plate, making many plates with different depths, and after I do more, I would start to have a proportion that I particularly like. I would also look at the works of many different potters and observe the popular trends at the moment. For example, in the past few years, high-footed pieces have become very popular in Taiwan and Japan. I will sketch different shapes, usually dozens or even hundreds. Then choose the one I like the most, and then start to make the prototype. Usually, the finished products that the customers see are the result of several revisions.
Will you focus on functional pieces like tableware in the future, or will you explore other forms of pottery?
I hope to shorten the time for making tableware this year. Ideally, I hope that I spend only one week of the month making tableware, and the other three weeks can be used for experiments and some other creations that I want to do. But in reality, it can be a bit difficult as I can’t control when the orders come in (laughs).
Which of the items you did for us this time was the most time-consuming or difficult to make?
I would say it’s the white blossom footed bowl. The production process of this piece was more complicated. I needed to take some time to trim the foot. The edge of the bowl dried quickly while I trimmed the foot, so I needed to hurry up before the clay was completely dry. After the foot was done, I turned it over and cut the edge of the bowl into the shape I wanted, and then hand-squeezed the decorations on the edge of the bowl little by little.
The bird-shaped sauce pitcher was also difficult to make. I made the piece into the shape of an urn first, cut the spout by hand, and finally attached the handle. The shape of the urn was very important as it would determine if the part of the spout could be consistent when it was cut.
We love your glaze. Can you tell me a little bit about how you develop your glazes?
When I was in school, the professor taught us some basic principles of developing glazes, and also introduced me to some glaze recipe books, and I would try different recipes and make adjustments based on those. Each type of glaze and the clay used may not go together. It takes a long time to develop a stable glaze that I like. I also ask my fellow potters for opinions.
Do you have any plans in 2022?
In 2019, I applied for a pottery residency in Shigaraki, Japan, but it was postponed to June this year due to the pandemic, but I am not sure if it will still happen. I am also doing a group show that will take place in the summer this year.
Do you usually use the local clay from Taiwan?
The quality of clay in Taiwan hasn't been very consistent, so I usually use the clay that is imported from Japan or the United States, or a mixture of clay from Taiwan and the United States.
Do you have a favorite shape to make?
I like to make chubby spherical objects, urn-like shapes.
The most unforgettable experience of making pottery?
I had the opportunity to go to the Arctic Ceramic Center in Finland for a residency. That was the first time I tried to wood fire a kiln at below freezing-point temperatures.
*Lukang photo credit: Wikipedia / 林高志
*Product photo credit: Zi-Han of A⊆Z