100 China(s): All Chinese Looks Alike… 一佰個飯碗:碗碗看起來都是同樣的… 
- Chee Wang Ng 吳子雲

It is better to ask some of the questions
       than to know all the answers
                                           - James Thurber

The Chinese invented porcelain and is synonymous with “china” since its ancient trade route days. In today’s global economy, a bowl made in Sri Lanka with New Zealand clay, funded by Japanese investments using English technology and German-made kilns for the US market is still called “china.” Can anyone be truly independent in this dynamic inter-woven world? Isn’t there a little “Chinese” in all of us?

    I have collected white ceramic/porcelain bowls for many years. I have purchased them from countless New York thrift shops to designer boutiques, across the US and even from cyber stores and auctions. They have been gifts from friends and family—from here and aboard—even getting them directly from manufacturers from around the world via the Internet. This ever-growing collection ranges from fine hand-crafted bowls from yesteryear to currently mass produced hotelware, some for less than 25¢ to others selling for over $60. They come from Australia, Brazil, Chile, Denmark. England, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, to the US. With more than 600 bowls from over 40 different countries. (1)

    Each of these bowls is a portrait; as unique as the generic make up of any individual. I have individually catalogued and documented for each by form and shape, shade of white, weight, size, markings, and country of origin. Beside their formal and statistical differences they all serve the same purpose.—How do you judge and value them? What is the history and provenance? Who should be eating from which bowl? Which one is to your liking? Are you evaluating its similarities or its differences? What are you actually looking for? Does it really matter?

    In analyzing aesthetics, can we rationalize beyond the perceptual surface to a deeper imperceptible depth? By further exploring beneath the substructure of this surface, does it shine or conceal its metaphysical essence? In addition to the mere displacement of stereo-type vernacular, this installation challenges the myopic deciphering of the modernist lexicon. Humanistically, it evokes a philosophical dialogue, offering multiple point of views—everyone sees and comprehends thing differently and possibly each time it offers a different prospective too. Collectively, it is not the sheer quantity nor the variety, but the concept and its significance. What logical intrinsic inherent integrity are we addressing?

    A bowl of rice is a symbolic identity: how you eat, what you eat along with it, how much you eat; ultimately establishing who and what you are. In Chinese tradition, life as in art is not complete unless one participates in it. Similarly, in Japanese, Yo no bi 用之美 (beauty through use) refers to the notion that an object comes alive only when used.

    In this installation there are one hundred table settings, a bowl of rice and pair of chopsticks personalized and identified by a dog tag. There are only 99 bowls the “one hundredth” being that of the viewer. Is there a missing void or a welcome to join in this union? How and what this vessel should be as the one hundredth bowl? Should it blend in or will it stand out? Do we need more bowls?

    In old China, parents of new born children made charms to ensured their child’s growth to adulthood. Going around the village seeking for donation of coins to make into a lock, called an One Hundred Family Lock 百家鎖 or contribution of colored threads to make into a tassel, an One Hundred Family Tassel. The child was thus under the guidance of the community, which was known as the One Hundred Surnames 百姓.

    In Taoism, one hundred is a natural cardinal number of completion that signifies transcendence. Counting to a triple digit requires a certain concentration. Viewing one hundred bowls slows you down—this calculated act leads you to a level of enlightenment—a sort of meditation and self-discovery. You and I may just be a humble individuals but together we constitute an integrated whole: the transcendent one hundredth bowl.

(1) This ever growing collection now has more than 3,000 all different all white bowls from as far back as China Song Dynasty 宋朝 (960 - 1279) to the present from nearly 50 different countries.

* Eaten Your Fill of Rice? - Chee Wang Ng. 
   ISBN: 0-9761698-0-0     Copyright © 2004