How the Dragon Chest came to Life (1)

June 7, 2008

Have you ever been so fascinated by something that it keeps circling in your head and occupies all your thoughts? So it happened with the idea of carving a Chinese dragon chest.

I am fascinated by this symbol and the apparent paradoxon: in our culture the dragon is something menacing, it stands for danger, it is always ready to burn and eat you but in Asian myths it is always a symbol for luck, protection and wisdom. Dragons can be found everywhere.

Well I wanted to bring luck and wisdom 😛 into my home and wanted them to stay there. So I decided to carve a dragon chest.

I had enough inspiration from my Asia travels. I was so overwhelmed by the awesome ornaments and wealth of forms that I longed for finding a valve for that in my own work. So I decided to carve this chest.

A chest has always an aspect of hiding and revealing something at the same time. Somehow it makes you want to open it in order to look what’s inside. True? Especially when it’s locked. The more it’s hiding its content the greater the curiosity becomes. Who would not want to find the key and open it – just to get to know which secrets it concealed. But maybe this is only an artist’s way to see things…

Even if you cannot follow this interpretation – the chest should be an eye catcher for a room and thus be a special and unique decoration piece. No more and no less.

And here it comes:

achinchest1

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Travels to southeast Asia have become quite affordable for people – 20 years ago this was a privilege for very wealthy people only. So the interest for foreign and exotic forms has increased dramatically and tourists do not only want to bring their memories back home but also souvenirs. There is nothing wrong with this but the negative effect is that the markets are flooded with cheap imports and also in the original countries touristic souvenirs lack quality in every respect, material and craftsmanship have become low value.

pic 2

And there is another problem. Often illegally cut tropic wood is used for these kind of touristic carving (if it is wood at all) and people will face a bad experience after some months when they are home again: in areas where you have a completely different climate, cold in winter, hot in summer you will realize that your wooden sculptures etc. will have huge cracks. This results from wood that has neither been stored long enough nor treated professionally in order to cope with a changing climate.

Carved objects for tourists are often hand made but never originals or unique pieces. This applies even for exquisitely made pieces you could have found more than 10-15 years ago. Mostly these artifacts derive from dynasties of craftsmen, who create these objects since many decades and their forms are standardized. They are traditional, follow the form of traditional requirements as they were originally meant for the adornment of temples and other holy places, in public places as well as in private homes. They are never newly designed and unique originals of an artist. Still they have been of high quality before the mass markets came into being.

pic 3

The tradition always requested that the artists and craftsmen did not change the standard versions of all those gods and goddesses which means that the figures we are so fascinated about even had to have the same expressions on their faces. Remember – the original request was to serve as ornament or object of worship in temples not as a souvenir for tourists. The increase of tourism in these countries only was a welcome addition to the family support.

The upcoming mass markets and the export of these products yet destroys the quality of the now offered objects. In the meanwhile you can order these pieces even through the Internet. A consequence is that middlemen make the big money – not the artisans. Although the items are mostly still hand made (because there are enough people to make them and this is cheaper than to buy expensive machines) they have become ugly and cheap mass ware.

It is sad to observe that in regions where tourism has turned into some mass tourism as in Thailand even the souvenirs are of low quality and merely cheap kitsch now.

Stay tuned – the story continues…

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