Ink, Tea and Coal

Related gallery: materiality – ink, tea, coal

Clay is shaped to serve as a vessel;
Given the empty space, one has the use of the vessel.
– Chapter 11 (excerpt), Dao De Jing

A longtime student of Dao De Jing and Taijiquan, it follows that Dawn Csutoros would be drawn to make art in China. While she arrived at Beijing’s Pickled Art Centre prepared to continue her current body of work, Dawn also came with the spirit of emptiness necessary to the facilitation of discovery.

This is evident in the result of her time here.  After only five weeks in the country that invented both paper and ink, Dawn has allowed herself to experiment with these materials, ultimately producing new works which aspire to the simplicity of the materials themselves.

The softest things under heaven permeate the hardest things under heaven.
That which has no form can enter where there is no space.
– Chapter 43 (excerpt), Dao De Jing

The pieces in this exhibition represent a departure from Dawn’s signature presentation of vibrant hues glowing in abstract linear or geometric arrangements.  Lengths of rice paper, infused with tea and thickly layered with ink, achieve the same successful study of form and space – or the lack thereof – as her earlier works.  This is true regardless of which side Dawn chooses to display.  The surface to which she has applied the ink presents us with a duality: the depth of the pigment’s richness, and the stark sophistication of her aesthetic.  Reversed, the paper’s fibres interact with the echo of the ink to create a soft medley of playful marks.  The overall interplay between light and dark present in the compositions is reminiscent of the visual effect of the taiji tu itself.

Also notable are each sheet’s edges, which become marks themselves as they organically border the surrounding negative space. Additionally, Dawn’s choice to allow for their visibility in exhibiting the works acknowledges the presence of another artist – the papermaker – and the collaboration in which she has engaged.

A terrace of nine levels is begun by piling up earth;
A journey of a thousand li is begun by putting down one’s foot.
– Chapter 64 (excerpt), Dao De Jing

Each piece in this emerging body of work offers the viewer an elegant opportunity for quiet contemplation.  As the grateful beneficiaries of her future explorations, we can only hope that Dawn continues to walk along the path she found here.
Kris Caldwell  2007

Freelance Writer
Beijing  China

Dao De Jing excerpted from The Gate of All Marvelous Things: A Guide to Reading the Tao Te Ching by Gregory C. Richter, Red Mansions Publishing, 1998.