- Posted January 18, 2013 by
Awakening the Dragon Kiln from 50 years of slumber
In the last days of the Chinese Year of the Dragon, a community art project is fully firing up one of only two remaining Dragon Kilns in Singapore. This will be the first time the Guan Huat Dragon Kiln has been "awakened" in 50 years or so. Its awakening is to complete Phase 2 of a community art project to draw attention to a facet of this history and heritage of Singapore that younger generations may not be aware of. From September 2012, the community project "Awaken the Dragon" conducted pottery classes for members of the Singaporean community from all walks of life to enable participants to each make a small pottery item totalling 3,000 pieces (Phase 1). These are being fired in the Guan Huat Dragon Kiln over this weekend. These pieces will then be put together to form a sculpture (Phase 3). The ceremony to "awaken" the dragon took place on 17 January with the starting of the fire that will eventually heat up the kiln to around 1,250 degrees celsius. The fire will be attended to and "fed" for 72 hours around the clock and masterclasses, pottery demonstrations and music performances will take place throughout the weekend (17-21 January) while the kiln is firing the pottery pieces. During its ceramic production heyday, it was estimated that Singapore had over 30 Dragon Kilns producing crockery for everyday use, even the containers used to collect latex at rubber plantations. In those days the Dragon Kilns were fired up around every two weeks. The declining demand for locally produced crockery in the 1960s led to the decline in use of the Dragon Kilns of Singapore. Today, the existence of the last two Dragon Kilns is not assured due to rapid development of the surrounding areas they are located in. The Dragon Kiln design originated in China and this mode of firing pottery dates back more than 2,000 years. The technology and design was brought to Singapore by Chinese artisans in the early 20th Century. The Guan Huat Kiln is 42m long, 2.2m high and 2.5m wide. It is located at Jalan Bahar Clay Studios which is used by prominent artists such as Singapore's Master Potter Iskandar Jalil and Jason Lim. I was told by one of the participants at the "awakening" of the Dragon, that Dragon Kilns still exist in China, some of which are 1,000 years old, in excellent condition and still regularly used. As an amateur potter who has only seen utilitarian box-like modern kilns no bigger than a very small store room, I was surprised at how long the Guan Huat Dragon Kiln is. It has a rustic, ancient, other worldly air about it, reclining upon the earth like a benign but powerful creature. It was a magical and unique experience to have the opportunity to see the Dragon Kiln in full operation, a piece of history literally coming alive, and to be a part of the community coming together to celebrate its special place in Singapore's cultural heritage.