Tuesday, 14 December 2010


Yan Yan casually suggests that I make some "stampos" for the poster poems.

“How?” I ask with a smallscale panic already building. These are the red identifying stamps that authenticate traditional Chinese artworks. They are complex little monograms, with many layers of meaning. Usually they are a reworking of the artist’s name in zhuan seal writing, or another archaic script, bonded together into a circular or rectangular design. They are dense, beautiful handcarved stamps (rather like our old fashioned seals) and require enormous skill to produce.

I've already introduced the idea into the poems - handstencilling red circles into the compositions and using them to add extra lines.

“Yao Bo will help, of course,” he shrugs as if to say: why don’t you think of these things Davenport? So Yao Bo is consulted and she agrees to oversee my attempts to model stamps in clay. I’m turning into a technician, but one without training or indeed much idea of what’s going on.
“OK,” I say, reluctantly.
“You will learn much about the Chinese way,” concludes Yan Yan, pleased at my impending betterment.

Yao Bo’s studio/apartment is next to Yan Yan’s in 501. She’s a petite woman, but suffused with energy, making ceramics, painting, writing – and she loves dancing. She swirls in and out of her connections with people in a pair of bright yellow boots. Her daily companion from upstairs is lonesome for her boyfriend and so she has breakfast with Yao Bo – lotus root and cigarettes – and hangs out.

The pair of them patiently shepherd me through the process of making a clay mould. Yao Bo shows me her own stamp and collapses with mirth when she hears that I’m trying to make one like it. We decide that I can try for something more like an official rubber stamp; that way I might be spared humiliation.

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