Ah Leon: The Bridge
February 7- April 18, 2004
Ah Leon's Bridge is a sixty-five foot long, ramshackle stoneware and porcelain footbridge made to look like wood. Made by ceramist Ah Leon, each piece composing this monumental sculpture is masterfully scored, shaped, and carved, creating the illusion of wooden planks and beams, complete with knotty boards, rusty nails, and the indelible markings of years of traffic and use. The middle section of the bridge has intentionally collapsed in a large, jagged, caved-in breach. Debris from the bridge - broken pieces of wood, stray nails, and the like - is scattered underneath the footboards.
Trained as a painter at the National Academy of Fine Art in Taipei, Ah Leon lives and works in Taiwan. As a student, he focused on surrealism, but when he graduated from school he needed a more steady income than that of a painter. He started to make functional clay forms and vessels for sale, especially teapots. In his early teapots, Ah Leon began to use trompe l'oeil (fool-the-eye) techniques on ceramic forms and in this vein first simulated wood surfaces in clay.
To create Bridge, Ah Leon has used these trompe l'oeil techniques with a photographic, hyperrealist attention to detail. However, for Ah Leon, these techniques are not sterile or impersonal, but instead draw upon the artist's past and his childhood experiences in the rice farms of rural Taiwan. Taking on the surreal qualities of memories and dreams, the sculpture demonstrates Ah Leon's early interest in surrealism, a theme that has continued throughout his work.
Ah Leon spent nearly four years working on Bridge, meticulously testing clay and fashioning the work into small segments that would fit into his kiln. The ceramic planks, boards, and beams come together in a careful, precise layout that is disguised by the illusionistic effects of random decay and general disrepair. Although sections of the footbridge have fallen into disrepair, Bridge stands as a metaphor for transformation on many levels. In its decayed state, the footbridge represents change, the passage of time, and the slow, inevitable process of aging. As viewers walk the length of the bridge, they observe the almost alchemical transformation of clay into wood and are themselves transported across space and time to a quiet, rural landscape in which Ah Leon's Bridge might actually reside.