Essay

The Single Object At Home Edition: Ginger Jars

This object is breaking The Single Object rules a little. Part of its fascination for me lies in the multiple rather than the singular. In the early 1980s I lived with my parents in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and my mother collected these Chinese ceramic jars. At the time, shopping in local markets was one of the few forms of entertainment available. 1980s Indonesia – like 1980s anywhere – was pre-internet.

When I later studied textile design, I answered the question of why with a familiar explanation: my mother introduced me to textiles. I travelled with her to Indonesian markets where she collected cloth and those experiences must have made an early imprint on my sensibilities. Only recently did I notice a flaw in this logic. She collected these green jars too – more than forty of them on similar market trips. Why didn’t I become as interested in ceramics?

Today they are in my home and fascinate me as a collection. Why do some individuals have the compulsion to collect, but others do not? With the exception of one addition from an Amsterdam second hand shop, they have been collected; rather than are a growing collection. And like so many collections – the more you look, the more individual they reveal themselves to be. Often too ubiquitous to deserve a place in museum collections, they are described as ginger jars but so too are far more delicate round blue and white Chinese vessels. They have proven stubbornly difficult to research. That too may now be part of their attraction for me.

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Jessica Hemmings writes about textiles. She studied Textile Design at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating with a BFA (Honors) in 1999 and Comparative Literature (Africa/Asia) at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, earning an MA (Distinction) in 2000. Her PhD, awarded by the University of Edinburgh in 2006, is published by kalliope paperbacks under the title Yvonne Vera: The Voice of Cloth (2008). She has taught at Central Saint Martins, Rhode Island School of Design, Winchester School of Art and Edinburgh College of Art. 

In 2010 she edited a collection of essays titled In the Loop: Knitting Now published by Black Dog and in 2012 edited The Textile Reader (Berg) and wrote Warp & Weft  (Bloomsbury). Her editorial and curatorial project, Cultural Threads, is a book about postcolonial thinking and contemporary textile practice (Bloomsbury: 2015) accompanied by a travelling exhibition Migrations (2015-2017). Jessica is a member of the Editorial Board of Textile: the journal of cloth & culture (Taylor & Francis) and Craft Research (Intellect). From 2012-2016 Jessica was Professor of Visual Culture and Head of the School of Visual Culture at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin. She is currently Professor of Craft & Vice-Prefekt of Research at HDK-Valand, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Ginger jar. Image: Jessica Hemmings

Ginger jar. Image: Jessica Hemmings