These Beautiful Vases Are Glazed To Match Beijing’s Polluted Skies

Ancient Ru porcelain is cherished for its perfect sky-blue color. But what happens when the skies aren’t blue anymore?

China’s Ru porcelain is amongst the most precious in the world. It features an iconic blue-green glaze, a color dictated by the Emperor Huizong in the Song Dynasty when he ordered for porcelain that was “the color of sky after rain.” Today, only around 70 Ru objects are left in the world, which is why, in 2012, Sotheby’s sold one piece for $26.7 million.


But what would Ru look like if Emperor Huizong made that same request today, when China’s air pollution is out of control? It’s a question posed by RCA masters student Yijin Huo in Sky-Blue, a series of 56 reproductions of one Ru vase, glazed according to 56 days of air pollution measurements.

“I used to live in Beijing for seven years. So I know clearly how serious the air pollution is, especially the problem of haze. When I woke up in Beijing, the first thing was looking at sky, and checking the PM2.5 data by iPhone,” says Huo. “Some of the sky colors are really strange and desperate. I always wanted to do a project about it, which is really relevant to my daily life.”

Huo crafted one vase on his own in the RCA ceramics studio, then he sent it to Jingdezhen, the capital of ceramics production in China, to be reproduced via a plaster mold. Meanwhile, he reached out to Zou Yi, a Beijing native who’d assembled three years of haze photographed through his window. Huo pulled colors from these skies and sent swatches to the factory to be glazed to match. The final project gives each vase a day, a measurement of particulate matter, and lists the weather that day, too.

“Generally, if the air was more polluted, the vases are more brown or darker grey. But I don’t think we can say they get more brown in-line with pollution, literally, because the color of sky is also impacted by weather,” says Huo. “For example, a rainy day can’t show us the sky-blue color, of course, but the [air quality] data might be fine. That is why I indicate the weather of each day, with dates and PM2.5 data together.”

The result is, on one hand, a data visualization based upon empirical observation, and on the other, a cutting cultural critique of China’s pollution problem. It’s also an almost tragically beautiful collection of vases–Emperor Huizong’s inspired edict seen through the modern era.

All Photos: Yijin Huo

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.