Author Archives: Yiyi Wei

Recipe from Tian Gong Kai Wu, or The Exploitation of the Works of Nature

凡閩廣南方經冬老蔗,同車同前法,笮汁入缸。看水花為火色。其花煎至細嫩,如煮羹沸,以手撚試,粘手則信來矣。此時尚黃黑色,將桶盛貯,凝成黑沙。然後以瓦溜〈(教陶家燒造)〉置缸上。其溜上寬下尖,底有一小孔,將草塞住,傾桶中黑沙於內,待黑沙結定,然後去孔中塞草,用黃泥水淋下。其中黑滓入缸內,溜內盡成白霜。最上一層厚五寸許,潔白異常,名曰洋糖〈(西洋糖絕白美,故名)〉。下者稍黃褐。

https://www.wdl.org/en/item/3021/view/1/1/

This recipe is from a book called Tian Gong Kai Wu, or The Exploitation of the Works of Nature, written by Song Yingxing. This book, made with wood block print, written in 1637 during Ming dynasty, is an encyclopedia of recipes on agriculture and handicraft. It is also “one of the most important works on science and technology in the history of China.” The book “divided into three parts and including 121 illustrations, [it] describes the terms, configurations, and production stages for over 130 types of productive technology and tools.”

This specific recipe from The Exploitation of the Works of Nature is a recipe on how to purify sugar—changing sugar from brown to pure white. This process, although not really acknowledged by many western scholars, was invented in ancient China and passed on to India and then to western world. I did a very brief translation of the writing.

Let sugar cane from the south sit pass winter. Use the method shown in the drawing (the text in Chinese didn’t say shown in the drawing but I think the illustration demonstrate better then my translation)

to juice sugar cane into a vat. When heating the juice, you need to observe the way liquid splashes when boiling. When the splash presents as small or thin spheres, just like boiled porridge or thick soup, pick it with your hand. If it sticks on your hand, it is ready. Now it is still yellow to black. Store in a bucket and solidify to black sand. Then put in the funnel (see drawing) on top of another vat.

Stuff the hole at the bottom of the funnel with grass and put black sand into it. As black sand completely solidify, remove the grass from the hole and pour mud water (yellow mud water). Black residue flow into the vat underneath while inside the funnel will crystalize into frost. Top layer about 5 Tsun (Chinese inch) thick, extraordinarily white, called ‘pacific sugar’ (many believe that is referring to nowadays south pacific.) Underneath layer has light yellow-brown.

 

There are many discussions around this method of purifying sugar. Many scholars believe that China was one of the oldest countries to invent and perfect the technology of sugar purification, then passed into India, which explains why the name of white sugar in Hindi is the same word as China. The method then passed on to Europe through silk-road. It is vey interesting to think about the origin of the invention of this process, how the reading of this process transformed through time as it traveled in different cultures, when met with different needs, especially comparing to the politics around sugar in European and American society.

In terms of the process of trying out the recipe, there are several of barriers. First of all, the source of the sugar cane. It is very hard to find sugar cane that has not been preserved for a while in Providence, not to mention in the recipe it needs to be grown from the south and sit through one winter. Brown sugar or granular cane sugar that I can find in market is maybe as close as I can get to what the recipe was referring to as the ‘black sand.’ The reference to yellow muddy water is also really vague. It made me wonder what are the components in the ‘yellow muddy water’ make the process of purification work? What kind of mud was the author referring to in order to make the yellow muddy water? Does the mud from different region affect the result? What do the compromises mean and how do they alter the original concept as I made these compromises?

 

 

 

Under microscope I saw the crystals of my sweat

I think the process of looking under microscope is the process of de-familiarization—even when nowadays we are more familiar with the function of microscope. It magnifies the material without changing the physical form of the material. At the same time it ‘minimizes’ the viewer’s body without changing the scale of the physical body. It seems like an abstraction of the subjective mind. When the material is under microscope, it is out of context—placement and scale. It is therefore de-familiarized by us. However, everytime I put something under microscope I am very much aware what kind of material I am handling, therefore being able to see a totally different image then our regular understanding of the same material is very spectacle. Just like when I put my own sweat under the microscope, I was not expecting myself to be able to see the formation of salt crystals in my sweat. I think that moment of realization was very exciting and powerful. It is the unexpected

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Human eyes have its limitation on the scale of seeing. I admit context is important. Understand the natural environment of the material is the knowledge essential for studying the specific material under microscope. However I also believe studying the physical form of an object under microscope is more leaning towards content than context. If one merely looks at structures of the material under microscope, one might not be studying an active behavior of a live being. The study of the physicality of the material informs a better understanding on the behavior of the material in its natural environment. I think looking at different scale and looking in natural context should have a close communication with each other instead of having content and context confront each other.

Rare Book Assignment

The book I have chosen is the Natural Magick by John Baptist della Porta. It was published in 1658 and the etcher of the book is Richard Gaywood. According to the British Museum website Gaywood was “the most prolific etcher of his day.”[1] The book is a collection of many different recipes that are organized into nineteen different catalogues. The recipes are, in my understanding, annotations of ways to comprehend the characteristics of nature’s creation as well as to reveal hidden qualities of materials. In the preface, Porta acclaimed that he aimed towards “labored earnestly to disclose the secrets of Nature.” As he elaborated more in the first chapter “Of the Causes of Wonderful Things ” the word ‘Magick’, some call it ‘Natural Science’ and some call it “the practical part of ‘Natural Philosophy’”, has much to do with the order and phenomenon of Nature. As Porta said “I think that Magick is nothing else but the survey of the whole course of Nature.”[2]

I am really attracted to the idea of his recipes collection functions as a ‘tool’ for scholars to understand the mysteries or the ‘invisibles’ in materials. Process such as distillation is a way of separating seemingly homogenized elements. Essential oil extraction can be a good example—when the oil is in the plant or fruit, one cannot observe the oil in its conventional form. The process of distillation separates the oil from the plant, therefore unveils the invisible characteristic of that plant or fruit. The chapter on the optics also functions similarly but on the understanding and exposing the characteristics of light that cannot be observed by human’s bare eyes. Lenses that distort the images or create rainbows also demonstrate the composition of light and how it travels and bends. My project, inspired by this idea, is to write a recipe on “to make salt from sweat that collected while blowing glass for three hours.” It is a recording of a process that reveals the ‘invisible’ salt in bodily fluid. It is also derived from personal experiences of desire and attempt to measure the amount of heat and labor that had been given into the process of glass blowing. As executing this project, I am very captivated by the relationship between us and the environment we are in as well as the gestures that we come up with in order to understand the environment that surrounds us. This is the idea I derived from studying this specific book briefly and falls into my inquiry on human-environment relationship and dynamics.

 

[1] “Richard Gaywood (Biographical Details).” British Museum. Accessed September 13, 2018. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=123944.

[2] Porta, Giambattista della, Godfrey Taylor, Godfrey Taylor, Henry Alden Sherwin, G. H Browne, and G. H Browne. Natural Magick. London,: printed for Thomas Young, and Samuel Speed; and are to be sold at the three pigeons, and at the angel in St. Paul’s Church-yard., 1658.Bibliography

 

Bibliography

“Richard Gaywood (Biographical Details).” British Museum. Accessed September 13, 2018. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=123944.

Porta, Giambattista della, Godfrey Taylor, Godfrey Taylor, Henry Alden Sherwin, G. H Browne, and G. H Browne. Natural Magick. London,: printed for Thomas Young, and Samuel Speed; and are to be sold at the three pigeons, and at the angel in St. Paul’s Church-yard., 1658.

 

To make salt from sweat collected from three hours of blowing glass

Find or become a glass blower. During the middle of the day, work on intensely made objects in the hotshop until you start dripping sweat. As sweat drops run down your face, pause your work and collect the sweat in a glass vessel; preferably clear. Continuously doing it until finished with work. Leave the vessel of sweat expose to the air so water escape; collect the residue.