Before Agatha Christie became the world’s best-selling mystery writer, toxic compounds were, for a time, part of her everyday life.
For most of the First World War (1914–1918), Christie worked in a hospital as a nurse and later mixing medicines, as she recalled in her autobiography. “It was while I working in the dispensary that I first conceived of writing a detective story,” wrote Christie (1890–1976).
Using the medium of porcelain, artist Lei Xue’s series Drinking Tea (2001-2003) may be read as a commentary on how the production of commodities impacts the environment. It is a cluster of crushed cans, the intricate blue images distorted by grooves and bends, crushed into indiscernible shapes.
The environmental impact of creating porcelain goods includes extensive fresh water usage. As a result, the water put into the ground or rivers cause pollution. As well, air-borne particles from the sanding down of shapes impair breathing within the factories. Quantities of fluorine and lead are also potentially prone to leaking into the water or soil, around porcelain factory grounds. There are attempts to make this process more sustainable though. A recent paper suggested that is it possible to recycle up to 80% of the original water used in making porcelain commodities, towards the productions of the next batch.
This is where the conceptual message of the piece goes deeper. Aluminum cans are recyclable, so why shouldn’t the process of creating porcelain goods (or any goods for that matter) be? The artist’s work echoes the consciousness of the new generation, a more eco-friendly generation, attempting to find equilibrium between commodity and conservation. It is a juxtaposition of tradition and evolution in the world of goods production.