Bronze: A Forgotten Treasure

As part of the TV documentary Bronze: A Forgotten Treasure, I was asked to give my professional opinion, as an artist and archaeometallurgist, on a recently uncovered collection of bronzes in Singapore that might hail from the ancient Chinese Shang and Zhou dynasties.

The film crew were only able to show me photos of the artefacts, so I was not in a position to make any definitive assessments. However, I can certainly say that each piece in the collection is teeming with character and detail. A decorative, intricate iconography animates the surface hues of the bronze, endowing these ostensibly static objects with a capacity to ‘dance', and to 'strike a pose’ before us. They are undeniably lively.

The celebrated Soviet art critic Victor Shkilovsky claimed that “the purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived, and not as they are known.” He believed that an artwork can only reveal itself to us in the moment, as an encounter, rather than through rational scrutiny. So while we do not yet know if these bronzes are authentic new additions to an iconic and exclusive collection of artefacts, as far as I am concerned, their value as artworks is already assured.

In ancient China, these artefacts would have been placed in tombs as ritual offerings to the deceased’s ancestors in the afterlife. Bronze is a highly durable material with a life span far greater than our own. Indeed, I work very closely with my private clients to create bespoke sculptures that will carry their personal legacy long into the future. As a result, I’ve become deeply aware of the intimate significance of bronze and its enduring emotional resonance. I acknowledge this responsibility each day I step into the studio.

I’m reminded of the 1960s film adaptation of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, whereby the protagonist gazes at the frontage of a dress shop as he accelerates into the future. As time speeds up, a single mannequin in the window remains static and unmoved as her outfits change rapidly with every passing season. Like a bronze, she reaches stoically into the future, remembering those in her midst to descendants yet to come.

The documentary Bronze: A Forgotten Treasure premieres at 8pm on Wednesday 7th November, on Channel News Asia. 

Andrew Lacey