On the morning of Christmas 1601 the San Jago set sail from Goa bound for Lisbon. The cargo included the first consignment of South East Asian porcelain destined for the European market. On 14 March 1602, off the coast of St. Helena, the San Jago unexpectedly encountered three Dutch ships and a fierce battle followed. After three days of fighting the Portuguese surrendered and the Dutch took possession of the San Jago. Upon arrival in Holland a huge auction of the booty of the San Jago was conducted and the profit was phenomenal since Europeans at that point did not know how to make porcelain. The importance of this auction was unprecedented and it provided enormous economic stimulus in the entire region and also provided diplomatic gifts that were used to cement the Dutch war of indepence against Spain. Among the recipients of such costly gifts were King Henry IV of France and Queen Elizabeth I of England. This historic event formed the basis for a three-part TV-series called Porcelain filmed in Vietnam and broadcasted on Vietnamese television in March 2010. Authentic objects from the San Jago that are in the collection of a historical museum in Holland (the Zeeuws Museum) were used in the filming of the series. Furthermore the rest of the props created for the series were later officially added to the collection of the Zeeuws Museum, thereby recreating the past for future viewers. Every time Porcelain PIrates are exhibited objects from the collection of Zeeuws Museum are chosen by the curators of the venue to be displayed alongside the TV-series.
The TV-series was produced by Propeller Group, VN.
Extract form Press release, Zeeuws Museum, Holland:
Porcelain Pirates / Exhibition at Zeeuws Museum. This exhibition presents the results of a yearlong period of research undertaken by SUPERFLEX at the invitation of the Zeeuws Museum. The presentation takes the form of an installation and a three-part television series. Their research focussed on local identity in Zeeland and the role of the Zeeuws Museum within the local community in relation to the museum’s collection. Since its reopening in 2007 the Zeeuws Museum has been exploring the significance of local identity within an international context and in relation to the collection. The museum is also exploring innovative ways of shaping the collection and making it accessible to the public. SUPERFLEX is an artists’ collective from Copenhagen, comprising Bjørnstjerne Reuter Christiansen (1969), Jakob Fenger (1968) and Rasmus Nielsen (1969). Their work is characterised by strong social commitment, political awareness, irony and a healthy dollop of humour. Much of their art is a razor- sharp commentary on contemporary society and explores the boundaries of the art world, questioning the opportunities it affords them. They also explore and transgress the boundaries of copyright in relation to accessibility, authenticity and appropriation. The appropriation of a historical event within another context fits within this approach.
SUPERFLEX explored the history and identity of Zeeland and were intrigued by Middelburg’s illustrious historical relationship with the Dutch East India Company (VOC). In particular their attention was caught by the public auction in 1602 of the booty captured from the Portuguese ship, the San Jago. The haul of Chinese eggshell porcelain, silk, jewels and other luxurious objects was sold on the quayside in Middelburg for an unbelievable sum. This ushered in Middelburg’s and the VOC’s wealthiest period and one of the most illustrious periods in the history of the Netherlands. On the morning of Christmas 1601 the San Jago set sail from Goa bound for Lisbon. It was laden with spices, silk, cotton, amber, ivory, lacquered objects. The cargo also included the first consignment of Chinese porcelain destined for the European market. On 14 March 1602, off the coast of St. Helena, the San Jago unexpectedly encountered three VOC ships from Zeeland, including the Zelandia and the Langebarcke. The ships from Zeeland sought contact with the Portuguese ship. Thinking that they were dealing with enemy ships, the crew panicked and the Portuguese captain fired a shot. The Zeelanders returned fire and a fierce battle followed. After three days of fighting the Portuguese surrendered and the Zeelanders took possession of the San Jago. Many of the Portuguese crew lost their lives; some were killed in the conflict, others drowned attempting to swim to one of the Dutch boats. Some were unable to swim and there was not enough room in the lifeboats to save them all. Those with a gold chain or a string of pearls around their necks stood a greater chance of being rescued. The badly damaged Portuguese ship was patched up and taken back to Middelburg. Upon arrival in Middelburg it was not clear to whom the booty belonged: the owners of the private merchant vessels, the States of Zeeland or the Republic of the Netherlands. Eventually the ship owners retained the cargo, although they handed over a fifth to the States of Zeeland. Despite the fact that a sizeable sum was paid to Prince Maurice of Nassau and that many objects were given away as gifts, the profit was phenomenal: approximately 19 million euros in today’s money. The importance of this auction was unprecedented. It provided enormous economic stimulus in the entire region and the rest of the country and also provided diplomatic gifts that were used to cement the States of Zeeland’s alliances in the war against Spain. Among the recipients of such costly gifts were King Henry IV of France and Queen Elizabeth I of England. This historic event formed the basis for a three-part television series filmed in Vietnam and broadcast on Vietnamese television.
In the seventeenth century Vietnam had close links with China and was, with intervals, part of the Chinese Empire. An important role in the series is given to a Chinese porcelain vase that may have come from the San Jago booty and is now in the collection of the Zeeuws Museum. In addition to the vase, other authentic objects from the collection were shipped to Vietnam to feature in the television series. The other objects in the series were produced locally, for example at a porcelain factory in Ho Chi Min City. In the Zeeuws Museum the television series is shown together with a large number of props, combined with authentic objects from the museum’s collection. The entire installation, the television series and the props will remain in the collection after the exhibition as a SUPERFLEX art work. In this way the props are raised to the level of authentic museum objects and achieve an almost sacred value. Through a rite of passage, the status of the objects changes the minute they pass through the museum’s doors. For this exhibition SUPERFLEX has transplanted a historical event of local and national importance to the present day and has placed it in another (inter)national context. In these days of Somali piracy, the discussion around the download website The Pirate Bay and authenticity versus reproducibility, the exhibition touches upon many current issues. Another important theme is the current need that many people have for a national or even local identity. For these people authenticity is of great importance and is frequently sought in historical events. Think, for example, of the statement made by the Netherlands’ current prime minister, J.P. Balkenende, about the need for a ‘VOC mentality’ among today’s youth. This should give pause for thought given that the methods employed by the Dutch East India Company are wrapped up in a romantic heroism but also raise very critical questions. Furthermore, to what extent is a national identity relevant in our diverse and global culture? The exhibition deals with issues such as the relationship between history and the modern world, authenticity, and identity in relation to a local museum collection.
Text by Christie Arends - Curator at Zeeuws Museum
Production credit for the film:
Executive producers Zeeuws Museum, The Netherlands
Produced by The Propeller Group
Directed by 1. Thien Do 2. Trần Thị Bích Ngọc 3. Tuấn Andrew Nguyen
Written by 1. Thien Do 2. Đinh Hòang Ngọc Khanh & Trần Thị Bích Ngọc 3. Đinh Hoàng Ngọc Khanh
Story developed by SUPERFLEX, Thien Do Trần Thị Bích Ngọc Tuan Andrew Nguyen Đinh Hoàng Ngọc Khanh Phạm Hồng Anh Lê Phương Thanh
Director of Photography Hà Thúc Phú Nam
Edited by Nick Fernandez Costume
Designer:Phạm Huyền Trang Unit Production
Manager:Nguyễn Thụy Bảo Ngọc 1st A.D. Nguyễn Quân 2nd A.D. Nguyễn Tấn Vũ
Associate Producer:Matt Lucero
Cast: Lãng Khuê Nguyễn Kim Tuyến Trung Nguyễn Đức Nhã Mai Vũ Phạm Diễm My Tùng [thợ gốm] Nguyễn Quốc Huy Nam Long Nguyễn Hậu Trí Minh Trương Thế Vinh