The artists in the residency program of the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park work in two big spaces. Three artists work in the front room: Leiko, Toru and Toshizi.
Leiko Ikemura is a Japanese artist, who lives in Berlin. She flies to and fro to Japan and works on a couple of works at a time. The staff of the SCCP is completing a giant bunny in a dress, following her instructions. When we arrived we saw two butterfly-like sculptures being glazed in lustre. Weeks later we recognized them in an important show in the Toyota museum of Modern art.
Toru Kurokana is a young and very talented artist. Since we have been here we saw his work growing and his working space expanding. He works exclusively in abstract forms, which are always complicated and detailed. Often holes appear in a double walled surface. Some of his sculptures perform a balancing act which mocks gravity. He never uses glazes, but endlessly sands the surface of the raw clay. The skin of his work is polished and sensual. We saw some of his work in a gallery in Tajimi.
Toshizi Yoshimura is a specialist in large scale work, done by hand building. Currently he is working on two standing figures. Next to it stands a giant hand with fingers clasped in a friendly gesture.
In the other room of the SCCP eight artists are at work, four of which are potters. In Holland you would call the potters designers. Japanese Makiko Suzuki works under the label La Maison de Vent. She sells her delicate and exquisite tableware in Tokyo and in London. Her speciality is extraordinary turquoise and thin tableware, which could have been burial gifts from an Egyptian grave.
The other Japanese potter is Machiko Ishii from Tokyo. Currently she is researching tableware for handicapped and elderly people. Her cups have curved and dented surfaces, where you can hold the cup extra and lids, with holes for straws. I asked her if these were the prototypes for a production line for plastic cups, but that was far off the mark. Machiko values the individual ceramic cup; the ultimate and treasured gift for any person.
Taiwanese potter Ciao Feng is a postgraduate from the Tainai University of Art and is in Shigaraki for the experience and to broaden her expertise. She was one year in the U.S.A. in an exchange program. Although she started out as a sculpture student, she changed to design because in that way her work would be of more service to the people. Her tableware tends to grow into sculpture, like the vessel with 3 cascading lids and interchangeable felted handles. She told the story of how she, together with other students, built a large wood-kiln in 3 months, working full-time. After that, everybody spent a month making work to fill this wood-kiln. When the moment came to inaugurate the kiln, is was loaded and then… an major earthquake struck, which destroyed some of the wood-kiln and all of the work inside it.
The 4th potter also works as a ceramic artist and gives performances/workshops. Hong-Kong based artist Siu Kam-han is working on a ceramic interpretation of the Japanese rice paper sliding door. Her inspiration derives from the story of famous potter Bernard Leach, who failed to work well in his London studio and discovered that the light was wrong. After he covered his windows with Japanese rice paper, the atmosphere became serene and shut visually out all urban noise. Serenity is a goal in Siu’s work and whatever she undertakes to do and what materials she uses, she will pursue this serenity. She is investigating human behaviour, especially in urban circumstances. In Shigaraki she engaged in a blueprint workshop. She got many local people to lay out objects on light-sensitized paper, with exposure rates of half an hour in full sunlight. The merry event was a social gathering for all ages and was hugely enjoyed by both Japanese and foreigners.
Shizuka Okada’s residency is a year long. Just last week her solo show For Anything, for Nothing opened in Tomio Koyama Gallery in Kyoto. Her world is populated by strange animals, ghosts that imbibed golden statues, trees with eyes and gloomy foliage, wriggling mushrooms and twin bears, that hide their faces behind shells. This intriguing artwork and artist will never be out of inspiration. Shizuka’s world is very rich in stories, fabulous forms, magnificent colours and double meanings. Her comment on a sculpture of a curved snake was that there are snakes which bite their own tails an that they are symbols for eternity. Her snake missed its tail and was just an ordinary snake. But what a snake it is!
Saeko Kuwana was working on a huge black skull when we arrived at SCCP. On a small black and white picture in her studio space we found the image, that had triggered this work: a painting of a skull on a open book, surrounded by some objects. In the weeks to come, we witnessed the creation of the open book, mirrors and the strange objects, all overgrown by intriguing patrons in relief. The skull and the book were very large indeed and the race against the clock with the ultimate deadline of the booked kiln was in full swing. The skull was raised with a glowing light-bulb under it. Then it was raised even higher so more air could pass under it. Saeko was working for two solo exhibitions in Tokyo, shortly to be opened.
Singapore based Indian artist Madhvi Subrahmanian had a short residency of only 3 weeks, but managed to make 3 tall towers. To value this effort one must know the extraordinary flexibility of the Shigaraki clay, the humidity in mid rainy season and the limited timescale with working with ceramics. Yet Madhvi created a dreamlike landscape with slender, elegant towering silhouettes, painted in tribal slip patterns. One of these minarets will be permanently on show in the sculpture garden of the SCCP. In 2013, Madhvi will be one of the Indian artists who will represent her country in the U.S.A. and China.
Naoki Koide is a famous Japanese artist, who’s work was featuring in the Doki Doki show in the SCCP museum. This work is a cloud on stilts, with inside the cloud a scene of a domestic gathering, complete with living figures and grandparents-in-heaven. Strange, leering animals can be seen in corners and other out of tune details. All is made in highly detailed ceramics and painted in beautiful watercolours. One has not enough eyes to take in Naoki’s world: the enchantment is total and breathtaking.
When we came at the SCCP the Chinese artist Wu Hao was leaving after a residency of 3 months, for which he was awarded a Chinese grant. Wu had studied in Japan and spoke fluent Japanese. Moreover he also was highly valuated by his Japanese colleagues for his skills in ceramics. His work was on show in a small exhibition, with work, fired in a wood kiln. I saw big sculptures, formed on a potter wheel, but shaped with a mature artist’s twist. Some were covered with a strange surface, like half unfired on one side, yet dripping with a green ash glaze, which indicates a very high temperature. At Wu’s farewell party we had fireworks and a lesson how to built and eat sushi. Weeks later we discovered a set of very beautiful chairs, the underglaze painted with fat toads and cherry blossom trees in Chinese style.
Mariëlle van den Bergh