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Friday, March 8, 2019

Endurance of an Idea

When I first stepped into the exhibition, Archaic Avant-Garde: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics from the Horvitz Collection, I was struck by the physical power of the ceramic pots that were standing tall against the muted chartreuse walls. As I began to study each object, I immediately was reminded of this quote from the Minnesota potter, Samuel Johnson:
It’s a strange thing to adhere to an artistic lineage within a culture that celebrates novelty and independent genius. Yet, here I am, making jars using old techniques and referencing forms that my teacher and his teacher made before me. I don’t think it makes the work anachronistic or nostalgia, but rather reflects the endurance of an idea standing firm in its relationship to time and place.

Even as new technologies are being introduced to the ceramics field every day, these new-generation makers in the show still find a need to prolong their history using archaic techniques. I was visually struck by how the pots made in the last 60 years felt as if they had jumped out of the ancient kiln sites in Japan but also alluded to contemporary aesthetics. For example, Koichiro Isezaki’s Penguin #3 challenges the function of the vessel, yet the surface treatment maintains connections to the ancient techniques of the yakishime (unglazed stoneware) style of wood-firing. Because the culture in Japan continues to celebrate their ceramic history, these new and up-and-coming makers are able to intertwine individuality with old processes.

Each object in the show has an underlying historical context that can be traced back to various kiln site aesthetics. Some of the pots stand firm in the style of a specific kiln site while others show combined characteristics such as Shiro Tsujimura’s Stoneware Jar.  This particular object exhibits a traditional form that is common throughout Tokoname ware while also overlapping with the Shigaraki style of feldspar inclusions. Even though the object labels each name one artist, each object demonstrates a deep rooted collection of hands, minds, and history that is forever marked into the work.
As a maker, who also creates using wood-fired kilns like the potters in this show, I constantly turn back to look at various histories for inspiration in both formal processes and surface techniques. I believe sustaining culture through art provides education for new-generations of makers to understand the value of maintaining history in the present and in the future.

--Abby Nohai, Artist-in-Residence, Worcester Center for Crafts

Image caption:

Abby Nohai giving a talk to WAM docents at opening of Archaic Avant-Garde. Photo credit: Tom O’Malley.

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