Masayoshi Oya

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Top half Japanese inspired, bottom half Swedish aesthetics

As part of our theory course today where Dominique and I discussed the different approaches to our disciplines in Sweden and the UK, we were visited by Gothenburg based Japanese ceramic artist Masayoshi Oya. He explained that since moving to study in the city years ago, his way of working is a fusion of the aesthetics of the two countries. Oya explained that in Japan functional tableware has a higher status than ‘art objects’, which is radically contrary to the west. Since the times of the samurai the society’s approach has been that the most beauty can be found in objects made for ordinary people.

He also described the difference in how both countries expect an object to be viewed over time. The Japanese concept of wabi sabi as he explained it means pots are glazed with a matte surface so that they pick up marks and scratches with use as they age. These imperfections make them more beautiful. On the other hand, in the west we want our ceramic to stay the same over time, to always look as brand new as the day we bought it.

His comments about time reminded me of the Chiharu Shiota exhibition at Goteborgs konstmuseum in which thousands of individual threads have been stuck together showing that an immense amount of time and effort went into making the installations. Similarly to the wabi sabi aesthetic, time has become tangible. By being able to visualise the time taken ( or the age in the case of wabi sabi) we have a greater respect for the art.

Oya explained that his black stain on porcelain signature decoration is inspired by calligraphy and specifically, calligraphy as approached by someone in the west who is more interested in the way the ink breaks at the edges than creating the lines of a Japanese master calligrapher. He spoke of the way swedes like to stack their tableware and have everything matching whereas in Japan it’s more common to have mismatching vessels to serve food it. Rosa recommended a book called ‘A feast for the eyes: the Japanese art of food arrangement’ which discusses further the relationship between Japanese food and utensils from the Jomon period to the present.

Artist website: http://www.masayoshi-oya.com/

 

Images: http://ceramicartistsnow.com/2018/02/04/studio-oyama-swedish-pottery/
http://www.masayoshi-oya.com/index.php?/works/hei-nippon/

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Cultural Differences between Sweden and the UK: Holistic Ceramics

“I think for Swedes, art and design and craft—woodwork, furniture, textile, lighting, ceramics, glass, architecture—very much inform one another,” …“There is not always crossover, but it’s a symbiosis; you can’t have one without the others.” – Saskia Neuman, Global Art Manager at Absolut, Stockholm.[1]

A couple of months ago my course visited Borås Museum of Modern Art to see something I was surprised to find in a modern art museum. Not one, but two exhibitions showcasing artists working in clay. The first was by contemporary Swedish artist Eva Mag and the second a retrospective of work by the more traditional potter Kerstin Danielsson. Clay and ceramics, often designated to the realm of ‘craft’ as opposed to high art worthy of a white wall contemporary gallery space, are something I’m not accustomed to finding at a modern art museum. This surprise encounter led me to think about the role of ceramics in Sweden in contrast to the British scene and ponder the more holistic attitude towards art that seems to be present here.

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Figure 1

Eva Mag’s multimedia work consisted of a film alongside life sized ‘body-forms’ made with clay filled fabric skins, wood and wax. In the video ‘Directions and shapes in a woman’s body’ (2013) Mag very physically manipulates blocks of clay into human form, constructing, deconstructing and finally wrapping the broken off clay pieces in the fabric of her dress. Through the film, the process of moulding the clay is shown to be more important than the final piece itself. Another artwork in her exhibition was a block of clay encased in a sewn fabric shell, suggesting the form beneath but hiding all surface. The design tenet of truth to materials is turned on its head. Like in Jone Kvie’s current ‘Metamorphosis’ exhibition at Göteborgs Konstmuseum where aluminium mimics cardboard, concrete and wood, in Mag’s work the materials are mysterious, disguised as other.

But it wasn’t just Mag’s work that made me question the traditional way I know of working with clay, on my course at HDK I have encountered a similar attitude of openness to other materials. I am surprised by the acceptance of mixed media approaches and alternative decorating techniques to glazes. Third year graduate Sara Kallioinen Lundgren often sprays her distinctive pop art style creations with bright spray paint. Others incorporate concrete, thread and fabric into their work and it seems common to introduce elements other than ceramic in displays – earth and gravel, photographs, video and sound. On our recent ‘Room’ course, one of the ceramics students worked exclusively with weaving and fabric. We have also collaborated with students from the jewellery and textile department to work on performance art pieces. There is the attitude that working things out in a different material first can be valuable.

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Figure 2

Back at my home university however I feel there is a more ‘purist’ and perhaps snobbish attitude to ceramics regarding surface in particular. Glaze chemistry and research is something we are encouraged to master while exploring ceramic surfaces through paint, collage and other techniques is perhaps seen as a ‘lower’ form of decoration as it requires less skill and knowledge. This desire to define ceramics according to more traditionalist attitudes appears to extend to the UK ceramics scene in a wider sense too. In contrast to Sweden, Britain has a huge selection of Ceramic festivals every summer – Art in Clay, Potfest, International Ceramics Festival, Earth and Fire and Ceramic Art Wales to name a few. These are exclusively ceramic fairs that typically last over a weekend. While these, alongside the popular TV show ‘The Great Pottery Throwdown’ have helped bring ceramics to a wider audience and give makers a great platform for selling their work, it may be that they are also contributing to the wider society seeing ‘pottery’ as something distinctly separate from other forms of art. As an example to illustrate this rift in thinking about ceramics, I can take the names given to the BA courses both here and in the UK. In Cardiff I study on an undergraduate course called BA in ‘Ceramics’ while at HDK the course’s title is ‘Ceramic Art’. The names alone suggest less division between ceramics as a craft and as a fine art in the Swedish art world.

After further research I discovered I’m not the only one to feel that Sweden has a more holistic art scene than the UK. Stockholm based artist Stuart Mayes (originally from London) in an interview with ‘The Local’ (Sweden’s English language news website) explains: ‘I find the Swedish art world to be more holistic, academic and sustainable. Swedes have a much more inclusive and open attitude towards art. I think the English government has quite a conservative perception of art; they don’t really value it as something important and that doesn’t empower me as an artist.’[2] Mayes isn’t a ceramic artist but his observations may also be true for the ceramics scene. To some extent though, the conservative attitude towards ceramics in the UK and desire to hand down pottery skills in the tradition of the British godfather of ceramics Bernard Leach, can be seen as something positive. Schemes like ‘Adopt a Potter’ in which potters are assigned apprentices to learn their ‘trade’ make sure that traditional skills live on and that the sloppy craft of ceramicists like Rebecca Warren and Grayson Perry have something to contend with.[3]
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Figure 3

As a result of working in what feels like a more interdisciplinary environment, my current work has evolved. I have begun to experiment with wrapping fired clay in thread as a form of surface decoration. Our text seminars have encouraged me to look at ceramics in a wider sense too. In these discussions we are each invited to choose a text to explore the theme of the course, however these texts can be anything ranging from a poem to a legal document to an exhibition review. After discovering an article about Rachel Whiteread’s concrete casts during our recent ‘Vessel project’ I began working with plaster in a different way to how I have before – creating plaster casts as the finished piece instead of moulds from which to slipcast. The unspoken rules to which I’ve stuck to in the past have been broken. However, since the casting of these forms wasn’t possible without the original clay moulds, isn’t this still ceramic art? Like in Eva Mag’s video, I am still working with clay but it isn’t the final outcome. I find myself eager to explore new ways of making which challenge the idea that a ceramic artist is exclusively a maker of clay objects.

 

Images

Figure 1. Detail from How Much Does a Mountain Weigh?’ by Eva Mag. Source: http://www.evamag.se/works.html

Figure 2. Artwork by Sara Kallioinen Lundgren. Source: http://sarakallioinenlundgren.com/

Figure 3. Detail from sculptural piece I made for the Vessel project. Ceramic and thread.

 

 

[1] Van Straaten, L. (2017, November) An Insider’s Guide to the Stockholm Art Scene. Retrieved from: https://www.departures.com/art-culture/stockholm-art-scene-travel-guide#intro

[2]  “The Art Scene in Sweden in Less Competitive” (2010) Retrieved from: https://www.thelocal.se/20150209/my-love-for-stockholm-has-no-limits

[3] Read more about ‘sloppy craft’: Adamson, G. (2008, March/April) When Craft Gets Sloppy, from Crafts no.211, 36-40

‘Stannar Vid’ – Non-Spaces Final Exhibition

 

On Thursday we culminated the Room/Space project with an exhibition of the work we have produced over the last month. My playful and brightly coloured body of work explores the concept of non-spaces and is an attempt to draw attention to the transitional invisible spaces we pass through every day without being aware of them. In order to highlight this my work was presented in alcoves in the arch spaces of the walls in the HDK’s stairwells, spaces we don’t often linger in but which become complex and beautiful architectural spaces once you start to look carefully.

A collection of 14 hand-built sculptures sit inside four shelf spaces of varying height along the staircases, the steps offering the opportunity to view them from many different angles. During feedback it was pointed out that these forms look like little figures interacting with each other, each with a different personality. The space between each of them gives them a sense of isolation though, which communicates the anonymity and isolation of individuals as they interact in non-spaces. Students pointed out that the forms were familiar and look significant in some way, although they weren’t sure where they recognised them from. Perhaps a well-chosen title could be a key to understanding the pieces. Maybe something like ‘Stannar vid‘, which is the automated voice announcement on Gothenburg trams to tell you your next stop. It suggests the way the staircase is a space for ‘getting to’ somewhere else, not a place just ‘to be’.

 

The colours turned out much patchier than I intended but this nod towards rust and weathering also suggests the wear and tear caused by many people passing through a space day in, day out. I need to work on my glaze application, dipping and spraying would have created a more even surface colour than painting on. I’ve learnt the important of thinking ahead to decoration in the making stage too – the manganese in this dark clay has eaten away at the glaze. The red glaze turned out much pinker than I intended – with more time I would have perfected the colour matches by making more glaze tests.

 

Klara mentioned how she began noticing scratches and paint splatters on the wall which echoed the forms of the sculptures and other students mentioned the key word ‘curiosity’. I believe this display of work has been successful in changing he way we interact with this non-space but equally, by using forms inspired by tram interiors people explained how not only was this space transformed but that when they travelled home on the trams they would be looking out for these forms and textures by searching the other way around. Two spaces transformed in one!

Thanks Will Treasure for some of the photos 🙂

Non-Space and Tram Sketching

For our current ‘Space/Room’ project I’m interested in exploring the phenomenon of ‘non-places’ or ‘non-spaces’. I can’t remember where I first heard about this, but I recall thinking about it after reading Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’ and remember thinking when flying from the UK to Gothenburg, how airports are the ultimate ‘non-places’ spaces we move through to get to somewhere else instead of destinations in themselves.

According to Wikipedia: Non-place or nonplace is a neologism coined by the French anthropologist Marc Augé to refer to anthropological spaces of transience where the human beings remain anonymous and that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places”. Examples of non-places would be motorways, hotel rooms, airports and shopping malls. The term was introduced by Marc Augé in his work Non-Places, introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity.

The non-place differs from the idea of an ‘anthropological space’- a space where people can share a space that empowers their identity, in that non-places are filled with strangers who remain anonymous and lonely. Non-places can also be subjective though – to a group of friends who choose to spend the day together at a shopping centre and the people who work at an airport, the spaces might not be considered non-places. The idea of transience in relation to ceramics interests me because ceramic material is the opposite of transient in its solidity and durability.

My starting point for this project was to visit and document Gothenburg’s Centralstation – recording sounds, photographing and noting down shapes and words in response to the space. Reading Marc Auge’s chapter about ‘non-spaces’ and Mahyar Arefi’s article ‘Non-place and placelessness as narratives of loss’ helped define more concretely what non-spaces are. These places lack diversity, surprise, ambiguity and livability, we are often fed through these spaces in a system by following a set of instructions, signs or arrows.

Travelling back to the university from the train station I felt lost and unsure of how to continue. I hadn’t felt particularly inspired by this place. Drawing my attention back to the present though I realised I was travelling in another ‘non-space’, the inside of a tram. When travelling on trams as I do every day here in Gothenburg my thoughts are so often elsewhere that had I not payed attention, I probably couldn’t tell you what colour the floor, walls or seats were. I decided to shift my project to highlight the material qualities of the interior of trams in the city, making objects that echo and paraphrase the forms, colours and textures of these spaces which usually remain invisible to those inside them. My intention is to display the work in a different non-space – the stairwells at HDK. I move through these static spaces almost every day of the week. In contrast I remain still in the tram and it’s the space itself that moves with me inside it.

I spent this afternoon travelling on trams sketching the forms and textures I could find around me. Once I began looking I realised how complex and mysterious these spaces are. There are so many buttons and levers, hidden compartments and strange shaped protrusions that suddenly these spaces that seem very mundane and unexciting became landscapes of shapes. Later I photocopied and enlarged my drawings, cut them out and collaged them together into abstract machine compositions reminiscent of ‘robot wars’ creations. The next step is going to be to transform these ideas into 3D. I might use paper maquettes to get a sense of the scale needed for the staircase before starting to work in clay…

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4 Top Tips for Studying Abroad in Sweden

What’s happening in your second week living in Gothenburg do I hear you ask? Well, with care not to turn this into a make-up blog, since I haven’t seen sun in so long, I’ve noticed my foundation has suddenly become five shades too orange for my skin. I’m having to choose each morning whether I’d rather look like Tim Burton’s corpse bride (a less sexy version) or an oompa loompa for the day. So important top tip #1 for students going abroad to study in Sweden – leave that match perfection at home. Bring lots of moisturiser though, if you’re anything like me, the change of climate will dry out your skin like crazy.
Top tip #2: Beware day 11. I’m not sure if this is just from my experience or if there’s some scientific reason behind the maths, but yesterday seemed to be a struggle for a lot of people who moved here on Monday last week. It felt like the day we’d been the most tired so far at our new university. So my advice is – take it easy. There are likely to be loads of social events to go to in the first few weeks including pub crawls, buddy group get togethers, info fairs, welcome receptions and so forth, but don’t feel pressure to go to everything that’s organised.
But when you do go to parties and get togethers keep in mind top tip #3: Make an effort to remember faces. Names are difficult, especially since you will be meeting students from across the world, many with names you’ll be unfamiliar with and have trouble pronouncing. But the amount of times in the past few days I’ve asked someone “Who are you then?” and they reply “What, we were at the pub together last week!” and it dawns on me that we had a long conversation only now they’re not wearing glasses or they have a different pink hat on, is a bit embarrassing.
And finally Top tip #4 is basic: Remember to bring all your important Erasmus documents to be signed by the host university. In my excitement to move abroad I may have got distracted researching where to find the best charity shops and somewhere along the line misplaced my learning agreement. Don’t do this. You need to get it signed ASAP in order to receive your monthly allowance from Erasmus. Gothenburg is an expensive city to live in!

The Beauty of Shadows

I’ve come to the realisation that much of my recent ceramic work has been concerned with ‘the vessel’ without myself being conscious of it. The deconstruction of traditional ceramic bowls and cylinders on the wheel and then reconfiguration of these recognisable vessel forms into a new form with openings that also contains space and holds volume has been central to these experiments.
Our seminar discussing the vessel threw up the question ‘Can’t anything be a vessel or a container?’. Everything is made up of something, even atoms contain a nucleus, electrons and forces of energy. Every sculptural three dimensional form with an inside or outside, despite serving no functional purpose contains in it connotations and metaphors, layers of meaning as well as air, space, darkness or light. Many of the traditional South American vessels at the archives on Tuesday were empty but their insides were a secret, invisible from the outside, guarded from view by the shell of the exterior. These forms contained darkness.
I keep coming back to the small tomb sculpture at the Potteries museum in Stoke-on-Trent. Something about this artefact and the way it holds light, containing a spotlight in the darkness of its interior resonates deeply with me. I recently read Tanazaki’s essay ‘In Praise of Shadows’ in which he discusses Japanese laquerware and how it’s subtle beauty can only be appreciated in the dimness of candlelight : “I discovered in the gloss of this lacquerware a depth and richness like that of a still dark pond, a beauty I had not before seen”.

One of the ideas that interested me in the seminar was how objects and things can contain memory, both physically like a USB stick, metaphorically like an old heirloom or more abstractly like the brain and body. My intention though is to focus on something perhaps equally ungraspable  – light. Memories feel real and they’re how we navigate the world and construct our current realities but they are only the creations of a complex organ in the body. Light similarly feels concrete and controllable, but the more you think about it , the more magical and abstract it seems. How can I create vessels that hold light, not in the sense of lamps or candle holders but vessels that hold light and shadow in their form, that capture light (whether natural or artificial I haven’t decided yet) and play with the tones of shadow.

The idea isn’t fully formed yet and I expect to deviate along the way, but it’s a starting point. Light and darkness control our lives. I feel more of my attention will be drawn towards that here in Sweden where the hours of daylight are short in winter but the extreme opposite is the case in summer where up north you can even experience the midnight sun.

I feel especially inspired by an exhibition on at Gothenburg’s public library at the moment, ‘Daylight and Objects’ by Daniel Rybakken, which explores illumination. His collection of sculpture objects made from glass and aluminium that border the line between furniture design and installation art (perhaps like Donald Judd) reflect and diffuse the artificial light in the environment to create the illusion of natural light. His theory is: ‘A lack of natural light in a space can create a feeling of being enclosed. An illusion of daylight creates a feeling of an expanded perceived space by giving information about what lies beyond the physical space. The presence of daylight lowers the contrast between the indoor and the outdoor.’  This knowledge must be known by people who work with space – interior designers and architects. I’m particularly interested in the architect Renzo Piano as an advocate for the use of glass and the importance of buildings that let in light. Perhaps optical illusions with light is a path I should explore in the next weeks.

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Surface Daylight (2009-2011)

 

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Right angle mirror (2010) – the illusion of an object suspended in space

Snow and Sophisticated Queuing

(Started yesterday 11am)

Outside this morning, the generous icing of snow on the ground of my new accommodation at Olofshöjd is beginning to thaw. This is my fourth day in Gothenburg, Sweden since arriving by plane from Manchester via Brussels on January 14th, my third at Olofshöjd, the city’s central student accommodation run by SGD Bostäder. It’s a surreal experience to be an International Erasmus students from the flip side of the coin. Despite the outward similarities, the culture here already feels pretty alien to the UK. I’ve already made the faux pas of forgetting to take my shoes off before sitting down at our local student café and have had some very strange looks when paying for my groceries with cash (everyone here uses card). I’ve also been confused by the sophisticated queuing system here where you take a ticket before waiting for your number to be called, which they seem to have at most reception desks. I’m somewhat familiar with this system in the UK, at McDonald’s for example and when you got your feet measured at Clark’s for shiny new school shoes, but here it’s everywhere. The city’s network system of trams has also been a little difficult to navigate, but unlike the UK where it’s almost impossible to get away with cheating the public transport system, here many locals hop on and off the trams without paying, even though I hear you can get a hefty fine if you’re caught.

Tuesday was our first day at the Högskolan för design och konsthantverk (HDK) on Kristinelundsgatan where David Carlsson introduced us to our first project brief – quite an open project but one that can generally be summed up with the question ‘What is a vessel/container?’. We began with a seminar exploring the connotations and meanings of the two words (in Swedish: Kärlet and Behållare). Are the two synonymous? I don’t think so. A container might be thought of as less precious than a vessel, closed off, while a vessel is expected to have an opening. Container has undertones of functionality and purpose while a vessel might be more decorative, a flower vase. The word ‘vessel’ itself rolls more elegantly and poetically off the tongue than ‘container’.

To help me think about how I want to approach this project I chose three images I felt drawn to that explore the idea of the ‘vessel’:

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This honeycomb object ‘Made by Bees’ is by a Slovakian designer called Thomas Gabzdil Libertiny. I found it in a book at the HDK library called Process by Jennifer Hudson. A collaboration between nature and technology – the artists placed a hollow mould of the archetypal vessel into a beehive and the bees subsequently filled in the negative space with wax resulting in a unique organic vessel. Unlike ceramic vessels this will decay and disintegrate, changing form over time. I find the ephemeral quality of this material fascinating. Unless fired, clay will sprout spores and mould too eventually (as I discovered when I left a load of damp porcelain in a box for months and it turned orange). I am also drawn to the playful nature of this object with the use of bees which  reference the traditional use of vases to hold flowers. Interestingly vessel translates into Welsh as ‘llestr’ and a beehive is a ‘llestr gwenyn’ – a bee vessel.

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I found this image of old watering cans on my phone from a trip to St Ffagans. I chose these more for their aesthetics than anything – the visibly soldered joints, the balance of the forms and crescents. They also made me think about the other components we add on to vessels to make them more functional to us such as spouts and handles, and how these change what the vessel communicates. These above are put together in a way which make them look like they are recycled from other pieces of waste metal.

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The third image is of a ceramic vessel I found on Tuesday when we visited the ceramic collection at the archive of Gothenburg’s World Culture Museum. Its rounded base caught my attention because it relies on the form finding its own balance and centre of gravity. Depending on the weight of what goes inside it would sit differently. It reminds me of drinking horns and ice creams – awkward shapes you can’t put down unless you’ve finished eating or drinking from. I like the idea of objects that are difficult and so force us to think and question what we take for granted.