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Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007

Hands on contemporary clay


Staff writer

D.H. Rosen, an occasional contributor to The Japan Times Arts Page, is also a ceramicist who has been studying art at Tama Art University in Tokyo since 2004. Unlike many foreign ceramic artists who come to absorb the traditional wabi-sabi aesthetic of traditional pottery, Rosen was interested in Tama because it is the one university that encourages the use of clay as a medium for nonfunctional art — as opposed to solely as a material for vessels. In advance of a live performance involving his works that Rosen will be held Friday night at SuperDeluxe in Nishi-Azabu, Tokyo, we spoke with him about the current state of ceramics in Japan.

D.H. Rosen
D.H. Rosen reaches out this week at Superdeluxe. YOKO YAMAGUCHI PHOTO

Is the tradition of vessels still lively?

Some people are going to hate me for saying this, and I'm probably greatly influenced by my professor, Kimpei Nakamura, but I don't see the point of making the same shino and oribe tea bowls over and over. How could people today ever make a better Momoyama- style tea bowl than the people who lived in the Momoyama Period (1338-1573)? The artists who excite me are people like Ryuichi Kakurezaki, who studied under Living National Treasure Jun Isezaki. Kakurezaki's mastery of Bizen-style pottery is unmatched, but his forms are completely contemporary.

What's new in contemporary ceramics?

It's all over the place and depends on locale. While there has always been a stigma attached to clay in the West, in Japan clay is limited by its history. In the West, anything made of clay cannot be "fine art" and in Japan, anytime clay is used in nontraditional ways it becomes controversial, even when that is not the artist's intent.

What's the big question for the art form?

The challenge is to make something that is pertinent to the material. Like Masayuki Inoue at Tamabi (Tama) says, "If the piece would work better made of Styrofoam, there is no reason to make it out of ceramics." Good ceramic work speaks about the material, and "works" because it is ceramic, not just because it happens to be the artist's medium of choice. There is exciting work happening in clay, but a lot of people using clay might be better off with other materials.

What are you planning at SuperDeluxe?

A live, multimedia art performance that includes clay — I'm showing an installation made of completely ceramic forms and then having my audience alter that installation, by inviting them to destroy and create at the same time.

I am trying to accomplish several things when I design an installation. I want to make a piece that stands on its own and to include the audience in the process of creation. This time I will start with an installation devoid of color and have people break symbolic pieces that will add color to the work — don't want to give away too much here, but they will also be ceramics I made by hand.

Why do you want your audience to destroy your work?

There can be no creation without destruction, and I am just making that transition literal. Also, I like giving people permission to do something they have always been discouraged to do. There is a liberation there, and that interaction itself is performance art. Breaking to create is an idea I've worked with for years, so this is a natural progression. Plus, someone said my last performance was too "controlled," so I am trying to step it up a notch.

Does it fit with contemporary ceramics?

Like I said, good ceramic work should be pertinent to the material. Yes, other materials break, but not in the way ceramics do. Glass shatters into a million unusable, dangerous pieces. But ceramic shards can become tiles for a mosaic or whatnot.

On Oct. 27, the Japanese band Tegwon will play with Rosen's installation as a backdrop (7 p.m. start; ¥3,000). For more information visit www.superdeluxe.com


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