The work I am exhibiting is an example of new departures in my work for the last five years, showing pottery with photographs. In this particular work I am showing a platter I made in Japan in 2015 and a photograph I took of a pond at Isuien Garden in Nara, in Japan in 1981. This is part of a series of photographs I took in over 160 gardens in Japan at that time. I was working on my theory that gardens incorporate the features of our human origins expressed in our utopian myths of paradise. This photograph depicts the features of a pond and a path of round stepping stones across the pond. As a feature of paradise, the pond causes the heavens to be reflected in the shimmering surface, visually connecting the abyss and the heavens with the earth, all meeting at the surface of the water, enacting the total image of the Centre of the earthly garden/paradise. The pathway is primarily the connector between all of the garden’s parts and features, and also expresses the mythical journey from birth to death. In this case the pathway unusually traverses an associated centre, compounding the visual impact, and heightening the risk of the abyss. In the distance the pointed roof of a temple pokes through the trees, the sacred mount, another of the nine features of the garden/paradise.
I made the ceramic platter in Imbe, Bizen, that has a pottery tradition dating back to the 12th century. There are currently about 200 artists making ceramics in Imbe. They still use the same clay and methods from 800 years ago. It was amazing to have this opportunity and immersion in this time span, and work with that in mind as inspiration. I worked with their singular dark clay which is still dug from the rice paddies. Some pottery families can trace their heritage back to the 12th century such as Jumpei Kaneshige and his father Kosuke who helped me to find a studio and residence, and Taiga Mori and his family who included my work in an 8-day wood firing that produced many ash and flame effects on my work. They don’t use glazes. I used long strands of rice straw on the platter which leaves reddish streaks on the clay from the firing. It was exciting to not know what might happen or what I might achieve from the kiln.
The pairing of pond photograph and the platter is a poetical relationship, like two polar opposites meeting, one ephemeral representation and the other pure stony material, one mechanical and digital, the other hand-made. But there are some metaphors between the two. The platter is pond-like in its flatness and its containing edges, and the red streaks across the platter might mimic the stepping stones skipping across the pond. There are other interesting connections: the western part of the garden dates from 1673 — ancient but not as old as the Bizen potteries that produced my platter; the shape of the pond represents the kanji written character for mizu (“water”), whereas the streaks on the platter could represent rivers. The Isuien garden uses a technique called “borrowed landscape”, and in this case, borrows the temple roof and trees from adjacent properties as seen in the photograph, just as my platter has borrowed the photograph of the garden.