“A New Type of Ceramics Through an Accumulated Thoughts” — Namika Nakai (Ceramic Artist)
Pursuing an undiscovered form of ceramics through an overflow of passion
— Please tell us in detail about your reinterpretation of ceramic materials which is also your main theme.
When I revisited the principle of my idea, I concluded that its primary factors were clay and glaze. However, clay and glaze are also composed of may materials. Moreover, I started to think I could generate numerous expressions by equally reconsidering clay and glaze as materials that constitute ceramicware and focusing on each of them without distinguishing their traditional roles. For example, glaze plays a decorative role for its chromatic effects, and in the practical aspect, it is commonly applied for its water-resistant properties. In my case, I apply glaze to my work by reinterpreting it a a material that is more soluble compared to clay. Since the results change drastically by changing how a material is interpreted, I made it my unique style to reconstitute conventional ideas regarding the relationship between materials.
From there, I started focusing on form. I began pondering what the ideal shape was for existing ceramic pieces based on the phenomena that occur between clay and glaze. As I experimented various expressions such as by excluding the bottom portion of a piece, molding my work in abstract forms as if they were drawings, and baking the clay in non-conventional angles, I was met with a vast number of discoveries. For example, if I was aiming to apply a crack to a piece, I could control where that crack would occur, but I was unable to control how deep the crack would go. In this sense, there were factors that could and could not be controlled. I came to realize that ceramic art is something that becomes complete through the relationship between elements such as material and kiln, and is not something achieved solely by the artist. Through this, I came to realize that balancing out the best performances of the artist, material, and baking process was essential in creating an art piece that was convincing, and my interaction as an artist to convey the intent of the work was of great significance.
— Aside from the shape of your work, you tend to apply unique titles to them. Please tell us how you come up with these titles.
I tend to apply symbolic and code-based titles to my work. For example, my “Maku” series are thin like membrane. As membranes are a minimal border between the outside and inside of things, I chose this title to make the thinness of the clay simulate the thinness of membranes.
I titled my “Mukuro” series based on my discovery of the solidness of what remains. Other than the term’s implication of skeletal remains, Mukuro also means the surface of thick decaying trees, and I focused on the thinness of the remaining surface as the definition of the term Keigaika, which means to become a mere facade, suggests. Otherwise, in terms of clay, I study stratigraphic terminology and list up any term I feel attracted to. Once I’ve created my piece, I perform research on that term again, and if its definition fits, I apply it to my work. Additionally, I value how the term looks in written form. I don’t like it if a title looks unattractive when written out in Kanji and alphabet (laughs). For example, my core concept revolves around my instinctive sense of what looks good. I’d look at and ordinary stone and find its form beautiful or I’d find the ripples of a finished tube of glue attractive. On the contrary, there is no proof of authenticity behind this instinctive attraction. When I first started my career, I had avoided explaining my work. Now, however, I feel delighted whenever someone deeply understands and sympathizes with my work when I offer explanations.
— Please tell us about your impressions on cha-no-yu, which is also the theme of this project, as well as your sense of spirituality in your work.
I had been practicing various styles of Japanese tea ceremonies for about 5 years. I started studying the art since I felt it was somewhat similar to the art of ceramics. At first, I was overwhelmed by the techniques and processes of these ceremonies, but I was gradually able to recognize the flow of the seasons as I got accustomed to the art. I was able to recognize sounds I hadn’t been able to previously perceive and became capable of sensing the changes of my surroundings. For me, cha-no-yu was an indispensable experience that taught me to hone my senses.
In terms of its relationship with ceramics, I felt it had a strong connection to the culture of “Mitate.” For example, you can serve food on stones found randomly, pretending they were tableware, and you can use objects with different functions as bowls. Since a single idea can create various pieces of work, I find the culture to be extremely profound. I once created a matcha bowl that had a hole in it, but due to an established rule that specified the bowl’s face dedicated for drinking matcha, the bowl could not be used for tea ceremonies. However, I wanted to establish the bowl as a work of art, and therefore, I changed my views on it and started to think that it could be used for matcha if I removed the traditionally designated face for drinking the tea. There, I felt that the “Mitate” culture represented what I had wanted to achieve in terms of creation, and I felt comfortable incorporating it into my work.
— Whether it be positive or negative, the difference in outcome, regardless of the sense of liberty in the art, is definitely what defines the depth of cha-no-yu.
In principle, I only create things I want to create. Since there are many examples of phenomena I’ve created with this mentality, I feel that applying a sense of utility to the work is the most interesting part of this process. Therefore, I feel that creating pieces such as tea bowls for cha-no-yu is extremely entertaining. I believe these creations lie within the gap between everyday items and pieces of art, and their existence could be justified if the proper rules, such as whether their functions pass as a tea bowl, are followed. To me, this kind of idea is stimulating since it’s not something we think of on a daily basis.
— Lastly, please tell us of any new expressions you are in pursuit of as well as of your plans for the future.
One of my major goals is to come up with new creations as I continue to reinterpret ceramic materials without being bound to clay and glaze. Currently, I am working to enhance the density of my work by focusing on fine details while manipulating dynamic phenomena. For example, I would review the colors of my baked pieces and consider whether I had achieved the color I had intended to express. Through these efforts, I feel I can achieve never-before-seen results if I pursue the possibilities of colors. I believe I’ve reached a stage where I am confident that my skills have caught up with my ideas, and now, I must reconsider and revise my sense of aesthetics for aspects such as what I want to express, what I want to convey, and why I’m interested in certain factors. However, I still tend to create some of my work with superficial preferences, feeling satisfied with results simply because I feel they look good in terms of design. Therefore, I seek to make my work denser by becoming capable, through accomplishments achieved from trial-and-error, of proving that my works are beautiful as a result of them being based on certain phenomena. I don’t see a necessity in conveying my thoughts through my works of applying titles that explain what they are about. For example, it doesn’t matter if I had managed to express myself through the thinness of a piece or if I like a certain piece since I was able to express my ideas as I intended to. I think there is a great difference in intensity if you can create pieces while possessing an understanding of things that can’t be seen with the naked eye. I’d like to dig deeper in order to discover more about myself.
Moreover, in September, I am scheduled to participate as an artist-in-residence at Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park in Shigaraki City of Shiga Prefecture for 6 months. There will also be several other internationally active ceramic artists residing at the park. Though I’m excited to participate, the bigger my works are, I’m usually unable to control how they turn out since they are mainly representations of phenomena rather than form. However, since I’ve become more familiar with ceramics, I hope to produce unique pieces that can only be created in this new environment. I may, for example, scale-up the scope of my work. Though I’m not confident I’ll be able to create something I’ll be satisfied with, I’m sure that my disappointment will push me to be inspired to create something greater in the future. Since materials, techniques, form, and ceramics are filled with infinite possibilities, I am excited to find out how I myself will evolve as an artist.
Those phenomenon such as clacking, melting and warping are considered as threat for ceramic works but I believe that it is able to represents the ambivalent beauty of strength with delicacy and fragile.
The porcelain clay that has been thinly stretched by hand forming, like the minimum boundary between the inside and the outside. The wrinkle marks that appear on the surface show the environment and process at the time of forming like the stratum. The glaze which has a lower melting point than the porcelain clay, becomes one of the layers and changes the form by firing.
With the mission of "Respect and Go Beyond," the company is developing an art production business that raises the spirituality and aesthetics of the tea ceremony by "reinterpreting" the comprehensive Japanese art of "chanoyu" by crossing it with various domains such as technology and street culture.