Things Awakened by Pottery

It is a place that transcends the events of history; a place where the subconscious is culminated.
A collective conscious exists far beyond the atman, and whilst it does not ordinarily emerge upon the wreath of recognition, there are times when encounters with things act as an opportunity to remind one of this realm of the conscious within the subconscious. There the objects that perform as tools that serve the body and the mind are inverted, in turn becoming a key that opens the door on to the other world.
Are not floating bodies of subconscious trying to evoke something or another through our sensations of touch and vision? I feel that peoples’ conscious of fear and admiration towards entities of the sublime are beginning to possess a new meaning.
Newspaper of Kogei Tathata Apr. 2015 vol.1 Naoto Ishii [The Unseen Aspects of Kogei] (Dokkatouyu/Gallery Hakuden)

Countertop with Distorted Tiles

An iconic object of the FYLGDU MÉR OSAKA restaurant is the large-sized counter, covered with square ceramic tiles. Exhibiting traces of a blazing fire, the unglazed ceramic tiles are all unique due to the intense heat —some are warped and some are wavy. Created by soil, water, and fire blended with the human spirit, the ceramic tiles appear to be the fruitions of never-changing beauty and strength since ancient times.
When Teruhiro Yanagihara, the creative director of FYLGDU MÉR, was working on the design of the Osaka shop, he happened to see several ceramic tiles at the atelier of Naoto Ishii—his close friend and a potter—in Kyotamba Town in Kyoto; and came up with the idea of putting the tiles on the counter. The ceramic tiles used for the counter—what Ishii calls the “distorted tiles”—were fired in a kiln that has been used for many years. The very first firing of a newly built kiln is called "hatsugama". Ceramic tiles fired at the time of hatsugama of Ishii’s ascending kiln (Noborigama) used to be smooth and handsomely shaped. They were used for a kitchen in the house of Ishii’s friend in Kyoto City; a restaurant kitchen; a foyer; and other places. “Distortion cannot be avoided because of the many pieces stuck inside of my kiln today (after so many years of use).” Ishii thinks the creation of pottery is an inevitable result—neither right nor wrong—in which soil, fire, and kiln give rise to the pottery as a result of many actions beyond the human imagination.

Relying on Support from Others for Firing the Kiln

Ishii says firing his ascending kiln—which he currently does once every year or year and a half—is a work that relies on support from others.
“All fire on the earth originates from the sun. In addition to support from the power of nature, support from various people is essential for firing a kiln; such as someone to prepare the firewood, to help place the firewood, and to prepare meals. Whilst my ability contributes only to a small part, it is of significance to rely on others for support. I also feel the influence of invisible force, the accumulated human activities since ancient times. It may be close to the world of the collective consciousness of humans, far beyond my abilities. I think there might be this massive existence behind the formation of pottery.”
Ishii strongly became aware of this when he fired the kiln last fall. A typhoon in the summer damaged a part of the kiln chimney, and Akira Kusumi—renowned plasterer and Ishii’s good friend—repaired it. It took about four days to complete, and Kusumi changed the shape of a tip of chimney flue, saying “The previous shape was structurally irrational and I didn’t like it.” A slight change in the shape of the air outlet causes changes in the entire formula for the firing. Previously, the internal temperature of the three chambers increased from the front to the back. Last year, however, the temperature started to rise in the rear-most chamber and not in the front chamber. Feeling agitated, Ishii stopped the firing at once, thinking “the pottery in the middle chamber is all ruined.” Then, curiously enough, he realized the temperature in the front chamber was rising due to the high heat from the back side. He sealed the furnace opening again, resulting in perfectly fired pottery in all chambers. Ishii and his partner, Sumiko Ishii, felt something that transcended human ability from this incident.
“Pottery making is a work of transforming clay material, but sometimes I think the purpose may be the transformation of the creator himself. My mindset also changes from firing a kiln. Herbert Read*1 wrote something like ‘pottery is a fusion of matter and spirit’ and I deeply agree. The world opens up by adding an extraordinary heat load. That is what makes the pottery so fascinating.”

Pottery Characteristics Seasoned by Time

“Yohen” is a Japanese term to express the changing appearance of pottery when fired in a kiln. Ishii showed me a flower vase, stating that he might have recently achieved “yohen” himself that would go a little beyond the history of pottery. Subtle and profound purple shades rise on the black surface of the vase, creating calm and passionate expressions simultaneously. This represents a deep world, only achieved by taking plenty of time for firing.
“When firing, substantial pressure accumulates inside the kiln, in addition to heat. The pressure is large enough to swell the kiln, so the pottery is also under massive pressure. In particular, potteries placed near the furnace opening usually break since they tend to be buried in ash, bearing even greater loads from the weight of the ash—clay just can’t take the load. But I placed this vase near the furnace opening, which I usually avoid, and achieved this appearance.”
Sure enough, it is unlikely to be baked in perfect shape in such condition, so Ishii repairs them using silver before putting them to market. Inspired by the unintentional appearances, which are the products of chance, he fires the kiln again to create more unexpected pottery. He is attracted to this repetitive transformation of matter and himself, he says.
Belgian art dealer Axel Vervoordt is a collector of Ishii’s pottery. He uses the term “timeless” to describe Ishii’s works.
“Timeless means both ‘not affected by time’ and ‘deepend by time’. I interpret my pottery as the latter. In Japan, people traditionally have considered that characteristics of objects are deepened as time goes by, like Amamori*2 Tea Bowls from the Momoyama Period. I think this type of sense might be useful for revitalizing art and crafts today. European people used to find beauty in perfect shapes, yet they are now seeking beauty in natural and incidental formation, like yohen. It’s an interesting age.”
FYLGDU MÉR OSAKA uses and displays Ishii’s pottery not only in the restaurant, but on each floor. The forms beyond the individual selves such as potteries from the Goryeo dynasty of Korea and the Sung and Ming dynasties of China; and the powerful expression with the time baked in the fire remind us of the hidden desire within us to encounter the soil, water, and fire.

Text: Aya Ogawa
Photography: Takumi Ota