I have arrived back in the U.K. after an incredible experience in Japan.
I had planned ideally to deliver this project over a two month period, but thanks to the support of so many people, I was able to achieve it in the one month I was able to spend in Japan.
That said, the first three weeks were so intense, with schedules beginning very early and often ending late, that I was often conscious of floating through time.
My first stop at Hiroshima was an unforgettable way to begin. It was still very warm in Japan, so I was aware of the type of summer that might have occurred in 1945. This was very important to me.
The ring of the mountains surrounding Hiroshima are also very moving when you see them. They are so prominent in the archival images taken after the destruction when the city was obliterated - with nature left standing.
Meeting Nassrine Azimi and Kenta Matsuoka from Green Legacy Hiroshima and receiving donated leaves from the surviving trees was so emotional - I couldn’t have wished for a better introduction to the project.
It was then quickly on to Shigaraki.
The wonderful thing about Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, especially now I know it better, is that everything is organised quietly toward helping you achieve your aims. Thank you Sugiyama San, Matsunami San, Yuki, Yoshiko and Akira for everything.
It felt a very appropriate place to come and make work about the natural world, and in between making, I was able to gather inspiration and materials from the local countryside.
I will never forget those quiet moments of solitude cycling into the mountains to find a renewal of energy and focus, sometimes just finding a space to sit and breathe.
The forest became a special place for me.
I was also able to enter the rhythm of local life: meeting people walking their dogs at the end of the day, seeing them visiting shrines, tending their vegetable and rice fields.
Of course, when I’m here I enjoy the huge privilege of seeing my friends again and on this occasion it was on a much deeper level. A major highlight toward the end of my trip was being taken to the shrine city of Ise Jingū in Mie prefecture. This place has such significance nationally for Japan, so I felt honoured to give thanks in a very traditional way. Erika, Yo-Ko and Ishihama San - thank you!
There were so many other moments, which are too numerous to mention, as well of endless gifts of kindness, that I will treasure.
The Ittekoi wood firing was a major moment, not simply for me, but as a communal event in which so many people voluntarily contributed.
What is it about the wood fire that draws people? It felt elemental. Everything I hoped it would be - and perhaps more.
I should say a special word about my fellow artists, who were, of course, unknown to me at the beginning, but who proved to be amazing companions. How lucky to come at a busy time to the studios and meet such positive and talented people. The endless hospitality and willingness to include me was appreciated so much - I am in your debt: Vanessa, Virginia, Man, Barbara, Nate, Matt, Antonio, Clark, Sayuri, Kaho, Sita, Wen Hsi, Martin, Jennifer and Kim.
The final exhibition was an exciting moment. Quickly appraising the works I had made (over 200 pieces), and selecting a small handful. Thank you to everyone who helped make the Preview event a success, and to those who came and gave me feedback during the week.
I am very happy that one of the main pieces in the exhibition has been donated to the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park Collection. A piece of me, the Hiroshima trees and the memory of the trip are bound up in this work - I am so grateful it resides in Japan.
It was with some trepidation that I returned to Japan. My 2017 experience changed my life, so I was nervous returning might dilute or alter this experience.
I now know that Shigaraki is a place I will hopefully always return to - a piece of me is there.
I have not quite returned yet.