First music emerging in response to my recent experience in Japan.
I am not here
First music emerging in response to my recent experience in Japan.
I am not here
I am grateful to the graceful Weeping Willow (Yanagi 柳) that stands next to the pond in Hanover Garden, Hiroshima.
It was a hot day on the 2 October, but it was cool under this tree. I remember the sharpness of the sun on my skin and the darkness of the foliage. Many of the fallen leaves and branches were floating on the water, and as we stood and looked, we rescued one branch for me to take to Shigaraki.
I had several motifs in my head that I knew I wanted to try and use in the final pieces.
One was the target, marking out the epicentre of the bomb - a recurring image in the military documentation at the time.
Later, someone remarked that the rings looked like tree rings - and I loved that idea - the way that work often goes beyond the maker’s intention, but is somehow still relevant.
Several challenges lay ahead for me. One, was making sure any ‘drawing’ that might emerge from firing natural material onto clay, would be visible.
The darkness occurring in the clay during wood firing would make this interesting, so I was keen to have several examples of how marks could be made.
I made the decision to fire some pieces in an electric kiln at Shigaraki, as it was the closest I could come to my own experiments in the U.K. These would complement the pieces from the Ittekoi wood kiln, which were more subtle and unpredictable.
The Yanagi survived the firing, and came through the ordeal to be positioned in the centre of the gallery for the exhibition.
It is now in the collection at Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park.
One of the central pieces of the recent exhibition at Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park was made from Camelia seeds (Yabu Tsubaki 椿).
The seeds were hand-picked on Sunday 23rd September 2018 by Prof Nassrine Azimi and volunteers from Green Legacy Hiroshima who donated them to my project when I arrived on the 1st October.
Of course I didn’t know how these seeds would respond to the firing, or what kind of effect they would leave. It was one of the best aspects of this project, having an element of chance running alongside the more formal testing of clay bodies and firing techniques.
I’ll never forget as I drew back the kiln lid, the likeness the seeds had made, to the symbol for radiation.
The final work is titled: ‘For Every Bomb, There’s a Bloom’ 2018, 19 x 19 cm.
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.
Today was spent mostly on the computer, documenting my works and measuring in the space. I was also thinking quite hard about how to spend my few remaining days in Shigaraki...
The gallery is open each day at 10am so I had a little time to get some fresh air beforehand.
I decided to find my way to Mt Hando San where I’d been last year. It was odd retracing my steps but wonderful to be on the mountain again with no-one around except some interesting wildlife!
I had a visit in the gallery from one of the drumming group- Sashiko- so nice she made a special effort to come.
Virginia and I visited Yoko San’s exhibition at the end of the day. So amazing to see her painting. I hope she continues to build on this success.
Finally, a huge effort was made on the food front for another delicious shared meal. Perfect way to end the day - thank you!
Let the howling commence!
My exhibition ‘Hibaku-Jumoku - in search of Hiroshima’s ‘Survivor Trees’ was launched yesterday at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park.
The event was really lovely, made special by the attendance of my fellow artists, who I was able to thank. I was also grateful so many staff who have helped me at SCCP were also able to come, including Yuki, Matsunami San and Yoshiko. Special friends Yoko and Erika made my day, with beautiful flowers and cake from Erika. Her bamboo also appears in the exhibition - so lucky.
Tomoko Konno from last year’s residency also came which was a wonderful surprise as she is here in Shigaraki for a short while.
Sugiyama San, Chief of the Residency, was present and returned after the first visit for a second look around. I’m very honoured!
I’m pleased with the space and Yuki helped me set up pretty much on the day itself.
A special shout goes out to Nate who provided a wonderful vessel for the flowers!
I also wanted to mention that Martin, Wen Hsi and Barbara all contributed to the making of my small teapots - clay and under glaze powder respectively!
I have taken some pictures of the works today but will no doubt take more.
One week to go... ouch!
Another long day starting at 7am unloading and tidying the kiln. I’m happy to say the firing was a success with all pieces surviving the trial by fire.
The drawings from the natural fibres are much more subtle than the electric kiln and the Shigaraki style clay has really revealed itself.
The kiln is now empty and I have left the wonderful hillside space with a sense of regret and anticipation for the selection process.
More detail will come once exhibition is launched on Tuesday.
At the end of the day I managed a bike ride despite weariness.
Yesterday was a marathon wood firing effort.
I can’t begin to claim the credit, as I was helped by so many people completely voluntarily.
The day passed in a haze of hot sunshine, increasingly hot wood, and endless gifts of food, drink, homemade produce, stoking time and good humour. When advice was imparted, it was very subtle and I noticed how people were drawn to the firing out of true enjoyment and a desire to participate.
Akira San helped so much, to guide me at the beginning with a schedule and during the day; and the ever serene Matsunami San checked in on me occasionally and exuded his calm presence.
One particular highlight were the sweet potatoes from Erika San’s garden which roasted away infront of the kiln. She also spent some time stoking too after work.
Two major events occurred during the firing from a technical point of view. The first was around 600 degrees when huge plumes of black, acrid smoke billowed from the side of the kiln. I made a quick phone call to the office, swiftly followed by Yuki San arriving to re-assure me it was normal!
This took the firing back a bit and I struggled to get up to 800. Eventually making it with a little prayer to the patient Kiln God I’d made earlier, and prompted by fellow artist Wen Hsi who dropped by.
Both Antonio and Sita came and got stuck in with two very helpful sessions - Sita getting the kiln to 1200 at which point I was able to maintain the heat solo handed for 3 more hours.
Barbara brought a delicious bowl of udon soup with Inari tofu up to keep me going and provided much appreciated help.
Both Nate and Matt sat with me as it got late and we had a good chat about politics!
The session ended with frozen edamame from Jennifer Lee, and finally, a celebration beer and the very chilled out and calming presence of new arrival to SCCP, Man Yau from Helsinki.
All I can say is thank you, because apart from the obvious enjoyment and challenge of my first wood firing, it was the people (and Japanese luck) that made it.
It’s hard to imagine loading a kiln for a whole day but that sums up my day today!
Two firings begin this week. I have my 10kw electric kiln firing tomorrow followed by the wood kiln on Thursday.
I’m still making!
Tonight I need to select pieces and make sure everything is dry.
It’s been amazing working on ideas at such an intense pace, with lots of unknowns but surrounded by the stimulating landscape of Shigaraki.
Most days have either started or ended with cycling out to collect samples and inspiration. Without the bike this would be a much more limited experience - so I feel very fortunate that so much is within reach.
One month is a very short space of time to realise a project like this, but I’ve used my time well, having now reached the half way point.
Once the wood firing is completed, I’ll have a couple of days to organise the exhibition which previews on the 23rd October.
I look forward to that day!
I’m into the main building phase now so it’s longer days and one eye on the clock before my firing commences next week.
The work will present interesting challenges when it comes to transportation and loading the Ittekoi, so a 10kw electric firing will also take place as a back up next week.
The days are getting darker so my trip to find local bamboo was mainly in twilight. I’m trying to use as much fresh material as possible to supplement my Hiroshima samples.
I’m also taking the opportunity to make some drawings and photograms which may be considered for the exhibition - preview on the 23 October.
Yesterday was mostly a day of silence.
The centre was closed, so the park was still with occasional bird song.
It was a chance to prepare publicity for the exhibition including design work for the poster and supporting text.
The day ended peacefully with friends at the mountain Onsen under the stars.
Testing of clay bodies has been completed with one type (25) proving most consistent results.
The next stage of my project involves creating pieces robust enough to withstand the wood kiln (flat and vertical) and achieve effective (and interesting) results.
The gallery space also needs preparing, so there is much multi-tasking underway. Vanessa is also having an exhibition shortly before mine so we are working together which helps.
The Ceramics Market is now over and has been very successful this year. Lots of visitors dropping into the studio too, so we never quite know who’s going to appear.
Ceramic artist, Chitaru Kawasaki came to the space and met me and the other artists which was a pleasure.
Still enjoying memories from Sunday night at the fireworks and drumming event in town!
Six days in and my test firing is underway.
Lots of interesting challenge to keep foliage from Hiroshima fresh and selecting local materials, such as sasa (bamboo), too.
The 5KW electric kiln will be ready by morning which will help me on to the next phase.
I’m also preparing some additional work inspired by my project and the wider experience of returning to Japan. I hope to include this in the exhibition later in the month.
It’s been fun to see two other artists from Bristol joining the residency! - Wen Hsi and Martin Harman.
The Exhibition Hall has re-opened with another inspiring show. I may make some iPhone sketches like last year.
Now off to fireworks in the town...
The weather has suddenly jumped back into summer mode - very humid, heavy downpours mixed with hot sun.
This was tricky for the start of the Tougei No Mori Ceramics Market which is a major local event in Shigaraki and the region. But the rest of the weekend is due to stay dry.
I spent most of the day trying to keep cool and work on some options for my important test firing on Monday. One challenge is that wood kilns are known to provide striking effects on vertical wares. So I’m probably going to mix flat pieces with other shapes in order to maximise these opportunities.
Sita’s Ittekoi firing was successful, which gives added confidence for mine on the 18th.
I’ve also spent some excellent time with Guest Artist from Philadelphia, Nathan Willever, talking about coal beds and cones.
Finished the day with more bike exercise and discovered a large Buddhist temple along my countryside route.
Life at Tougei No Mori (Forest of Ceramics) has begun in refreshingly familiar, but also new ways.
For a start the jet lag has been no problem. I put this down to managing to sleep on the aeroplane or at least refuse to be tempted by the view from the window as before!
The task ahead is starting to come into focus and most of my time has now been allocated.
My project this year means I will be constantly juggling organisational tasks with creative work.
The exhibition at the end of my month means I need to be looking forward at the space now and making work accordingly. This is exciting and challenging but hopefully my period of testing back in the U.K. and my successful trip to Hiroshima will help.
It has also been wonderful to meet up with the staff at SCCP again, who make life here such a happy one.
I’m also getting to know my new fellow artists and the residency is now almost full to capacity with very talented people. More on this, will no doubt follow.
It’s great to be back at Shigaraki.
Thankfully nothing has changed, except the weather.
It’s much warmer than my spring experience last year and I have the insect bites to prove it!
The air is also filled with the new sound of Cicadas (or the Japanese version I assume), but change is on the way with the prospect of a typhoon. ..
It was my first day in the studio, setting up my space, my schedule for the month and making my first tests.
It’s also very busy with lots of international residents from China, Greece, Sweden and USA.
Sita from China is firing the Ittekoi Kiln so I will shortly see (and learn) from her experience before my turn on the 18th October.
Now, where’s that bite cream?!...
New space, familiar view.
New artists - Sita at the Ittekoi Kiln.
My first bike ride, ending the day back at the shrine.
Yesterday I was able to finally meet Nassrine Azimi, former director and Kenta Matsuoka, current staff, of UNITAR--a research and training institute of the United Nations.
Nassrine is co-founder with Tomoko Watanabe of ‘Green Legacy Hiroshima’ (GLH) a voluntary initiative that sends seeds and saplings of the historic ‘Hibaku-Jumoku’ or ‘Survivor Trees’ around the world, raising awareness about the history of the trees, the resilience and beauty of nature and the dangers of nuclear weapons.
I was shown key sites within the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the trees themselves.
Some of the trees still remain in the exact spot when the atomic bomb was exploded above the Genbaku Dome.
One Weeping Willow is the tree closest to the epicentre, and is characteristic of the Hibaku-Jumoku - leaning in toward the blast of the bomb.'
Nassrine presented me with a variety of cuttings which I will be test firing shortly, although their symbolic nature makes them almost too precious to use.
I am very grateful to Nassrine and Kenta for their time and for Nassrine’s deep knowledge of Hiroshima’s history - past and present.
She left me with the powerful idea that Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) symbolise the wider intent of the Japanese people today - to forgive the past, but to also share the lessons from it.
Nassrine and Kenta
After leaving Hiroshima late morning, I took the long journey across Honshu Island to Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park where my project will continue.
Back again at Tougei No Mori (Forest of Ceramics) at dusk.
My project has got underway with a mammoth day.
It started in London on Sunday morning at Heathrow, and I’m now ending it on Monday evening, after a 13 hour flight to Osaka (via Helsinki), and a successful onward trip to Hiroshima.
Genbaku Dome Peace Memorial, Hiroshima. Camera obscura image. 1.10.18.
Hiroshima comes with a huge weight of expectation, making any kind of artistic interpretation full of pitfalls. So I was really keen to use a different approach to capture my first impressions, and decided to make a pin hole camera obscura.
I particularly like the unfinished nature of this kind of photography - and the layering of paper inside the camera adds depth and perspective.
The dome: the only direct architectural reference of the atomic bombing, is a magnet for tourists and photographers, so it was fun to wander around with my black box.
Tomorrow I will meet Professor Nassrine Azimi, the co-founder of ‘Green Legacy Hiroshima’, to talk in more detail about my research into the Survivor Trees of Hiroshima - the ‘Hibaku-Jumoku’.
I am also very fortunate to be receiving samples from these trees, to use in my project.
I’ll end the day travelling to Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park where I’ll be staying for the next month to make new ceramic works for an exhibition.
The Peace Park at dusk.
It's taken 18 months, but I am finally on the verge of a return trip to Japan this October.
I will be returning to Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park to undertake a specific project and hold my first exhibition in Japan.
My initial inspiration has been the symbol of the 'Hibaku-Jumoku' or the 'Survivor Trees', that withstood the impact of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War Two.
I will be travelling to Hiroshima (typhoons willing) on my arrival in Japan. There I will be visiting the Memorial Park and Museum and gathering natural materials for my work at Shigaraki.
I also hope to meet representatives of the voluntary body 'Green Legacy Hiroshima' who take care of the surviving trees in the City.
Sadly, time does not allow a trip to Nagasaki, but I will be using the testimonies of those people who survived the bombs to inform the project.
I will then set off to Shigaraki, arriving on October 2nd and staying for a month to develop new work, using the wood firing kilns and having an exhibition toward the end of my stay.
The next couple of weeks before I leave will be taken up with testing materials and designs in preparation for the trip.
Thank you to all those who have supported and helped me realise this project. Returning to Japan is a tremendous gift and one which I hope you can enjoy with me via this blog.
Look out for new updates soon.