James KASPER (USA)
First, I want to thank all the people who have worked so hard to make M.I.C.Fes a great event.
Second, I want to express my appreciation to my fellow artists here for making this an educational and inspiring workshop. It is wonderful to see how all of these individual life experiences show up in the work we have seen on display here in Mashiko.
When HAMADA Shoji began work in Mashiko the world was on the verge of major industrial and social changes. Yet he saw past this to find richness in the heart of hand crafted articles and helped to renew their presence in the industrialized world.
In what one could consider the first international ceramics workshop, Hamada and Bernard LEACH began a running dialogue on aesthetics and technical issues while studying historic Japanese and English pottery.
Today we have passed the immediate concern that many traditional hand crafts will disappear in the near future. The technical issues of many hand crafts have reached a level of maturity and wide dissemination but the aesthetic considerations continue.
In the past 30 years woodfiring has moved from an archaic oddity in the technologically advanced counties to become one of the most exciting areas to be working in ceramics. Part of this is due to the connections developed between Japan and the West, started with Hamada and Leach, which reached new heights beginning about 1970.
The US has always borrowed materially from the many cultures that make up its population. In the 1960s the growing crafts movement also began to borrow spiritually from Asia. The Beatles went to India and Western potters headed to Japan. US potters began to woodfire in anagama kilns in styles strongly influenced by Japan. Japanese forms began to be produced with no real cultural support for them in the US. The confluence of the material and spiritual discoveries by US potters visiting Japan lead to little outposts of Japanese culture scattered throughout the US.
All of this was happening despite having an ongoing traditional woodfire ceramics community in the Southeastern US. Virtually no one was working in styles reflecting the Mid-Western and Eastern Native American forms and few outside of the Native American communities of the South-West were looking to the Anasazi and other old cultures.
Now that the Japan-West ceramics connection has reached maturity there is a growing interest in the ceramic heritage of other places around the world such as Korea, China, Africa, as well as islands in the industrialized world like Seagrove in the US and La Borne in France. Ceramists are in some ways at the front of this study of cultures as they try to understand the influence of Korea on Japanese ceramics, of China on both, of the work in Africa that has had a profound influence on painting in the 20th Century but less so on ceramics. This is self-serving for the artists as they look for inspiration and new (to them) expressions, but it is also essential to the health of woodfired ceramics globally.
Just as ceramics is in many ways the most sensual of the arts, from the visual to tactile to use, its spiritual connection is linked to the rituals and uses the forms were developed for. In this global age with more travel, television and the internet, the changes to social structures will require a response from the woodfire ceramic community if it is to maintain economic viability. I am not suggesting that some new global style must be adopted by potters, but that as the people of the world become more aware of each other ceramists must reflect that in their work. If they fail to do so they risk becoming hollow in their art much like the Egyptian tomb painters did after hundreds of years of ritual copying, or the Romans as they copied from the Greeks.
Workshops like M.I.C.Fes allow us to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of why the various pottery forms exist in their respective cultures, but more importantly they help us look at our own work in a new and deeper way. For many people, the best way to learn about their native language is to learn a second one. This makes more clear the syntax and grammar in the native tongue. It is the dull artist that fails to be excited by this personal challenge and growth. In the best case, that part of tradition which still reaches us spiritually today will grow and develop in our work and this cannot fail to lead to a healthier economic environment for woodfired ceramics around the world.