‘Blue-Slipped Stone-Burst’
Seeing Destructive Plasticity in Takuro Kuwata

The fact that Japanese artist Takuro Kuwata is from Hiroshima Prefecture might suggest that the violent appearance of much of his work contains a latent evocation of the atomic explosion of 6th August 1945. Kuwata (born 1981) is of a different generation, of course, yet even that superficial association suggests productive possibilities in terms of contextualising his work. Indeed, one may see echoes of that horrific event and its aftermath in the way Kuwata’s ceramic objects shuck their own skins, peel or turn inside-out, their glazes raised like keloid scarring.1 Their ravaged appearance evokes more contemporary destructions too – earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, nuclear accidents, even diseases and pandemics – the post-war anxiety of Japan folded into the relentless information cycles of globalized culture. Kuwata’s objects curdle and separate according to various combinatory and permutational factors. Colors and textures range from over-saturated pastels to metallic excesses; from bubble-gum pinks to toxic mercury; gilded beads that look like sweat, or fragments of confectionery. The explosive force of these objects can be read in the context of self-cancellation, as if their destructive capacities were focused entirely upon themselves, yet this reading is made more complex in relation to the chawan (tea bowl) at the heart of chanoyu (the tea ceremony), a complex array of formalized rituals and customs with a long history in Japan.2

Kuwata’s first solo exhibition in London, at Alison Jacques Gallery in 2016, bore the title ‘From Tea Bowl’, the preposition suggestive of both precedent and point of departure. A previous show in New York had been named ‘Dear Tea Bowl’, a title that simultaneously declared a term of affection and proposed a form of address, as if setting out the parameters for an ongoing correspondence . After graduating from Kyoto Saga Art College in 2001, Kuwata was apprenticed to master potter Susumu Zaima in order to learn traditional making techniques. Kuwata has acknowledged that Zaima introduced him to the “spirit of the tea ceremony”, allowing him to “connect with Japan’s cultural and historic past”.3 Further influence came during Kuwata’s time at Tajimi City Pottery Design and Technical Center, following a visit from Seizō Hayashiya, renowned as a chawan expert who had published on the subject since the 1970s. As well as showing him important examples of chawan, Hayashiya would appraise Kuwata’s pieces in the context of formal tea ceremonies at Kakiden Gallery in Shinjuku.4 The resulting assessment – that Kuwata’s works were simply ‘not tea bowls’ – is worth questioning, not least to speculate as to what kind of relationship with chawan (and chanoyu) they do embody, but also the degree to which they have subtle connections with associated material techniques and aesthetic principles. After all, connections with the structural underpinnings of chanoyu are part of what allowed Kuwata to start “colouring outside the lines.”5
        Chanoyu has a complex past. Rooted in ancient China, codified in 16th century Japan, the culture of tea drinking blends influences from Shintoism, Zen, Taoism, Confucianism, and has developed through centuries of variation and innovation in both theory and practice. Tea culture spans activities ranging from an everyday tea-drinking to the development of prescribed rituals determining the use of specific spaces and utensils. As an “art of everyday life” made distinct through the overlaid “artificiality” of rules of etiquette, chanoyu contains within it an enduring and uneasy duality of both art and life.[6] Chawan play a unique role in the evolving tradition, their enigmatic form being simultaneously “grounded in function but communicating something well beyond its utility.”[7]

Kuwata himself insists that his work is in dialogue with chanoyu, describing a “dual sensitivity” in his approach – one that moves between “specific function and abstract aesthetic”, as his output is notably split between smaller functional sculptures (not restricted to tea bowls) and larger-scale ‘totems’, each operating within contexts that shift back and forth in origin and time, from East to West, from past to future.[8]Such a dialogue between form and function may also connect to Kuwata’s early awareness of the avant-garde Sōdeisha movement (1948–1998), founded by Yagi Kazuo, who approached ceramics as art objects rather than functional wares.[9] These crossovers underpin Kuwata’s ambitions for the wider use of his ceramics. He has stated his desire to popularize the ubiquity of what he calls a “special cup”, such that his unique ceramic vessels might form a part of renewed ceremonial patterns in people’s lives.[10] Of course, this desire is consistent with the wider contextual development of chanoyu, which itself resulted from the “crystallization of the manner of use” in relation to its accoutrements, as the social function of tea became a motivating force that drew clear connections between art objects and everyday life.[11]

In addition to tea culture and other contemporary practitioners engaged with its influence – such as Kentaro Kawabata, Toshio Ohi, and Shingo Takeuchi – Kuwata’s work connects to reference points from Europe and North America. On the surface, Kuwata’s use of oversaturated color – bright blues, reds, silver and gold – could be associated with the work of artists working in other traditions and settings, such as Philip King, Ron Nagle or Ken Price, as well as Kuwata’s stated admiration for commercial Finnish ceramics, Northern European furniture design, and even the graphics of the London Underground map.[12] Kuwata’s combination of sources and influences not only indicates a cross-cultural richness but also indicates an intention to contrast (even collide) a synthetic or industrial aesthetic with the organic, handmade qualities associated with chawan. Instead of sharp colors being used as ‘accents’, as most commonly found in traditional approaches to Japanese ceramics, Kuwata instead transfers them to the entire form.

But, again, this distinction between old and new, or traditional and avant-garde, is not clear cut. The ‘Pop’ intensity of Kuwata’s color could just as easily be associated with matcha, the vibrant green powdered tea first introduced to Japan from China in the early Kamakura period at the end of the 12th century, which has since become a powerful visual focus of chanoyu.[13]Color has an uneasy duality at the heart of Kuwata’s engagement with chanoyu, one that implies an insecure line between the natural and the synthetic. A usefully evocative – and notably ‘Western’ – account of bright colors in raku-ware comes from Bernard Leach, a key figure in bridging cultural distance within the field of ceramics. Recalling a certain chawan glaze, Leach describes it as “not the red of iron oxide, even as employed in the brightest overglaze enamels, but almost a pure colour of tomato”.[14]Kuwata’s use of color is certainly emphatic and succinct, arguably “pure,” yet does not rely on associations with natural sources. Indeed, Kuwata has claimed to have “never understood why ceramics have to reflect nature”.[15]

It is instructive to consider that Kuwata’s explosive forms cite traces of an incipient violence of distortion that can be linked to aspects of chanoyu as it developed. In ‘The Beauty of Irregularity’ (1953), Sōetsu Yanagi discusses links between the Way of Tea and deformation, instances aligned with the fundamental principles underlying the creative work of the tea masters of Japan, which further informed the elusive qualities of wabi aesthetics. Within the handmade domestic crafts that provided the springboard for the ‘quietism’ of the Tea Masters, an inherent art of imperfection was sought because, as Yanagi puts it, that which is perfect carries “no overtones” and “admits no freedom”. [16]Although other enthusiasts of chanoyu proposed different extremes – Shin’ichi Hisamatsu, for example, suggesting that chanoyu should positively rejectthe perfect, opening the way for manufactured imperfection, arguably a key aspect of Kuwata’s approach.[17] Yanagi preferred to see it in relation to muso, the Buddhist concept of unchanging formlessness behind all phenomena, where distinctions between perfect and imperfect no longer exist. From this perspective, the objects emerge instead from a world where such dualism is irrelevant.

Yet something of this duality does appear to persist in Kuwata’s practice. The artist has spoken of wanting to make work that is “completely new”, that “reflects our time”, yet much of his methodology, most notably the use of accident and chance, borrows from ‘tradition’, perhaps acknowledging the latent experimental innovations embedded within that word.[18]Consider the importance of the ‘iconoclastic’ innovations of chanoyu master Oribe Furuta in the mid-16th to 17th century, such as Goshomaru bowls, often asymmetrically warped and of uneven thickness, and which became known as kutsugata(shoe-shaped) from their similarity to the clogs of ceremonial costume.[19] Other scholars have noted instances where Oribe favoured chawan that had been broken purposefully, such as breaking an old Korean bowl into fragments in order to make a smaller bowl more to his taste, a sensibility inherited from Oribe’s own master, Sen no Rikyū, as a sense of finding beauty in damage.[20]

Kuwata takes this long-established radicalism to another kind of visibility – turning up the gain, as it were, on this aspect of chanoyu, until it ruptures, revealing other possibilities. He employs the deliberate ‘misuse’ of established making techniques, and indeed points of appreciation, of chawan, in his pursuit of the accidental. The technique of kairagi, for example. in which thick white feldspar glaze shrinks during firing, often revealing the layers of bare clay underneath, is a decorative effect firmly embedded in the codified connoisseurship of chawanaesthetics. Louise Allison Cort’s discussion of the Kizaemon tea bowl, a National Treasure renowned for its embodiment of the transition between Korean making methods and subsequently rarefied points of chawan appreciation in Japan, highlights how the qualities of kairagi – historically associated with resemblance to ‘plum blossom bark’ or shagreen, the textured skin of rays often used on decorative scabbards – is listed as one of the ‘seven points to see’ for any informed appraisal.[21]

Kuwata accentuates the crawling effect of kairagi by overlaying glazes on colored clay slip, allowing vibrant combinations to vie for supremacy during firing. He cites a seminal visit to an exhibition at the Gifu Prefectural Museum by Living National Treasure, Toyozo Arakawa, noted for his use of the thick white glaze Shino-yu, which can also drip and crawl before hardening, depending on the heat of the kiln. Kuwata noticed an edge coming off one of Arakawa’s pieces – a tiny detail, redolent of both destruction and formation, that would go on to inform a body of work in which excessive glazes lose their integrity during firing. Commonly used to generate subtle decorative imperfections in the glaze, Kuwata’s use of the effect is magnified, shifted to another scale, such that distinctions between integrity and flaw become difficult to discern.

Kuwata similarly exaggerates the celebrated practice of kintsugi, a method of using gold lacquer for repair. He applies scaled-up layers of powdered gold and platinum to fired and glazed surfaces, then re-fires the object in order to provoke extreme deformation. This approach is informed by a playful attitude to techniques developed in both East and West. Kuwata has acknowledged the influence of the gold edging of Wedgwood cups in his use of metallic materials, yet history records how “breaks and repairs [in chawan] are openly acknowledged [and] mends executed with gold lacquer, red lacquer, or even silver staples.”[22] The latter further contextualizes Kuwata’s pioneering use of refractory needles – thin lengths of heat resistant metal, normally used in the construction of kilns – which both direct and further randomize processes of distortion, resulting in unique textural effects that are both rustic and futuristic, natural and synthetic: an appearance that has been evocatively described as “plants dipped in metal”.[23]Another key process for Kuwata isishihaze, or ‘stone explosion’, whereby mineral additions to the clay puncture the surface during firing. The technique historically involved small, dust-like fragments of stone, emerging in swathes to create stippled textures that catch light and shadow. Again, Kuwata takes this technique to an extreme, radically oversizing the stones, almost to the extent that they outweigh the clay from which they burst forth.

What is consistent in all these adapted techniques is the primacy of chance; as Kuwata puts it, “ceramic pieces are not completed only by themselves.”[24]His work appeals to all manner of material contingencies: drying patterns, inconsistencies, resistances, impurities, and so on. Kuwata considers these part of the “individuality of the clay” from which “expressions” are brought forth.[25]Of course, such an appeal to chance, to outside forces, is not alien to contemporary sculpture, ceramics in general, or chanoyuin particular, yet the foregrounding of process has an appealing insistence in Kuwata’s use of titling. As well as a blanket assignation of ‘tea bowl’ in much of his early work, Kuwata’s website lists works with permutational, descriptive titles that read like recipes combining known archetypes with unpredictable actions: ‘Blue-slipped Stone Burst Vase’, ‘Pink-sky-slipped Kairagi Shino bowl’, ‘Pink-slipped Stone-burst vase’, ‘Red-slipped Platinum-drop Stone-burst Bulb’.

If there is a sense of pleasure in this process, it is useful to note that the great tea master,Kanichiro Morikawa, once suggested of chanoyu that “(t)here can be too much formality, although of course form is necessary, but the essence of Tea is to give pleasure.”[26]Kuwata draws on other, quite different forms of ritualized pleasure. He is not the only artist engaging withchawan for whom Yoshihiro Yamada’s manga Hyouge Mono (2005-2017, adapted for television 2011) – in which the character of Furuta Sasuke is obsessed with the tea ceremony – was formative.[27]In an interview with Ceramic Review, it was noted that Kuwata was once “deeply involved with Japan’s underground hip-hop scene as a DJ and dancer, spending much of his time in nightclubs”, with the interviewer citing the influence of neon lights, strobe effects, “advertising hoardings [and the] excesses of consumerist culture” on his work.[28]Kuwata’s desire to communicate directly with his friends in this street-dance scene has also been credited as leading to his decision to take his ceramic work to a “material and aesthetic extreme.”[29]

Such strategies arguably involve a provocation of chance, as the artist consciously inserts contingency into his making (firing) process, both in the form of open-ended consequence and literal physical impositions – the latter functioning as supplements of matter that form dynamic ‘obstacles’ within standardized processes. As much as symbols of randomization, these ‘alien’ objects are equally redolent as pockets of resistance (or certainty) within an operation already tempered by chance. In this context, it is possible to consider integrated forces of change and fixation in relation to the different types of workmanship – described by David Pye as existing on a spectrum of ‘certainty’ and ‘risk’ – with a view to questioning whether Kuwata’s chawanappeal to a synthesis of both.[30] In the ‘workmanship of certainty’, Pye suggests that the “quality of the result is exactly predetermined before a single thing is made” and characterizes activities of mass production and automation, where the action is “useful, expedient, beautiful, precise”.[31]The ‘workmanship of risk’, on the other hand, might also employ a range of machines, tools and templates – what Pye calls “shape-determining jigs” – but with the difference that the outcome depends far more on the “judgement, dexterity and care” the maker exercises as they work.[32]Here, the essential idea is continually at risk during the making process, such that the danger of “spoiling the job is at every minute real”.[33]

Aspects of Kuwata’s workmanship do indeed see him operate in an extreme, exaggerated region of risk, yet there are also specific parameters (even if constantly destabilized) set into it too: what we might describe as the ‘templates’ of the vessel form; the ‘shape’ of both chawan and chanoyu; the tangible, tooled plasticity of clay; the chemistry of glazes, the heat curves of the kiln. Evidence of Kuwata’s combined workmanship of certainty and risk is most clearly seen in the ease with which their integration is carried off in his work: like many accomplished craftspeople, he does not place chance procedures in opposition to stable material effects, but combines them in a complex repertoire. This has a particular significance in relation to chanoyu: Sōetsu Yanagi discusses the ‘roughness’ of traditional craftsmanship, a quality in the finished object that emerges from an easy-going naturalness towards materials and processes. This nonchalant attitude is in no way contrived – it is free but not consciously so. Where the “skipping of glaze or other imperfection” has occurred in a tea bowl in a way that is “quite fortuitous”, this is integrated in other, more stable aspects of the object / process / tradition, aided by an attitude of calm acceptance, free from any restriction – the traditional craftsperson operates in this sense “without polarized conceptions” or pretension with regard to certainty or risk.[34]

Clay, a plastic medium, is ideal for Kuwata’s insistent appeal to principles of irreversible, chance-led deformation. We can approach this topic through the notion of ‘destructive plasticity,’ as developed by philosopher Catherine Malabou. Given the term’s etymological roots in the Greek plassein [meaning ‘to mold’], there are countless metaphorical associations between plasticity and clay, not only in the wider context of the so-called ‘plastic arts’, or the essential mutability of cultural disciplines, but also in material terms: the shaping and imprinting of information (writing incised on clay tablets); or myths concerning humans molded into being from lumps of argillaceous mud. Plasticity is a concept that straddles many disciplines, from art, design, politics and medicine. Consider, for example, neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to learn, heal, mold and reconfigure itself. In these fields, ‘plasticity’ is almost always seen as positive. Yet Malabou attempts to distinguish two types of plasticity: positive and destructive. In positive plasticity, a continual balance is kept between the capacity for change and the aptitude for remaining the same; in other words, between future and memory, between giving and receiving form.[35]More compelling for Malabou is destructive plasticity, which “does not repair and in which the smallest accident suffices for the biggest possible deformation”.[36] Malabou extends this as a philosophical concept in which a given network of relations (for example, in the brain or the formation of subjectivity) is forced to “reinvent itself and discover its freedom in relation to the traces from the past.”[37]Malabou draws on real traumas for her examples, writing of “split identities, sudden interruptions, the deserts of Alzheimer’s patients, the emotional indifference of some who have suffered brain injury, those traumatized by war, victims of natural or political catastrophe.”[38]

The means by which Malabou draws out her interest in destructive plasticity is concerned with extremes of methodology – when discussing the “constant interplay between the formation and maintenance of subjectivity”, for example, moving between “rigidity and plasticity”, Malabou seeks new territory by “trying to radicalize [her] approach.”[39]As we have seen, a similar radicalization of methodology is evident in Kuwata. When Malabou evokes the “powers of plasticity […] beneath an apparently smooth surface like a reserve of dynamite under the peachy skin of being”, it is difficult not to make connections with Kuwata’s tea bowls.[40]

Another aspect of Malabou’s destructive plasticity that may be relevant to Kuwata’s work concerns the process of human growth and ageing. Malabou argues that destructive plasticity supports some of the earliest, formative phases of life – the programmed cellular annihilation (apoptosis) observed in fetuses, for example, which allows the developing fingers to separate – as well as in old age, when biological and neurological plasticity inevitably diminishes. The idea of ageing as an irreversible, transformative trauma (one that can take place instantaneously, at any moment) resonates powerfully for Malabou: “In the end it may be that for each one of us, ageing arises all of a sudden, in an instant, like a trauma, and that it suddenly transforms us, without warning, into an unknown subject.”[41]Kuwata does indeed set up fraught accelerations in his kiln, somehow indicative of a ‘forced’ growth or ageing. His clay objects experience artificial durations and impositions of alien matter, such that already-unpredictable chemical processes delivered by heat become even more prone to destruction. But is the result, to take a phrase from Malabou, “unable to recognize itself”?[42]

            Here it may be useful to acknowledge Malabou’s distinction between destructive plasticity and metamorphosis. In the latter, exemplified by mythological stories about the transformation of humans into animals or plants, Malabou insists only the “external form of the being changes, never its nature.”[43]She contends that there is a limited palette of forms, and that a cycle of change occurs within a given range of possibilities – in other words, form alters but substance remains. This raises the question as to whether it is appropriate to consider Kuwata’s work (and indeed its relationship to chanoyu) in terms of destructive plasticity, a “suddenly deviant […] unhitching from what came before”, or rather metamorphosis, changing the outer appearance of the teaware genre, as it were, while leaving its cultural content intact.[44]For Malabou, metamorphoses never quite abandon the “true nature of being” because if this fundamental ‘ur-identity’ were to change “substantively,” then what preceded any metamorphoses would lack the “ontological tangent” upon which it is predicated.[45] A transformation set outside the cycle of metamorphoses would suggest that the subject had “become unrecognizable.”[46]This gets to the heart of what is at stake in this reading of Kuwata’s work: in its relation to chawan it operates somewhere between destructive plasticity and metamorphosis, precisely in the context of a contingent recognition.[47]

At this point it is useful to bring in the work of Polish artist Aneta Regel, whose practice shares similar materials and processes with that of Kuwata, yet with markedly different intentions. Regel’s work is certainly concerned with a “meeting of the past with present reality, of Western and Eastern cultures,” yet she moves away from Kuwata’s solid-color, graphic abstractions, instead focusing on quasi-botanic and corporeal forms.[48]Displaying an indifference toward any polarized position on functionality, Regel’s abstract forms echo Kuwata’s interest in combining clay and glazes with additional elemental ingredients, such as volcanic rock, basalt, granite, and feldspar. In an echo of Kuwata’s “dual sensitivity,” Regel says she wants to achieve a “dynamic friction,” objects that “exist neither in the natural [nor] in the manufactured world.”[49]Regel’s pieces are positioned in a complex relation to (distorted) natural forms, rather than the culturally coded object-based associations of chanoyuthat are arguably present for Kuwata.[50]Both artists’ methods involve pushing their materials beyond their limits – using multiple firings, importing fragments from other pre-fired pieces of work, setting up volatile mixtures of both refined and unprocessed materials. For Regel, as with Kuwata, this results in randomized textural effects and disruptions. The complex overlays of weathered textures form unpredictable combinations that embrace (or even simulate) natural, eruptive impulses and elemental references. Regel’s pieces embody metamorphic states that emphasize the plasticity of her materials, or more specifically, that which Regel calls their “capacity to be modified”, equated not only with “our own ontology but also […] the way we interact with objects and one another”.[51]

Inasmuch as Regel’s work aims to capture the “moment of transition from one state to another, from raw to ‘ripened’, solid to fluid, rough to smooth,” a residual degree of representation persists, including the incorporation of autobiographical motifs – domestic patterns, personal memories – within more general textural allusions to landscape and spirit of place.[52]By contrast, Kuwata’s training emphasized the historical significance of using raw materials from specific regions in the production of ceramic ware, bringing the historical-material influence of place into the process and result – embedded in nature without mirroring it. During his rural apprenticeship with Susumu Zaima, Kuwata has recalled, master and apprentice would take ashes from the stove of the local café in order to blend them into yuyaku glazes. He would sometimes dig clay with his hands or bring stones down from mountainsides to use in ishihaze.[53]Kuwata still lives and works in Toki City in the Gifu region of Japan, an area rich in ceramic traditions inherently connected to the natural landscape.

Landscape operates differently for Regel. The dry, powdery effects she is drawn to echo certain kinds of lichen or mold growth, allowing a greater prominence for mimesis, however distorted it may be. Although similarly transformed by color, Regel’s pieces seem irresistibly anchored to landscape ‘recognition’ in an indirectly imitative way, no matter how fragmentary the object may seem. Within rough clumps of weathered clay, swamped by emerging solids and added grains that lay dormant or germinate, Regel’s objects intimate tree branches, parched fields, boulders lifted by glacial ice, riverbed wreckage. Regel’s engagement with landscape concerns autobiographical narrative, not wholly unlike Kuwata’s appeal to the traditional Japanese concept of mitateru, a poetic process of triggering the imagination through an object’s “allusive qualities.”[54]This process involves ‘seeing’ landscape in a related representational sense – a tree line in a flick of glaze, an outcrop of rock in a cup rim. This form of metaphorical allusion, where potential meaning shifts according to environment (described by Kuwata as “thinking of something as something else”), is again cited by the artist in the context of chanoyu. Kuwata explains how the tea master would often “narrate what he saw in the tea bowl and the stories would inflect the bowl’s character.” [55] Yet Kuwata’s approach to chawan suggests that his allusions are more embodied than seen; that the plasticity of his objects alludes to a form of (cultural) landscape in a way that is not primarily (or even necessarily) visual or mimetic.

Yet the relationship to ‘seeing’ in Kuwata’s process is complex. Many of his techniques involve making judgments while the work is hidden in the kiln – allowing glaze to melt and run, or determining the shift of an embedded stone, for example. This hidden working relates to post-Cagean aesthetics and the knowing role of chance procedures in creative activities, but it also suggests another, stranger kind of ‘unseen vision’ – a form of divination, perhaps; a recognition of latent information, relating to what Regel calls the “secret” withheld by materials.[56] We might draw comparisons here with the work of artist Alex Hoda, specifically his sculptural projects that engage with molybdomancy, a form of divination involving throwing molten metal into a liquid (in Hoda’s case, water), resulting in unique, distorted forms that can be interpreted both literally and symbolically.[57]Perhaps Kuwata is engaged with some form of keramancy,or divination through clay, with an open-ended (but half hidden) vision of the past, present and future of chanoyuforming part of the spell.

Of course, it may be that such extravagant speculations are unnecessary. Ultimately, Kuwata’s vessels fall short of being what Malabou describes as “absolute existential improvisation… a form born of the accident.”[58]Instead, we ourselves might recognize Kuwata’s explosive chawan as embodiments of plasticity itself, especially in relation to the overarching framework of chanoyu, wherein the inherent potential for the destruction of form maintains a presence in the process of formation, held in an unseen suspension between metamorphosis and destruction.[59] Kuwata’s appeal to contingency, chance and the accident may not result in the appearance of something radically new, something unrecognized – yet his works do embody plasticity’s “capacity to transform itself, to transgress its own limits, to displace itself, to become other.”[60]As Kuwata both literally and figuratively plants explosions within his objects, he may in fact be setting in motion an ongoing, metamorphic correspondence between destructive and formative plasticity. As close as they come to losing their formal and structural integrity, Kuwata’s objects remain contingent on what has gone before. At their heart, Kuwata’s chawan are emblematic of a matrix that can give, receive, and annihilate form. Given the appropriate conditions of both ‘chance’ and ‘certainty’, they can incite transformation.

This article is based on a talk presented in 2017 at West Dean College of Arts & Conservation, United Kingdom, as part of the ‘Ceramic Plasticity’ symposium.

David Stent (2021) “Blue-Slipped Stone-Burst” – Seeing Destructive Plasticity in Takuro Kuwata, The Journal of Modern Craft, 14:1, 43-56, DOI: 10.1080/17496772.2021.1901439


[*] Names in this article are given in western order, family name last.
1 Such associations between the artist, place, and violent historical events are noted by Jeffrey Uslip, “Takuro Kuwata”, Kaleidoscope Asia, September 2014, p.32-33.
2 Literally meaning ‘hot water for tea’, chanoyu is here being used to denote the tea ceremony in all its historical complexity, acknowledging a cultural matrix of ritual and etiquette, as well as its importance as an ongoing social activity.
3 Isabella Smith, “Psychedelic Ceramics”, Ceramic Review, November / December 2017, p.12.
4 Takuhito Kawashima, “Takuro Kuwata”,apartamento, May 2019, p.170.
5 Ibid.
6 Murai Yasuhiko. “The Development of Chanoyu” in Kumakura Isao & Paul Varley, eds.Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994, p.3-4.
7 Bonnie Kemske, The Teabowl: East & West. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017, p.13.
8 Erica Bellman, “Breaking the Mold | Takuro Kuwata”, T Magazine, New York Times, January 2013.
[9]A related duality might be said to exist in the gallery representations of Kuwata’s work in both the context of contemporary craft and in galleries such as Gagosian and Alison Jacques.
[10]Anna Marks, “Drinking Out of Cups? Eccentric Ceramics Reinvent the Tea Ceremony”, The Creator’s Proejct, VICE, September 2016 <https://creators.vice.com/en_uk/article/nz4pp8/eccentric-metallic-ceramics-japanese-tea-ceremony>
[11]Soetsu Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman (Japan: Kodansha International Ltd, 1973), p.181.
[12]Takuro Kuwata and Katja Sifkovic, “Bringing the Power of Nature into Ceramic”, Azito-Art, February 2013 <http://azito-art.com/topics/bringing-the-power-of-nature-into-ceramic-interview-with-takuro-kuwata/>
[13]Yashuhiko, “The Development of Chanoyu”, p5.
[14]Bernard Leach, Beyond East and West: Memoirs, Portraits, and Essays (London; Boston: Faber, 1978), p.275.
[15]Smith, “Psychedelic Ceramics”, p.12.
[16]Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman, p.120. It is worth pointing out that the mingei (folk craft) movement often associated with Yanagi is not a stated influence on Kuwata’s work; in fact, it is more often discussed in the context of related concept of kōgei (craft), as championed by the curator Yuji Akimoto.
[17]In his reflections on specific principles of Zen aesthetics in relation to chawan, Hisamatsu argues that “Asymmetry is a destruction of perfection [which] goes beyond perfection and negates it.” Shin'ichi, Hisamatsu, Patrick Macgill James, and Abe Masao. "The Nature of ‘Sadō’ Culture."The Eastern Buddhist, New Series, 3, no. 2 (1970): p.12-13.
[18]Alison Jacques, “Takuro Kuwata – From Tea Bowl”, Alison Jacques Gallery, October 2016. <https://www.alisonjacquesgallery.com/exhibitions/139/overview/>
[19]Annegret Bergmann, “Goshomaru: Kabuki Zeitgeist in Tea Bowls”, The Journal of Asian Arts & Aesthetics, Vol. 6, 2020, p.37. See also Julia R. Nakano-Holmes, “Futura Oribe: Iconoclastic Guardian of Chanoyu Tradition”, PhD Thesis, 1995, University of Hawaii.
[20]Watanabe, Takeshi. "From Korea to Japan and Back Again: One Hundred Years of Japanese Tea Culture through Five Bowls, 1550-1650." Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin, 2007, 82-99.
[21]Louise Allison Cort, “The Kizaemon Teabowl Reconsidered”, Chanoyu Quarterly No. 71, 1992, p20.
See also Guth, Christine M. E. "The Aesthetics of Rayskin in Edo-period Japan: Materials, Making and Meaning." Impressions, no. 37 (2016): 88-105.
[22]Cort, p.19.
[23]Salon 94 Bowery, “Flavor of Nature – Takuro Kuwata”, Salon 94 Bowery, January 2013. <https://www.salon94.com/exhibitions/detail/takuro-kuwata>
[24]“Takuro Kuwata - Why I Create”, Phaidon, November 2017. <http://www.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2017/september/27/takuro-kuwata-why-i-create/>
[26]Quoted in Leach, Beyond East and West, p.297.
[27]Howard Kaplan, “Crafting the Future”, Living Form, September 2017 <https://living-form.com/studies/crafting-the-future/>
[28]Smith, “Psychedelic Ceramics”, p.12.
[29]Mark Rappolt, “Takuro Kuwata - From Tea Bowl”, Art Review, Winter 2016, p.99.
[30]David Pye, The Nature and Art of Workmanship (London, New York: Studio Vista; Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1971), p.20–29.
[31]Ibid., p20.
[32]Ibid., p.22.
[33]Ibid., p.21.
[34]Yanagi, p.123.
[35]Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do with Our Brain? (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), p.56.
[36]Joerd van Tuinen, “Elasticity and Plasticity: Anthropo-Design and the Crisis of Repetition”, Critical and Clinical Cartographies: Architecture, Robotics, Medicine, Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press, 2017), np.
[38]Catherine Malabou, Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), p.2.
[39]Malabou 2008, p.163.
[40]Malabou 2012, p.1.
[41] Malabou, Ontology of the Accident, p.49.
[42] Adrian Johnson and Catherine Malabou, Self and Emotional Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013, p.58.
[43]Ibid., p.7.
[44]Ibid., p.2-3.
[45]Ibid., p.9.
[46]Ibid., p.9.
[47]Underlying this distinction between destructive plasticity and metamorphosis is another dialogue between plasticity and flexibility, also at play in the states of matter evident in Kuwata’s work, and indeed ceramics in general. In plasticity, there is an essential resistance such that, in the realm of physics at least, a plastic material is defined as opposed to elastic – a rubber band, for example, always returns to an initial shape (even as it deteriorates with age), whereas “marble, once sculpted, cannot go back.” (Street, Anna, Julien Alliot, and Magnolia Pauker, eds. Inter Views in Performance Philosophy: Crossings and Conversations. Performance Philosophy. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, p.166) After suffering endless remodeling in its raw state, plastic clay becomes fixed (into fragility) by firing – a process that is simultaneously laden with risk and irreversible.
[48]“Aneta Regel”, Wall Street International Magazine, 18th August 2017 <https://wsimag.com/art/29238-aneta-regel>
[49]Caro, “Aneta Regel’s Clay Sculptures Look like Mossy Tree Branches and Rocks”, Hi-Fructose Magazine, 26th March 2016. <http://hifructose.com/2016/03/26/aneta-regels-clay-sculptures-look-like-mossy-tree-branches-and-rocks/>
[51]John Christian, “Aneta Regel”, Aneta Regel (website), August 2007 <http://www.anetaregel.com/about>
[52]Aneta Regel, quoted in Noémie Jennifer, “The Mossy Sculptures Are Actually Ceramic Sculptures”, Creators | Vice, March 26th 2016 <https://creators.vice.com/en_uk/article/yp5k8k/aneta-regel-ceramic-wooden-sculptures/>
[53]Kuwata and Sifkovic, np.
[54]Smith, “Psychedelic Ceramics”, p.16.
[55] Ibid.
[56]Noémie Jennifer, np.
[57]Frigeri, Flavia, Claire Shea, Alex Hoda, and Cass Sculpture Foundation, eds. Work in Progress - Alex Hoda: Jelena Seng. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2015. Hoda’s ceramics have other associations with Kuwata, most notably the obvious fascination with chemical change, a sense of ‘provisional’ form, and the ‘kitsch mucus’ excesses of glaze.
[58] Malabou, Ontology of the Accident, p.2.
[59] Crockett, Clayton. "Deconstructive Plasticity: Malabou’s Biological Materialism." In Derrida after the End of Writing: Political Theology and New Materialism, 109-20. New York: Fordham University Press, 2018, p113.
[60]Malabou, Catherine. Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Dialectic, Destruction, Deconstruction. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010, p24.