Masaomi Yasunaga: THE BEAUTY OF NATURAL IMPERFECTION
Nonaka Hill Gallery — September 2020
photos: Peter Kirby & Rosanna Albertini
WHEN EMPTINESS PREVAILS
by Rosanna Albertini
We have grown weary of the man that thinks.
He thinks and it is not true. The man below
Imagines and it is true, as if he thought
By imagining, anti-logician, quick
With a logic of transforming certitudes.
It is not that he was born in another land,
He was born within us as a second self,
A self of parents who have never died,
Whose lives return, simply, upon our lips,
Their words and ours…
WALLACE STEVENS, Owl’s Clover
(Try this: We have grown weary of the woman that thinks…)
Holes, holes! As I stepped out of the art gallery my brain didn’t hesitate. Holes like a whisper through my brain for no clear reasons. I had seen exquisite sculptures that one would call vases, cups, bowls, animals, beautiful objects. But for me holes as ideal bodies, almost an obsession, were not replaced by the physicality, the layers of petrified skin giving them a shape. Honestly, holes can’t be separated from their skin. At first, it was hard to even conceive them in words.
These notes about Masaomi Yasunaga, a Japanese artist ceramicist, are a bush of associations. Starting from the fact that his pieces are holes indeed, holes shaped by a temporary, soft skin of glaze rather than clay —combined with feldspar, glass and metal powders— that melts and transforms during the firing in the kiln, absorbing or refusing sand or rocks or dirt that completely fill the container. Cracks and more holes define the finished work. The real sculpture starts when the artist liberates the new creature from incrustations, deciding what will stay and what will go. At least, this is what I have been able to understand from second hand descriptions, I wish one day I can meet Masaomi and ask more.
Crawling through the mud:
“Yasunaga studied ceramics under Satoru Hoshino, a second-generation proponent of the avant-garde ceramic group, Sodeisha (in kanji, 走泥社 literally means, crawling through the mud). Founded in Kyoto in 1948, in the aftermath of WWII, Sodeisha broke away from long-established conventions of Japanese ceramics, resolving to create non-functional sculptural works.” Art Viewer 2019.
My obsession with holes, nevertheless, goes beyond the making process or historical roots. Why do I love those holes. Ten years ago Masaomi’s grandmother passed away. He collected the fragments of her bones after the fire and mixed them into the skin of some urns. The chemistry of life and death is the same for living and inanimate beings. Still, to move to art making, the artist needed to deal with holes. And we need them as well, when we have to deal with loss, deception and acceptance of all things we don’t understand, most of our life.
“My Mother” is an installation Ko Nakajima made in the late 80s. I saw it in France. Two monitors were covered with two small mountains of dirt. Only the screens were visible, each of them a living luminous hole. In one of them the new life of the artist’s daughter, from birth to the first steps. In the other, the remains of his mother on the table, after the fire. Slowly and gently, the family including children collected them and put them in a vase. A group of children during a school visit set in front of the two mounds that vibrated with sounds and images unfamiliar to say the least. They stayed still, sitting on the floor beyond any reasonable watching time. I also stayed, behind them, waiting for their voices. They did come. “I’m scared” a girl started to say, “the baby girl could be suffocated by all that dirt.” A boy answered (they were 9, 10 years old): “No, nothing to be afraid of, look at the two mounds, look at their shape, they are the mother’s breast.”
I had to talk in the evening about the installation, each invited writer was asked to do the same in public, free to pick a favorite. The artists in the room. I reported the children’s reactions and words. Ko Nakajima openly cried.
Something more: a book in which every day I spend time digging my own holes, adapting to a slow pace. The book doesn’t know rush, doesn’t resemble a tumultuous streams jumping on rocks. It’s a journey into the cruel coming of age and life of a group of clones conceived like shells around organs they have to donate…until they are done, completed, says the book. As if death wasn’t conceivable for entities who didn’t have a birth. Growing up, they become aware they are not different from humans, with soul, inner life…aren’t humans today, at times, becoming as the clones were supposed to be, complying with social orders planned for absurd goals or worse? Obedient servants…
It’s an unpredictable world we are living in. Maybe we should linger in the emptiness of holes and wait, enjoying the beauty of natural imperfection, getting lost among nuances of colors, and surprising forms generated by heat and melting matter, curled up inside the many niches covered by skin we have inside, where the self disappears and we are only one thing with our body from birth to ashes, only one grain of sand, maybe this is the secret of happiness.
Thank you Masaomi Yasunaga, thank you Kazuo Ishiguro, please, never let me go.
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, First Vintage International Edition, March 2006. Published in the US by Vintage Books, Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, The Library Of America: Volume compilation, notes and chronology copyright © 1997 by Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., New York, N.Y.