Toki Nashiki has a heavy iron door that leads to a work studio where, in front of it, is an exhibition area showcasing collectibles that Ryan and Wy have curated from around the world — a Chinese cabinet with multiple drawers, fabrics, tables, vases… These items blend well together with the pottery works created by the duo without the slightest sense of incongruity. We sat down to sip tea that was no longer hot. The setting sun shone through the sheer window curtain. The cats were sleeping peacefully on top of the cabinet. It was so quiet that the buzzing sound of the electric kiln echoed throughout the studio.
“Making pottery is like opening a door. You see something new and meet someone new every time you open that door. You wholeheartedly interact with the people you meet and genuinely respect each other. I consider that destiny.”
Ryan and Wy’s project, Remark a Bowl, was an exhibit on display in the 2018 Contemporary Ceramic Art Exhibition. For the project, the duo created 1,000 ceramic bowls which were distributed to volunteers after the exhibition. “Two days ago, I happened to see one of the volunteers share a photo of his bowl and tag us on a social media platform. The volunteer mentioned that his bowl is numbered ‘852’. It connects him with the city and reminds him that if we can create something wonderful, we can also fight through the darkness. We are very much touched and moved by this type of sharing and feedback. They push us forward and remind us that we are doing the right thing,” said Wy.
Vessels are a medium that translate art and an art form that is closest to life. “Pottery inspires us to think. It doesn’t matter how we define the vessels or whether they can actually hold something. What matters the most is that people can use them, and they can in turn make life better and inspire people to think.” Wy continued as he sipped the freshly brewed tea, “I hope the vessels we created can spend their life with their users. The users can use them freely, without having to worry that they might break them. Pottery changes over time when in use. Every day is a new start, a new connection. We’d love to see that the pottery grows together with their users.”
“There’s no boundary in the world of pottery. It takes more than a lifetime to explore.”
“When I first got into pottery, I almost focused solely on throwing. I didn’t know much about vessels. If you create a bowl, people might not think the same. Though I later found out that there are certain restrictions on how vessels should look and be used.” Ryan said that pottery connects him with different people, such as those who make tea and brew coffee, cooks, and florists; and from these people, he learnt a lot more about vessels in different areas of life. “If we know nothing about brewing tea, we can’t create proper tea vessels. That’s why we started to study the art and culture of tea.” Wy continued, “Pottery is not the only reason why we dive into the world of tea. I’d say pottery offered us an opportunity to learn about tea and eventually fell in love with it.” Getting into the world of tea opened up another door for them to understand more about vessels. “Different types of tea require the use of different vessels. The selection of clay and the shape of the vessels will also affect how the water flows when brewing and ultimately the taste of the tea.”
There is a glass cabinet in the studio full of imperfect pieces; though deformed, cracked, poorly glazed, and unsellable, they are now used as everyday utensils. “This large cup is from my early work and I drink water with it every day. People have different preferences regarding the size of a cup. Personally I like large bowls as I can just put everything in without having to wash a lot of other dishes. This is probably a Hong Kong thing, which is very different from Japanese culture.” The living space in Hong Kong is usually small. That’s why the duo need to think about storage when they create. The bowls and plates need to be stackable and multipurpose. “My mother once told me that the plate she often uses for steaming fish is too shallow to hold the sauce, and she has been unable to find deeper ones on the market. That’s why I eventually made one for her. In fact, deeper plates are way more handy, and with handmade pottery, we can create the ideal plate.”
“We hope to extend the life of the vessels through kintsugi.”
“Ever since I started making it myself, I almost never buy mass-produced pottery because their production produces a lot of waste. Tight quality control means that even a tiny black dot would lead to a white pottery product being thrown into the trash.” The artist duo has a different definition of imperfection. Ryan said, “Whether it is handmade or mass-produced pottery, we should care for them so that they can last a long time.” That’s also the reason why the two of them started practicing kintsugi to fix broken pottery. “Our two cats in the studio are the reason why we need to learn kintsugi. There are pieces that we really like and it would be a pity to put them in the trash. Kintsugi can help to fix them. Kintsugi is a lacquer art that takes months to complete the many steps required. Similar to pottery, it’s something easy to learn but difficult to master. It takes a lot of practice to do well.”
Vessels hold more than just daily necessities; they carry with them the essence of culture. Handmade pottery, in particular, reflects the creator’s thoughts and skills as well as the passage of time. “Taizo Kuroda, a Japanese ceramic artist that I admire, focuses on wheel-thrown porcelain. The vessels he creates usually have very thin, sharp, and uneven edges. There is a sense of restlessness and fragility. Vessels are not necessarily created for actual, practical use. I like that there is a sense of purity in his work as it reflects his genuine feelings for pottery. There are traces of the throwing process that are left by Kuroda in his work on purpose. People might want to fix those uneven edges, but he insists on keeping them as they are. Vessels are more than just vessels; they are art.”
Ryan and Wy have been to Japan and Taiwan for exchange programmes and exhibitions. They have also participated in large-scale pottery fairs. The lively atmosphere of these events made them ponder, “Why is there nothing like that in Hong Kong?” Wy said with a smile, “Let us do it if no one else is doing it!” This is how they started the Hong Kong Local Ceramic Art Fair, a venue that brings together local ceramic artists. There will be markets, workshops, sharing sessions, and concerts, etc. The event was originally scheduled to be held in March, but unfortunately postponed due to the pandemic. “It’s a rare opportunity for local ceramic artists to get together and share their thoughts. We really want to unite all those who are interested in pottery. The power that they can create together is beyond immigation. I wish that local artists could be known to the Asian world.” Wy remarked that she was moved by the Thai artists she met on an exchange programme to Thailand. They work hard to create their own styles with a wish to bring people into the world of pottery in Thailand. “That inspired us to do something for our fellow ceramic artists in Hong Kong.”
At the end of the interview, I asked, “What motivates you to keep doing pottery?” The two of them said in unison, “Because we love it.” I felt embarrassed for asking such a foolish question. Isn’t it natural to do what you love? “If you are passionate about what you do, you don’t ask for a return. Pottery makes us better people.”