R: 林琪香 / Ron Lam
M: 金森正起 / Masaki Kanamori
R: Recently, you have been talking a lot about Yama-chawan (literally translated as mountain tea bowl), so what exactly is that?
M: Yama-chawan is a type of tea mass-produced during the Heian period. Seto, Mino and Tajimi nearby were all regions that manufactured Yama-chawan. The tea bowl got its name as it was unearthed in the mountains or in ancient tombs. The most common type of Yama-chawan is unglazed and shoddy; some of them have ash glazes, which are formed naturally when the ash falls onto the pottery in the kiln after the high-temperature firing process. But to be honest, I am not sure whether this is an authentic Yama-chawan, perhaps it just looks similar and made using the same firing process.
R: Are you always interested in Yama-chawan?
M: I am. I always wanted to own one but couldn’t find one that I wanted to buy. Maybe I find most of the Yama-chawan too strong in personality. I finally had a strong urge to buy when I met this one. I simply fell in love with it at first sight. I think to buy or not to buy is a good way to measure how much you like an object. Sometimes you find something pretty nice, but you don’t need to own it, you might even forget about it right away; some other times you are willing to pay to own it. There are some other occasions when you regret buying something, but after a second thought, you still feel glad about the purchase. This self-reflection is an essential process for you to understand better your preference and aesthetics.
R: How is this Yama-chawan different from others? Why did you find it particularly charming?
M: I like the color of the clay. Most of the Yama-chawan are either greyish or yellowish white in color as this is how clay looks after firing. This one is, however, light brown in color. Its rim has a very distinctive curve, I also admire the gentleness of its foot.
R: Do you think this is a faulty product? There is a hole on the bottom which is very likely to be the result of unevenly kneaded clay that retained air bubble; the foot has also split open. When I first saw it, I couldn’t help asking myself, “Who would spend the effort of firing it in a kiln?”
M: This is for sure a faulty product. The irregular curve as seen in some of the Yama-chawan is a natural result in the production process, but the curve and crack on this one are obviously too much. The person who made this probably didn’t think much about it. Yama-chawan was considered low quality, mass-produced items anyway. I guess it was used as a funeral or religious object. It wasn’t supposed to be actually used, so it’s okay to be rough. This carelessness is what I adore as an artisan in the modern era. What I am trying to celebrate is not the shoddiness, it is the accidentally formed charisma so tender and liberal that I embrace. Metal is an unfriendly material, but I always want to make metalware that can be as gentle as pottery.
R: I sometimes feel more comfortable using these so-called flawed objects.
M: Indeed. But it would look so dull if an artisan tries to make flaw deliberately. A Yama-chawan shaped like this is for sure one of a kind. It should be an unexpected outcome that is totally unplanned. Everyone has a craving for perfection when getting into the world of craftsmanship. But looking at the poor technique of this, I began to imagine it must be made within a short time or by someone who had no skills at all. This justifies why it has nothing to do with perfection but yet is full of charisma.
R: We are both disinterested towards fine craft and more inclined towards imperfect and carelessly made objects. Why is that? Is it because we tend to relate skillful artisans to sleek people whose genuine thoughts are somewhat difficult to tell? I am also curious to know if a skillful artisan like yourself can give up the desire for attaining perfection.
M: I think we can see a person’s personality and mind through their work regardless of the level of their skill. At this stage of life, I no longer want to work on demonstrating my techniques. I guess some of my recent works would raise doubts as people don’t suppose those are the things made by an artisan. But this is me now, being attracted to unpolished objects. Therefore I want to create objects that exude similar charisma. Marvelous skills can be obtained as long as you spend a great effort on learning and practicing, but to make unpretentiously imperfect objects, you need to keep reflecting on yourself and have a good conversation with your inner self. This is perhaps even more difficult than perfecting your skills.