抱著期待的心情預先看看英國陶藝家Steve Harrison的「Mug-Cup: A Thirty-Year Retrospective」展覽，推開THE SHOPHOUSE的玻璃門，店主Alex站在長桌旁，桌上放滿了Harrison的杯子和濾杯，心裡驚嘆還是第一次看到這麼多他做的杯子。「這裡模仿著Steve Harrison工作室的空間，牆上掛著的古老的木製手動磨豆機，上面的陶瓷部分是由Harrison親自製作和重新組裝，令它可以繼續運作，而他的工作室也有一部。」Alex邊說邊從玻璃箱裡小心翼翼地拿出盛載著咖啡豆的容器，把咖啡放在小碟上，咖啡的香氣頓時撲鼻而來。「Harrison經常強調唯有使用它做的杯子，才能感受它真正的美麗。」喝一口咖啡，以身體各種的感官來感受杯子，它的美即時變得立體起來。說起來，Alex與Harrison的緣份也是由一隻杯子開始：「有一次我的女朋友送了一隻啡色的杯子給我，說是很貴的，當時我心想，陶瓷杯會有多貴呢？後來知道價錢後的確有點驚訝，不過，當你知道它背後的製作過程，便毫不驚訝了。」
With great anticipation, I went to THE SHOPHOUSE to look at the British ceramic artist Steve Harrison’s exhibition, “Mug-Cup: A Thirty-Year Retrospective.” As I slowly pushed open the glass door to the gallery space, I was greeted by Alex, the owner of THE SHOPHOUSE. What caught my attention immediately is the long table full of Harrison’s mug/cups. This was the first time I had seen so many of his works in person and I was stunned. “We tried to recreate Steve Harrison’s studio here in our gallery. The ceramic part of that antique wooden coffee grinder hanging on the wall was made and reassembled by Harrison himself. He has an identical one in his studio.” As Alex continued to explain, he carefully took out a coffee bean container from the glass box and put some beans on a small saucer. The rich aroma of coffee immediately filled the room. “Harrison thinks that only through using a cup that its true beauty can be revealed.” Take a sip of coffee from the mug and let all five of your senses guide you through the coffee drinking journey which is not only about the taste of the coffee, but the beauty of the mug as well. Actually, the only reason Alex’s and Harrison’s lives intertwined is because of a mug. “My girlfriend once gifted me a brown mug, saying that it was very expensive. At that time, I thought to myself how expensive could a ceramic cup be anyway? I was a little shocked when I heard the price. But when I learned about the production process, the price wasn’t nearly as shocking.”
Steve Harrison specializes in salt glazing. It is a ceramic process that is extremely difficult to master. As the salt glaze firing produces a large amount of smoke, Harrison has set up his studio in the suburbs of Wales where he builds his own kilns for firing. “Kiln has a life span. You will never know when it will collapse, nor be able to control how the final products will turn out. The ceramic works fired in a brand new kiln look completely different from those fired in an older kiln. As the kiln ages with use, the orange-peel-like texture on the products will become more profound.” The exhibition showcases Harrison’s works from the 90s to the present day, reflecting on his styles and aesthetic at various stages. “It’s a practice of Harrison to keep three mugs from each of his collections. Two for his children and one for his own record. The ones that he keeps for himself are now on display here.” The preciousness of these mugs is the result of meticulous craftsmanship. One of the exhibits is a small white cup made in 2003. It is said to be one of the most representative works of Harrison for he has spent years on it trying to figure out how to perfectly combine the porcelain body with a salt-glaze ceramic cup ear. “We are going to publish a thread-bound book for Harrison to record his 30 years of creation, and it is expected to be launched during the exhibition.”
Alex said that he randomly placed the exhibits across the attic area because he wanted to create a private space where he can share the stories behind Harrison’s works. He further explained, “Harrison has especially created some ceramic pieces for this exhibition. These works are more rough and suitable for drinking coffee. Some people say that the mugs absorb coffee aroma. So even if you drink water with the mug, you can taste coffee. The porcelain cups he made are way more delicate and suitable for drinking tea.” Steve Harrison made a simple cup for his graduation project. Thirty years passed by, he is still making cups. I suppose for Harrison, life is about ceramic, and maybe, having a cup of tea or coffee and a piece of cake using the ceramic he created with his own hands. Also, a chat with friends, sharing life. That I reckon to be the most enjoyable way of living.
O: What are you busy with recently? How’s your life during the pandemic?
S: My life during the pandemic remains relatively unchanged. The only obstacle is the restriction of travelling to my cottage in Mid-Wales to fire my salt kiln. I have really missed the contact with people visiting my home and studio where we shared conversations over tea and cake. Upon reflection the pandemic provoked one thing that I purchased an electric kiln for experimentation filling the gap of firing when I couldn’t travel.
O: How do you feel about launching the “A Thirty-Year Retrospective” exhibition in THE SHOPHOUSE?
S: The process of preparing for any exhibition is interesting but this 30-year retrospective has forced me to analyse the cup in a different way outside the context of all the other pots I make. Concentrating solely on this most simple yet important vessel – the Mug/Cup. I think the space at THE SHOPHOUSE creates a perfect balance between exhibit and experience, as serving tea and coffee is an integral part of any visit.
O: Can you share the ideas of creating exclusive coffee utensils and vessels for THE SHOPHOUSE?
S: What I love about THE SHOPHOUSE is that they were prepared to replicate my personal coffee ritual, even down to the accoutrements and my preferences for the ceremony. They have an identical antique coffee grinder which I restored and made components for, a special storage pot for the coffee beans and a series of coffee pour overs for use and for sale. I feel this way of brewing coffee has the equivalent prestige associated with different tea rituals around the world.
O: Can you share your favorite mug-cup which you always use?
S: I use one specific cup every morning and evening for drinking tea. It is a porcelain cup with a stoneware handle and a flower sprigged just above the base. Everyone in my family calls it a ‘pressure’ cup because I openly expressed a deep love for it and inferred that I would be so distressed if it got broken. I continue to use it freely without worry every day. It is living a full life with me.
O: Why did you fall in love with pottery, especially making mug-cup?
S: I fell in love with pottery at school at the age of 16. I had a natural response to clay and made a pot very quickly on the wheel with little effort or struggle. My instinct was to make and use pots. I remember reading Gauguin’s intimate journals from Paul Gauguin, “Ah! What a fine fragrance tea has when you drink it from a cup you have made yourself and decorated so freely!”
O: Since you have explored salt-glaze for many years, why are you so fascinated by this way of making pottery?
S: Salt glazing is one of the most challenging and difficult techniques of firing pots. A salt kiln has a life-span due to the destructive nature of the salt. In its infancy it is immature, mid-life it is relatively consistent and towards the end of its life it is erratic before it collapses. I have had to come to terms with the fact that it is impossible to master it and rather form an acceptance that each kiln I make is a different journey from the last and each firing is a new experience.
O: How would you describe the relationship between you and your pottery? How do they change your world?
S: There is no division between living and making pots. It is simply like breathing – without it I feel I would die. My pots make me feel more alive in the world and each day feels special drinking tea from a cup I’ve made.
O: What do you think about the relationship between the cup handle and the cup? Why is the cup handle so important?
S: Historically the cup and its handle are overlooked. In fact the importance of the cup is still categorized as a basic utilitarian vessel in the West. I see my Mug/Cup as one of the most important pots that I make. I have explored as many details as possible to find a balance of form, comfort for the hand and a visual excitement that can transport your mind somewhere else. It is only through use that the true beauty is revealed.
O: How would you describe your style?
S: A style emerges when you can let go of the obvious influences and concentrate on small details that excite you. I often think about the Japanese artist who studied a single blade of grass only to find this simple task led him, step by step, to the contemplation of all that is in nature. By observing each cup I make, I find the inspiration for the next one.
S：我正計劃在倫敦和東京舉辦「The Age of the Beaker」展覽。這將會包括一條影片和展示我與Nigel Slater的合作中，用來盛放食物的陶器系列。短期內，我很期待這次在THE SHOPHOUSE舉行的展覽，如果是在沒有疫情的情況下，我將會親身到訪；但事實上仍然是未能成行。
O: Can you describe to us what happens on a regular day for you, and what your favorite way to spend a day is like.
S: My ideal day is centred around drinking tea and making pots with a bit of conversation in between. I like to rise early and make pots as the day wakes up. As I tend the pots I can perform other tasks but they cannot be too involved as I must not lose my concentration with how the wet pots are drying. Tea and coffee breaks are organised around the pots but I always have a coffee at 10.30 am. In the winter, I stop when it is dark which is why I like the summer so I can work longer.
O: Do you have any plan for the future?
S: I have a plan to have the same exhibition called ‘The Age of the Beaker’ in London and Tokyo. It will include a film and my series of beakers used for serving food in collaboration with Nigel Slater. In the short term, I will look forward to hearing about the exhibition in THE SHOPHOUSE- under normal circumstances without the pandemic I would be there, but no doubt it will still have an effect on my journey.
Mug-Cup：A Thirty-Year Retrospective Exhibition Period: Now to May 9, 2021 Venue: THE SHOPHOUSE HONG KONG, 4 Second Lane, Tai Hang, Hong Kong