Contemporary Japanese ceramic artist, Yuri Kezuka, follows in the tradition of both traditional and postmodern art practices. We are made conscious of how a glazed clay domestic vessel has an inside and an outside. Kesuka’s beautifully crafted sculptures force us to question the boundaries of what is real and what is hyper-real in our lives today.
Clay is our oldest industrial medium. Our hands know its nature as an extension of our own bodies. We are moulded from clay ourselves. Human matter is mostly water softening the hardness of stone into smooth mud called flesh, blood, glaze and bone.
Kezuka’s conceptual pottery works with everyday pathetic mundane objects such as buckets, hand mirrors, computers or office desks. This is simulation art that references the neo-Dada Japanese post WWII movement of hyperartists such as Genpei Akasegawa (1937-2014) and Shusaku Arakawa (1936-2010) who famously invented the Thomasson conceptual art group. The focus was on seeking (mapping) out all the useless urban signs; such as taps too high up on a wall to access (Debeso), bricked-up doorways (Nurikabe) or staircases going nowhere (Kyōkai). Within this lexicon of pathetic cultural displacements, the role of art was to recalibrate Japanese sense of purpose. A bitter ironic sense of Dada humour was a serious strategy in this quest. The Ikiume (Live Burial signs) roadside object partly submerged in concrete and the Monokūki (Devouring Tree) such as a tree engulfing a fence or railing whilst still growing. This detailed legend of deviant Tomasons laid out a path for contemporary artists including Kezuka to follow and add to like a fluid dictionary.
After the devastations of WWII including the psychological ground zero impact of the two atomic bombs, artists had to refocus (as did the European 1920s Dadaists) their whole approach to art and life. The meaning of existence had to be rebuilt brick by brick. Bodies and minds had to be recast, glazed and fired into functional vessels once again.
Today, young artists such as Kezuka are facing equally serious questions in the face of climate change, mass consumption, corporate capitalism and family life. By focusing on everyday low cultural objects, Kesuka is decarbonising the footprint of plastic, high tech screen and precious rare metals. Returning to the raw clay of mother earth Kesuka engages with slow art and the ancient methods of using your own hands in real time to fire and transform cold wet mud into unique bodies that have a special warm character.
Kezuka’s body of ceramic work over the last decade range from intricate hyper real bathroom plumbing fixtures (ironic return of the useless tap) to a full size bicycle complete with its shadow and rider. One of her most impressive works is Persistence (2011) made up of every object (light, books, jars of pencils, mobile phone etc) found on her writing desk. The world of work is returned fossilised like Pompeii. Like an archeologist of the everyday Kezuka has memorialised intimacy and refocused our attention on how much time we spend sitting at our computer desks in an office or our bedroom. The forensic examination of overlooked contemporary life spreads out in every direction rhizomatically like a good detective cold case.
Common plastic and metal buckets (Hole, Base, Love – 2011) are recast in artfully glazed stoneware. An old T-shirt complete with burn mark from a forgotten hot iron hangs petrified, an arrested memorial to once favourite garment. Personal and symbolic; low culture remade into high art and the familiar made unreal.
I am constantly forced back to atomic flash firing of Hiroshima. I attended the 60th anniversary in 2005 (on my 50th birthday) and gazed struck dumb at the fused (glazed) insides of the A-Bomb Dome that was once the Hiroshima Industrial Promotion Hall. I can’t help see a critical profound underbelly to Kezuka’s playful jokey almost kitsch cute simulations. Here I remember what French philosopher and disaster analyst, Jean Baudrillard said about contemporary simulacra and simulation –
“The hell of simulation, is no longer one of torture, but of the subtle, maleficent, elusive twisting of meaning…”
And that cultural twisting or turning inside out of meaning is the key trope at the core of Kezuka’s work. Recently, her focus has shifted to more personal domestic objects such as hand mirrors, hand soap dispensers and tissue boxes. Every form has no function. The modernist slogan of form follows function has been turned inside out like a dishwashing rubber glove.
The postmodern tradition of rendered soft fabrics and in marble by artists including Aladair Thomson and Jiyuseki have a loose affinity with Kezuka’s ceramic work. However, the choice of glazed clay over marble is stark. From Michelangelo’s Pieta to Alex Seton’s Hoody Soloist, marble is the medium of shocking illusions of mortality. Petrification myths across most cultures and ages have fixed stone as the medium of fragile mortal truths and divine retribution. Medusa who turned men into stone. Poseidon turned a ship of the Phaeacians into stone. Or cite the Japanese myth of Matsura Sayohime who prayed with such intensity for the safe return of her lover was turned into stone that still sits to this day on a hill above Hizen.
Clay, on the other hand, is the medium of transitions and transformations. Our bodies are born of clay like domestic utensils and are not designed to last. Both are easily broken and discarded in piles. In today’s throwaway plastic and polystyrene society, clay has taken on many new meanings of permanence coupled with the sacrifice of time in the service of hard won hand crafted skills.
Kezuka’s ceramic hand made taps and buckets bare the fingerprints of her autobiographical relationship to contemporary global life. This is slow art in a fast mass consumption world. The gentle contemplative art of low tech resistance is on show here. Boundaries and values are fired up with an ironic smile. After experiencing an exhibition of Kezuka’s fine sculptures you will not be able to enter a bathroom or sit at your computer desk in the same unthinking utilitarian way again.