With thoughts on Goryeo:A Journey from Muan
November 1, 2013 – November 23, 2013
Gallery Closed : Sunday, Monday, Public holiday (except for 23rd)
October 31, 2013
November 1, 2013 18:00〜20:00
Shin Murata Artist Talk Interviewer: Noriko Miyamura
November 23, 2013 14:00〜
Shin Murata × Takashi Murakami Talk Show
Catalog “Shin Murata With Thoughts on Goryeo: A Journey from Muan”
Publication date: November 1
※The catalog will be sold at the gallery for the duration of the show.
In Search of Ubu
—The Initial State of Mind Vol.2
Ⅱ. Maintaining Ubu —The Initial State of Mind
The quintessence of Shin Murata’s principle for ceramics lies in closing in on Ubu. The Japanese word ubu can be written using two Chinese characters, “first” and “heart,” and can take the meaning of “novice” or the “initial state of mind.” It is where an artist locates their motivation and initiates creative momentum when they produce their works, and therefore the challenge is how to draw this Ubu toward themselves. Ubu, then, is at the very core of art; whether one understands this or not is a crucial point that determines whether one’s efforts can be a work of art.
In this sense, Yanagi’s “Mingei” set out to discover the pinnacle of Ubu as an artistic quality, among tens of thousands of works by obscure and unaffected ceramicists. Rosanjin managed to find moments of Ubu in the life of drunken debauchery and creation he led through his endless parties with celebrities and drinking in broad daylight.
Perhaps Ubu could be described as a state of enlightened mind, of having risen above self. Artists put themselves through extreme struggles and miseries to always reach this state of Ubu at the time of creation, methodically altering their minds and bodies. But of course, most of the time, it isn’t that simple.
For example, an artist often falls into a slump. The extent of the slump may vary, but the slump of an artist who has already experienced a manifestation of his talent at a high level means this: burdened with the awareness of what a successful work should feel like, and faced with the magnitude of positive public reaction, he suddenly realizes that his next work will never surpass or even match his past work; he becomes paralyzed, unable to produce the next piece. Desperate to shake off the paralysis, he might seek mental relief in alcohol and drugs. He might get addicted and overdose. Or else he might become a slave to sexual impulses, get addicted to gambling, or fall for some dubious medicine men or fortunetellers. He could become aphasic, depressed, or otherwise compromised psychologically.
These symptoms are not generally considered the results of biochemical reactions in the brain; “peeking into the darkness of one’s mind” is the oft-used metaphor. Yet whether he strives to shake off the slump or to grasp Ubu in his hands, it is essential that he brings his brain to a certain condition, either through physical training or through self-flagellation. He must think of his body as a machine so that he can control the movement of his brain; he must then substantialize in his work the ideal forms, colors, and constructs of what has emerged in his mind. Murata is the type who tries to restrain himself from becoming an addict and achieve such a state through physical training.
Ⅲ. Ubu in Practice
In the exhibition Shin Murata—With Thoughts on Goryeo: A Journey from Muan, Murata has remained true to the process of pottery making that aspires toward Ubu. The process involved the following steps:
1. Acquire a thorough, disciplined training as a technician
2. Secure a recipe for each successful outcome
3. Maintain a stable state of mind as a mere worker and a maker of ceramics, not as an artist (anti-branding)
4. Make a spontaneous trip to Muan, South Korea, in order to create works
5. Design and build a new anagama kiln in Kumogahata, Kyoto, to make additional works
The first three steps embody Murata’s efforts to remain true to Yanagi Sōetsu’s philosophy of valuing the ways of the obscure ceramic artisan. This is the process of training that aspires to a selfless state of pure pottery making and it involves the constant struggle to make a machine out of his body. The last two steps, on the other hand, are his attempt at making Ubu an inevitability rather than a coincident; armed with the technique he has achieved through training, he is aspiring to reach an even higher ground.
Let’s look at #4, “Make a spontaneous trip to Muan, South Korea, in order to create works” in greater detail. Murata reveres Kawakita Handeishi,※4, at once a potter and a patron of ceramicists, much as he does Yanagi and
Rosanjin, as a master of Ubu. He wished to visit Korea, where Handeishi had once owned a kiln, and make pottery in his footsteps. In pursuit of the clays Handeishi must have used, Murata arrived in Muan, in southwestern Korea. There, he borrowed the kilns of a local Korean ceramicist he met by chance (a man who let him use everything he needed and fed and lodged him for free) and made an assortment of clumsy-looking vessels in three weeks.
According to Murata, Ubu inhabits this somewhat elusive process of making a new body of work. The process embodies his current response to the question of an ultimate approach to art.
In the final step, “5. Design and build a new anagama kiln in Kumogahata, Kyoto, to make additional works,” the main issue is whether he will manage to bring Ubu under his control rather than leaving it a coincidence. Murata has only now thrown himself into this new challenge.
※4 Kawakita Handeishi (1878-1963)
Born to a wealthy family, he mastered the art of ceramics as a hobby while serving as the president of The Hyakugo Bank. He started seriously pursuing ceramics past the age of fifty. Although acclaimed for his free and uninhibited style, he never once sold his work. In addition to building a kiln at his residence in Tsu, Mie Prefecture, he had a kiln and made works in Korea. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of ceramicists. He is referred to by the phrases “Rosanjin in the east, Handeishi in the West,” and “the Showa Kōetsu.”