Things My Mother Taught Me

It’s impossible to overstate the role that ceramics plays in daily life in Japan. It’s equally impossible to deny my obsession with it. Another impossibility is to give a comprehensive overview  of the role ceramics plays in Japanese history and culture. There are books and experts on this subject.  I consider my self an admirer. A slightly obsessed admirer.

It’s all my mother’s doing.  She loved dishes!  She loved good china and antiques.  One of the strongest memories of my childhood is going antiquing with her while we were away at the beach on a rainy day..  She came across an antigue epergne made of cranberry glass in a small antique store. It was instant infatuation but very expensive for an independent grocer’s wife.  No Matter.  She bought it and made me promise never to tell my Dad what she paid for it. It graced every special dinner table at our home for the rest of her days. I doubt that my Dad who had little interest in such things, even noticed it. Her secret was safe.

cranberry glass epergne, Bess Kaplinsky’s pride and joy centerpiece.

 

If only she had been set loose in Japan. the land where dish mix and match has been raised to an art form! Today’s young people might go in for only one set of matching dishes now, but they’re missing out,in my opinion.  Many districts in Japan have their own style of pottery, some adorned and some extremely simple.  It’s a matter of local tradition, clay and taste.  There are pottery traditions within families that go back a dozen or more generations! It’s quite remarkable.

You could spend a lifetime studying Japanese ceramics, but I don’t have that sort of brain. For me, it’s just like my taste in wine, I know it when I taste it, but don’t ask me for its provenance. 

kyo-yaki (made in Kyoto ceramics) teapcups

Tea cup towers:  John Derian eat your heart out!

With all this in mind, I made my way to a pottery sale yesterday, astonished at the low prices and feverish with desire to try to make a ceramic sculpture. Kyo-yaki (pottery made in Kyoto) can be quite decorative, some to my liking, some not. Most of what was on sale was functional. There was a fine selection at the sale and I left feeling very satisfied with myself (yet again). Nothing that seemed of collector’s quality, but ceramics I can use daily with no qualms. Or experiment with (see above).

Prices are often high here for high quality ceramics. A lot of thought goes into choosing ceramics for dinners and tea ceremony  Serious students of ceramics apprentice and study for years and years.

I think a lot on sale was surplus stock, but there were bargains to be had, for 200-300-500 yen. My mother also taught me to like a bargain. That’s approximately $2-$5 per dish for pieces that originally sold for up to $200 each.

At the other end of the local pottery spectrum, I visited an off the beaten path museum, the Kansetsu Hashimoto Garden and Museum. Unexpectedly I found a splendid display by the Kyoto Ceramics Assoc. of Kyo-yaki ceramics in a old building adjacent to the early autumn garden.  Many works were made for the tea ceremony, I’m sure.http://www.e-yakimono.net/guide/html/kyo-yaki.html

kyo-yaki (made in Kyoto ceramics) teacups.  purchased at the sale.

I also found the ephemeral beauty in the garden’s lotus pond mesmerizing.

Nothing tops Nature.

There’s Still Time

I wanted to love it, and I occasionally did almost enjoy it.  It had its moments.  Just not enough of them.  It was a blockbuster digital art show presented by the Mori Art Museum called Tokyo Lab Boundless.  It is state of the art of digital technology.  Tickets were scarce, but I got one.  I waited in line to enter as my anticipation built, while knowing instinctually that I might not like the manipulated world that awaited us.

How to describe the encounter?  It was an encounter, because the visual overload was close to overwhelming. Visualize many large overlapping spaces contained within a huge hangar. Within the hangar are rooms with different visual displays, mostly relating to nature.  Rooms ultimately morph into other rooms and the spaces purposely become “boundless,” constantly moving, shifting and reappearing. Hints of eternity?

Envision being in a space where every surface is covered with some of the following in a digital rendering; flowers of all kinds and shapes, a waterfall room where people lounged on a large rock as a digital waterfall cascaded over them.  Butterflies flitted and birds flew, thousands of straight strings of l.e.d. lights  changing colors were the Ultimate Christmas Display in my opinion, alluring and transfixing. At the top of a long flight of stairs waited a room with hundreds of suspended  lantern lamps changing colors as well.

Most of the projections were symbols of the natural world. The images covered every surface including ceilings, floors and visitors.  MIrrors added to the illusion of infinite space.IMG_1092

The spaces were crowded. Optimally, I would have liked being the only visitor. Disorientation was part of the experience, but after a while, looking for a way out of this manipulated world became a distraction as well.  There were moments when I thought “how cool, or how beautiful” but they did not outweigh the discomfort I felt at this whole idea.

With our planet in the throes of seemingly unstoppable and accelerated climate change, was this display the way of the future?  An idealized manipulated version of what was the natural world? Is this what will remain when nature collapses?  Just memories lacking the realness of texture of scent of birth and decay?

Was I the only one to interpret the dark side of this extravaganza?  Maybe to most visitors, this would be a more than acceptable substitute for the real thing.  Just as some climate deniers are suggesting we could all move to another planet?

Suddenly I wanted to be released.  Not so easy to find an exit though the endless rooms. I had to first find a worker who slipped me out of an unmarked back door, after I was insistent about wanting to leave.

Relief!  Light!  A genuine, living, glorious flower presented itself.  There’s still time. There’s still time. There’s still time.

What a Powerful Month!

our line up
our gang: L to R: Kate Weare, Larry Keigwin, Aszure Barton, Doug Varone, me, Mark Dendy, Brian Brooks, Doug Elkins

September ushered in a whirlwind month for me and what a month it’s been!
I’m still shaking the star dust out of my hair and enjoying the afterglow of what was for me, the perfect culminating 10th Anniversary residency for DANCEworks. It celebrated DANCEWork’s decade of devotion to adding to the creation of new modern/contemporary dance in the USA.

The smiles and good will generated by all the performances were powerful. It felt like a perfect antidote to the recent display of nastiness in our culture, that we’ve all become too familiar with. Ah, the power of art to bring people together. I experienced an elusive mystical moment of oneness, when the power of dance displayed the human condition so well, that audience and performers merged together in spirit.

ryan
Jason Cianciulli, representing Shannon Gillen, COLORVISION
William Brisco,representing Aszure Barton, Awáa
brian brooks
Brian Brooks, I’m Going to Explode

I realized in the process that a large part of the thrill of it all is about being able to share my passion for dance with others. I think that’s what moves he choreographers as well. While sitting in the audience, I feel very much in tune with them, yet somewhat apart. There’s an energy released at the conclusion of each performance,if the audience has been moved by what they’ve experienced, that is elevating. No other way to describe it. Fucking thrilling. The joy on the faces of the dancers at the conclusion of a satisfying performance is no less elevating. ” We’re in this together,” their smiles say to me. ” So thrilled you got it.”

elkins 2018
Doug Elkins dancers performing their new work, Kintsugi
Doug-Elkins_Press
Doug Elkins, 2018 Choreographer in Residence

You never can be sure during the planning stage of a big event that you’re getting the details right and that your instincts are correct.There are no guarantees in this world. I guess that’s part of the excitement. Unlike turning on the tv to watch something pre-recorded, you know you’re in an amphitheatre where anything can happen. There are no second takes or opportunities to do over. That is part of the excitement and what gives a successful live performance an added kick.

varone
Doug Varone, Nocturne
mark dendy
Mark Dendy, Rumsfeld, from Elvis Everywhere
keigwin
Larry Keigwin, Ballad #1
adam worst pies
Adam Barruch, The Worst Pies in London from Sweeney Todd
nicle diaz
Nicole Diaz, dancer for Kate Weare, Praise

As the choreographers began to arrive on performance week, I felt an enormous sense of gratitude for their commitment to travel hundreds and often thousands of miles to join our celebration. I said on stage that if I’d died then and there I would have died happy.

That was not an understatement, but it might have ruined the party.

 

 

  • photos by David Bazemore

Traveling with Robert

There’s always something wonderful waiting at the end of the drive when you’re lucky enough to join Robert Yellin on a visit to a few potters.

buddies!

I met Robert many years ago when he helped to guide tour groups to ceramic areas. We’ve remained friends, and each time we visit Kyoto,I look forward to meeting up with Robert. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call him one of the country’s leading authorities on contemporary Japanese ceramics. He runs a wonderful gallery in Kyoto close to the Philosophers Walk.  I believe anyone serious about contemporary Japanese ceramics should/must visit. It’s always a showcase for both established and emerging potters. Robert easily shares his passion and seemingly limitless knowledge of ceramics with his visitors.

This visit, he drove us to the ancient pottery area of Tamba. The potters he visits are overjoyed to see him and that is part of the fun. I enjoy seeing the work of each potter in her/his own gallery, as they chose to display it. There are always an abundance of riches to savor, admire  (and occasionally purchase!) Continue reading “Traveling with Robert”

rain dance

Before I moved to CA where the sun shines most of the time (Neil Diamond circa 1971) and the ground is green for a brief few months a year, I generally thought of rain as a spoiler.  I grew up with the children’s refrain “rain rain go away,” and never found a lot to appreciate in a rainy day.  Until I moved to CA where the arrival of rain became a reason to celebrate.

How times change. Now in CA the hills are euphemistically called golden, but are in reality a dull brown.  So if I travel and encounter rain, the usual nemesis of the tourist, I no longer gripe, but watch it in wonder and with pleasure.  I’ve equipped myself with a colorful umbrella and a sturdy pair of waterproof sneakers so that I can easily navigate the puddles and the overflow I encounter.  I breathe in deeply enjoying all those reputed negative ions.

The remnants of a typhoon are passing over Kyoto today.  The skies are steel grey and a steady rain is falling. Yesterday, I bought autumnal flowers from my favorite flower store for our apartment and happily arranged them in what I determined were artistically satisfying arrangements now gracing our living space.  Our interior is warm and pleasant although outdoors it’s a major contrast. Continue reading “rain dance”