Ceramic art in the Gekokujo period - a counterpoint to contemporary society

Japan Stories

6th February, 2023

A concept that goes against wabi-sabi

--When I saw your works, I was shocked. I found your works very flamboyant. The colours are bright, with gold and silver, and the shapes are prominent. I felt that they were the opposite of the usual ceramic artworks.

Koga: That's true. When ceramics are mentioned, we immediately think of the tea ceremony. Wabi-sabi is always associated with Sen no Rikyu, the ceramic school that advocates sobriety.

-As you say, ceramics has a rather austere image.

Koga: I am interested in the world of the tea ceremony, and I have great respect for traditional wabi-sabi works. If you trace its history, you always come to Sen no Rikyu. At that time, karamono (tea bowls from China reserved for tea ceremonies, translator's note), colourful and luxurious, were very appreciated and these true works of art were associated with power. In this context, Rikyu dared to use black tea bowls made in Japan, declaring, "This is the beauty of Japan." It was like a pied-de-nez to the established order.

-That's for sure. But why did Rikyu choose the colour black?

Koga: The idea of the black bowl was to put the ritual of the ceremony back in the foreground. Rikyu wanted the container to disappear in favour of the precision of the gesture. The uncluttered room with its subdued light helped to create a favourable environment. The colour black was therefore the logical consequence of a master's initiative. This aesthetic has been passed down for over 400 years, and I feel that wabi-sabi is engraved in the DNA of the Japanese people. I think that such values cannot be created anymore. This is why I had the idea of going against the grain of wabi-sabi, which I also deeply respect.

-What is this "anti-wabi-sabi", in more concrete terms?

Koga: It's the disorder that emerges from the object. Just as Rikyu did, I would like to give my works an appearance, a feeling and a taste experience that transforms the senses through it. Nevertheless, my aesthetic philosophy is contrary to that of wabi-sabi. I wish to create from the traditions and techniques that have been passed down through the ages, while incorporating my own sensibility from contemporary life.

《 SPIKY SHELL W 》 2019

-How did you come to use nails?

Koga: When I saw a vase considered a masterpiece in a museum abroad, I strongly felt the power inherent in objects. I began to wonder if I could express this power. While experimenting with various forms and techniques, I discovered nails. I found them to be an interesting form of the smallest scale of forces. In my opinion, they have the power to act on sight, touch and taste. Therefore I consider nails as a material that affects the body and mind rather than just a decorative accessory.

-- Historically, nails are also a symbol of a rebellious spirit, as in British punk.

Koga: The theme of this exhibition was "people who stand out". I thought that nails could represent going beyond and I developed this idea by embodying in my work personalities who push their limits and break out of the norms of the world by throwing away the conventions of the past. In this respect, there are certain similarities with the idea of "Gekokujo", according to which the balance of power between the dominant and the dominated can be reversed. This thought was widespread during the ongoing military conflicts of the Sengoku period (1450-1600, translator's note).

--I see. What kind of works are presented in this exhibition?

Koga: I wanted to honour personalities that inspire me so I created objects and sake cups that I thought embodied them well. For example, I made a piece that symbolises the great determination of footballer Keisuke Honda. In Japanese, there is an expression that illustrates a strong heart with a hairy heart. The nails, so to speak, represent the hairs that grow on the heart.

《 Heart》 2019

《 Heart installation 》 2019

-So your nails are a metaphor.

Koga: It was a new challenge for me to include an unusual form in such an ancient craft. Signifying the overcoming of oneself through a representation of a nail also brought a new wind to the world of pottery. It should not be forgotten that ceramics are the result of a meeting between man and earth. Depending on the texture and natural properties of the clay, the potter decides on the shape and colour of the final piece. With coarse clay, he will tend to make rough cups and depending on its resistance to temperature, he will choose an appropriate glaze and, therefore, a specific colour. However, the basic material of porcelain, unlike ceramics, goes through a human process from the outset as it is a mixture of various broken stones. In my opinion, this is the main difference between ceramic and porcelain. 

-How does this difference manifest itself in your work?

Koga: The artificiality of the basic material of porcelain allows me to be as creative as I like. Since man has already intervened in a previous process, I feel allowed to take my liberties. If I worked with clay, I might have a more respectful attitude towards the raw material.

--I see. Do you have any goals when you make porcelain?

Koga: Japanese porcelain is four hundred years old, with Arita being the most prestigious. It has gradually developed outside its native land until it is industrialised today. The techniques and traditions have been passed on from generation to generation by successive masters. Training in the discipline is certainly essential, but what to do next? As the discovery of pottery dating from the Jomon period attests, the works can survive us for centuries. So the question of imprinting arose for me. If I create objects that can survive in the distant future, I would like to leave a trace that describes our present. I would like to use the techniques of our ancestors and crystallize our time through the white jewel that is porcelain. I wish to arouse an emotion in the people of the future.

--I see a certain romanticism in your artistic approach.

Koga: I mentioned the distant future, but to tell the truth, I mainly want my work to be seen today, of course. In our time, everything is moving very fast. Great personalities, technological progress and new objects appear in just a few years. This is why I believe that art finds its meaning in the precise moment and place of its creation. Otherwise, its interpretation would be affected. From this point of view, my works are part of a raw actuality.  

--Previously, you mentioned wabi sabi and gekokujo. Seeing your pieces, I feel an influence from the Sengoku period to that of Azuchi Momoyama (1573-1603, a period of unification of Japan, notably marked by a profusion of popular arts, translator's note). What do you think about it? 

Koga: You are right. I like very much this period contemporary to Rikyu where a culture going to its opposite developed, especially with the Kabuki-mono (group of ronin, fallen samurai, who wore exuberant outfits with provocative manners and language, translator's note). This period saw two contradictory trends, with the concepts of the silence of Rikyu and the dynamism of the "Kabuku" culture that I just mentioned. I like this duality very much. 


-What does kabuku mean to you?

Koga: Do you know that there are many very original samurai helmets? They are called kawari kabuto, and their motifs are octopuses, scolopendres, crescent moons or Chinese characters such as the one for love. Heavy and cumbersome, one might question their practicality on the head of a knight going into battle. However, I think that the samurai were expressing their fervour here, and somehow the madness in which they found themselves. There is a real aesthetic of battle through which Japanese warriors allowed themselves a personal elegance. These objects stimulated my creativity a lot, so I created "Sake cup in half mask".  

--What do you remember about the ideological and cultural aspects of kabuku?

Koga: The containers have evolved. We went from the tea bowl to the kaiseki dishes, and then the sake cup complemented the carafe. This transition took place in the Sengoku period. The socio-cultural context was very important to me, and I think you can see it in my creations.

--What do you want to use your sake cups for?

Koga: Since ancient times, banquets have been an integral part of ceremonies and political events. At bureiko, the unofficial banquets, guests met in a masquerade where status and social hierarchy were put aside, where only personality was tested. The atmosphere was more relaxed, more festive, in short, an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other without the prestige of rank. I would like my sake cups to participate in moments of conviviality, and for their originality to make people react by offering pleasant moments of exchange.

《Sake cup, falcon shape, gold 》 2019

《Sake cup, stubborn shape, platinum 》 2019

--Your works are inspired by the masks of the Japanese warlords and you spoke of the Gekokujo thought. To what extent does this ideology accompany your creations?

Koga: At that time, the warlords fought for hegemony. Today, there is no war in Japan, but with the development of social networks, every individual has a voice and I feel that everyone is able to influence the course of the world. In other words, we live in an era where power is at hand, as in the Gekokujo ideology. In this sense, there are similarities with the Sengoku period. Despite this reality, I sometimes have the impression that society obeys standards. That is why I want to create works that are both unique and powerful. By creating "Cheeked Armour Cup", which is inspired by the helmet, not only in its appearance but also in its message, I wanted to give shape to the concept of ambition. I would be honoured if people who are determined to excel and have a voice appreciate my work. 


<B-OWND> Photo by Yo Ishigami

Profile : Takahiro Koga
Born in 1987 in Fukuoka Prefecture, Koga graduated from the Fine Arts and Crafts Course at the Faculty of Culture and Education at Saga University in 2010, and has been making ceramics in Nagashima-cho, Kagoshima Prefecture, since 2011.

Original text



古賀 ははは、そうですよね。陶芸というと、お茶道具のイメージがあると思いますし、そうなってくると千利休のあの渋い、わびさびのイメージが一般的なんじゃないかと思います。


古賀 僕はお茶の世界にも興味があって、伝統的なわびさびを感じさせる作品もとてもリスペクトしています。その歴史をたどってゆくと必ず行きつくのは、千利休。当時、色彩豊かで豪華な唐物が評価され、それらの美術品が権力とも結びついていたのに、利休はあえて国内で制作した黒の茶碗を使ったんです。「これが日本の美だ」って。すごいカウンターですよね(笑)。


古賀 抹茶椀を黒くすることには、存在を消すという意図がありました。薄暗い、簡素な室内で、お抹茶を手ですくって飲むような感覚まで洗練させたのが利休です。すべてを突き詰めた結果、黒という色になったのだと思います。この美学って、400年以上もの間受け継がれ、「わびさび」は私たち日本人の美的感覚のひとつとして、すでにDNAに刻み込まれていると感じます。僕は、こんな偉大な価値や発想ってもう中々創造できなんじゃないかと思っていて。だからこそ、対抗するにはリスペクトを込めて「反わびさび」だろう、という考えに至ったのです。


古賀 モノからめちゃくちゃに存在感が出ている感じ。僕がやりたいことのひとつは、利休が行ったみたいに、見た目も触感も味覚も違ってくるような仕掛けを、わびさびの思想と逆の方向で行うことです。そしてそこに、これまで受け継がれてきた伝統や技術を踏まえながら、現代を生きる自分の感覚も取り入れて作品を作りたいと考えています。


古賀 以前、海外の美術館で名品とされている壺を見たとき、「モノに内在する力」を強く感じたことがありました。この「力」を作品になんとか表現できないか、どうしたら可視化できるかと考えるようになり、さまざまな形や技法を試行錯誤していく中で、スタッズというものに行き着きました。「力の最小限の単位」として、おもしろい形だなと感じたのです。スタッズは、視覚、触覚、味覚など、人間の感覚に何らか働きかける力がある。だから僕は、スタッズを装飾というよりも、心身に影響を与えるものとして捉えています。


古賀 僕はこの展示のテーマを考える段階で、スタッズを、広義の意味で「突出」とみなすこともできるんじゃないかと考えました。それを発展させて、今回の展示でテーマとしたのは「突出した人」。たとえば、「自分の限界を突き破る人」、「世界の常識を打ち破る人」、「過去の因習を振り払う人」というような存在。この点を見れば、戦国時代の下剋上の考えと共通する部分もありますね。


古賀 僕自身が今生きていて、勇気をもらったり、励まされたりという人をピックアップして、その方々へのリスペクトを込めて制作したオブジェや酒器などです。たとえば、今回は本田圭佑選手をイメージした作品がありますが、これは彼の強靭なメンタルを象徴しています。強心臓って、心臓に毛が生えているという表現もありますよね。いわば、その「心臓に生える毛」をスタッズで表現しているのです。


古賀 スタッズという、これまでの取り組みに新しい意味を見出して、「突出した人」というテーマにまでもっていき、作品として昇華したことが、自分にとっても、陶芸界にとっても、新しい挑戦だったのかなと。そもそも焼物って、本来土と向き合って形や色を決めるものなんですよ。たとえば、粗めの土だから、荒々しい茶碗にしようとか、耐火度の高い土だから、こういう釉薬を使ってこんな色にしようとか。けれど磁器って、陶器と違って、原料は石なんです。細かく砕いて、人工的に粘土のようにする技術でできた素材。つまり、最初から人工物ということです。ここが陶器と決定的に違う点と考えています。


古賀 はじめから人の手が入っているものなら、自由に作っていいんじゃないかなと考えていて。だから僕が作っているような人為的な形の作品ができるんです。けれど陶器は、やっぱり土が天然ものですから、それは素材の声を聴くというか、尊重した表現の方がいいと考えています。


古賀 磁器って、有田焼が聖地の焼物で、400年くらいの歴史があります。様々な地域に広く伝搬していますし、産業化もされている。この長い歴史の中で、先人達の伝統や技術が育まれ、伝承されてきました。けれど、修行してそれを身につけて、じゃあ現代人の僕はどうする?っていう問題がありました。焼物って、100年、1000年、10000年と残るものなのです。例えば縄文土器だって現存している。だからこそ、遠い未来、後世にも残す自分の作品を作るならば、今自分が生きているこの時代を反映したものにしたい。先人達が築いてきた技術、伝統を用い、「白い宝石」ともいえる磁器で、この時代を結晶化できたらなと考えています。そして、後世の人に、何らか感じてもらえることがあったらうれしいですね。


古賀 といいつつ、一番作品を見てほしいのは、「今」なんですけどね。数年経っただけで、またすごい人、新しい技術、面白いモノってどんどん出てくるじゃないですか。時代ってめまぐるしく変わるし、だからこそ「今」この場所、この時に見てもらわなければ全く別のものとなってしまう。そういう意味で、僕の作品は「ナマモノ」でもあるんです。


古賀 その時代をモチーフにしている作品も多いですからね。やはりあの時代にすごく惹かれるものがあるんです。利休もそうですけれど、同時代に、「かぶく」という文化も出現しました。利休が「静」ならば、傾奇者たちは「動」という感じで、全く真逆の表現を突き詰めている。本当に面白いなと思います。


古賀 当時の武将の兜に、ユニークなものがたくさんあるのはご存知ですか?「変わり兜」と言って、タコやムカデ、でっかい三日月や愛という漢字がのっていたり。あれを纏って馬に乗って走ったら、風圧や重さで転げ落ちるんじゃないかって思うくらい、戦闘向きじゃないものがたくさんあって。そこには用の美やわびさびが皆無なんです。つまりあれって、いかにぶっとんでいるかという美の戦いだと思ったんです。自らの心意気を表現していたり、シャレを効かせてみたりと、それぞれの固有の美を表現していて面白いですね。こういうものを見ていると、作家としてすごく刺激されるものがあり、僕の作品《頬鎧盃》というシリーズは、この「変わり兜」をモチーフにしています。


古賀 もちろんあります。器は、お抹茶から懐石、そして徳利やぐい吞みへと発展していきますが、その発端はやはり戦国時代頃。そのあたりの背景への意識が先にありました。


古賀 戦国武将たちは、覇権を争って国内で戦っていたじゃないですか。現代は戦争をしているわけじゃないけれど、SNSも発達していて、誰にでも発言力があり、覇権を狙える時代だと感じています。つまり、下克上が可能な世の中ともいえる。そういう意味で、戦国時代と重なる部分があるように感じています。僕は今、社会が画一化しているように感じることがあります。だから、僕はそれに対して、あえて個性的で存在感のある作品を制作したい。《 頬鎧盃 》って、見た目もですけれど、こういう思想的な部分にも変わり兜に着想を得ています。いわば、志と誇り、強い意志を形にした作品なんです。だから、高みを目指し、声を上げる勇気を持った人たちに共感してもらって、僕の作品を使ってもらえたらこれ以上に嬉しいことはないですね。 <B-OWND>

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