Stacking Stones

I first experienced the process of “stacking stones” while doing some yard work. Perhaps this is not the best example, but imagine organizing a bookshelf or a drawer, or doing some other trivial action in daily life.
When I started stacking, my first inclination was to do it well. As long as I was putting effort into it, I wanted the resulting stack to be durable and stand the test of time. This desire clearly came from the motivation to make the stack function as well as possible, to achieve its purpose as a practical item.
But as I continued stacking the stones and really getting the hang of it, another desire stepped in. This was something different, unrelated to functionality, like a desire for the stack to be aesthetically pleasing. It is not as if I was consciously trying to express an idea or concept, but there was something there, a sense or thought, or instinct, and it puzzled me. Whatever it was, it stopped me in my tracks, stone in hand. My consciousness demanded functionality while this other urge began to create intense conflict and turned this simple task into something more complex. I find it fascinating that this mysterious urge always surfaces when I am working with “things,” as if there is some kind of inherent communication between the objects and my will.
This simple event was extremely stimulating, and it dawned on me that it must be revealing something that is at the core of creation.

Daily life can sometimes seem quite dull, but the reality is that it is of course full of excitement. When people feel their daily lives have become monotonous, they have lost their ability to see the complexity of the multilayered, mysterious reality surrounding them.
As if to make up for it, many “fictions” are manufactured to give people drive; to break up the daily routine, and to provide a respite from reality. The word “fiction” may give the impression that I’m being cynical about the act of creation as being fake or an exercise in fantasy or make-believe, but fiction and reality are always intertwined. Both are essential and indispensable to each other. The concepts of fake and real, lies and truth are inseparable and neither can exist without the other. In days of old, these things existed in the acts of celebrations, such as festivals and stage plays, things that were directly linked to the human body.
Today, as recorded images have become equal to reality in people’s minds and new technologies are extremely effective agents of this kind of “informed fiction,” the high-quality virtual information enables strong and efficient transmission of ideas. Easily communicated and digested contents ensure that this kind of fiction will prosper and flourish. However, if the ease with this fiction can be consumed devolves into mere amusement and becomes over-consumed, there is also a danger that over time it may lose effect or not penetrate people’s consciousness. With accelerated overproduction and overconsumption comes the potential pitfall of dependence, much like that of a drug addiction.

At this point in human history it is important not to forget about tangible things realized through the process of creation, and the role this creation has played in society. When we evaluate a hand-crafted object by focusing only on functionality, we are likely to overlook its nature as a complement to daily life. While this may be difficult to discover at first glance, some objects have the power to deeply penetrate our minds and bodies.
In days past, when people created things of their own hands and used them in daily life, the concepts of industry and craft were synonymous. People not only made and used “things” for convenience’s sake, but through this process they also certainly understood “the power the object” that rescued them from daily monotony.
For example, traditional Japanese room arrangement involves an indoor space where a folding screen or partition, sliding door, fanlight, and other ornaments are arranged. Through this tradition, people saw an opportunity to transcend daily life by furnishing goods appropriate to their scale and level of living, whether these be farming and fishing tools or other everyday items. In times when finding a balance with nature was the crux of everyday life, this must have been an almost innate ability among human beings.
Now that the act of creating objects has been driven out of our daily regimen, I think people may have lost or forgotten the art of touch and the ability to really experience and take in the objects around them, unable to digest their diversity and ambiguity. As if to make up for this lost art, the real and the virtual blend together in an overflowing digital swirl of a highly information-driven society.
“Fiction” exists only in the realm of consciousness whereas “creation” exists in the space between consciousness and objects. Our information-driven society has allowed consciousness to go out of control, pushing aside the logic of the process of development. Consciousness has expanded the territory of fiction, which has swallowed up the realm creation. Objects have lost their power and become mere complements to consciousness. Our mass-production, mass-consumption society has robbed objects of their value, to the point where they no longer are a means of expression and have been reduced to mere symbols.

The act of piling up stones is simply a means of building a stone wall. However, within the trivial action of piling up these stones, a conflict emerges between conscious planning and the urge to create that lurks on the fringe of this consciousness. I believe this is an essential framework of human agency. The conflict provides the raison d'etre for creation.
This framework doesn’t have a structure that is clearly recognizable like that of vertebrate animals. The conflict manifests itself within objects of various shapes and forms created in response to the needs of the times. It emerges in front of your eyes, corresponding to the values of the present age; in a short break from farm work, in the modern man’s daily regimen, in mass-produced products that stimulate people’s material desires in an industrial society, and at times, in the form of so-called “artwork.” They have dedicated function, but more than that, they provide transcendence from daily life beyond this function.
In a highly information-driven society where consciousness prospers and is easily reproduced, a sensation like “a hand that was piling up stones stopping mid-action” is dismissed as insignificant nonsense, an incomprehensible unknown, or at best an act that merely propagates conventions from pre-modern times. But people’s minds often move against the direction of the society as if to exert balance.
Now that the emphasis is on the virtual and “real” objects have been cast aside, creators are facing a significant test. If one looks back nostalgically to a time when the power of objects reigned, he only steps into a dead end.
I devote myself to ceramics in order to cultivate “the power of things,” to express that which goes beyond ideas and can only be expressed in the tangible. In the last few years, my process has evolved as follows: I form a hollow rectangular tube out of clay slabs, make another one adjacent to the first, and repeat this same process over and over to assemble a larger form. The agony of handicraft coupled with my personal will accumulates to create a larger whole, just like stacking stones. This matter-of-fact labor resembles the monotony of daily life. Of course, there is no spectacular fantasy to deliver me from this reality; instead, there is a sense of melancholy to this process. Time goes by and I continue without rescue from this gloomy task.
However, this gloomy stream of consciousness is an indispensable space for contemplating the meaning of “things” and the process of creating things that transcend their own function. Objects do not behave as people plan. There is value in accepting this fact, and embracing the inherent conflict.

Throughout all of this, we cannot forget that hands mediate the entire process. These hands of ours have been making and processing things ever since human beings started walking on two legs. When our hands first started grabbing things, they also claimed all kinds of possibilities.
“Thinking with the hands.” This idea popped into my mind when I first started working with clay. It may seem to be a strange idea as hands clearly do not have the ability to reason nor the function to remember as does the brain. But, in this thought I saw profound possibilities that were greater than the plans I formed with my brain and went beyond my relationship with things. Here I ask that you do not arrive at a hasty misunderstanding; I am not trying to perpetuate the idea that pottery is an act beyond human wisdom or an art conceived by clay and fire. In addition, assure you that this idea is not a byproduct of being obsessed with technique.
Creating things with the hands sustains an impulse for forming and shaping in a field of semi-consciousness. “Sustainable impulse” is an oxymoron. I think the challenge of this work is to bring impulses to the field of consciousness. Maybe that’s why this work merits being called “craft.”
Only hands can engage in this work. Only hands are allowed to go back and forth between the world of consciousness and that of things.

Once again, my hands have stopped, midway through stacking stones.


(Tama Art University Bulletin 20, 2006)