Tea Bowl, white raku
The Tea Bowls of Emi Fujii
December 20th, 1997 - June 13th, 1998
Curator: Dr. Ilana Singer
Emi Fujii was born in Akita Province in 1939. From 1966 to 1968 she worked in a ceramics factory. She studied design and economics at the Musashino University in Japan, and later studied art at the Royal College of Art in London and the Massana School in Spain. Fujii lives in Sweden because, in the sixties, she found it difficult as a woman to become a ceramic artist in Japan, though she has had many exhibitions in Japan as well as in Sweden. Fujii prefers to create functional ceramics for everyday use rather than purely decorative works, which is why her ceramics have a traditional flavour. This exhibition presents her bowls for the Japanese tea ceremony.
The custom of drinking tea was brought to japan from China in the 13th century by the Zen monks, who drank tea to refresh themselves during periods of meditation. Tea drinking developed into the ritual known in japan as Sado or Chado. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the conventions of the ritual became an art form compounded of aesthetic gestures and movements, the flavour specific to the ceramic bowls, Ink-drawings, architecture, flower arrangement, etc. Two different artistic styles developed at the time - the style of the tea masters and the Zen monks, which was restrained both in colour and in the form of the ceramic bowls, characterized by their deliberate simplicity and natural aspect; and the elegant style of the aristocracy, whose bowls were more colourful and decorative. However, it was the monks' bowls which ultimately gave rise to that aesthetic sensibility which is so specific to the Japanese.
The ceramic bowls of japan are completely different from the porcelains brought from China and the Korean celadon ware. While the fine Chinese dishes combine decoration and perfection with technical expertise, the influence of prehistoric Japanese ceramics, simple, heavy and asymmetrical, is very evident in the Japanese dishes.
In her bowls for the tea ceremony, Fujii succeeds in conveying her love for the material, a sense of handicraft. These dishes which appear so simple are intentionally rough. Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), Master of the tea ceremony, recognized in serenity and simplicity modes of aesthetic expression. These concepts gave rise to the Japanese aesthetic, which can be summarized in two general terms: Wabi and Sabi. Wabi is the sense of isolation and simplicity, and Sabi conveys the idea of something timeless, antique. Fujii's bowls embody these traits, but are definitely not naive. They are asymmetrical, each having a different form, and are roughly glazed. They seem to be spontaneous, formed by the forces of nature. The decoration is minimal, and Fujii has added it with a free hand.
Fujii's raku bowls are made by hand, as Japanese tradition demands, though some are also thrown on the wheel, and they are fired at low temperatures. These bowls are rough, but are exemplary in their invention and diversity. They have the sculptural qualities of the Jomon tradition (Jomon: rope design or print) which prevailed from the 5th century BCE up to the beginning of the Common Era. The Japanese enjoyed the coarse, organic feel of the material, and the asymmetrical forms which convey no sense of having been shaped on the wheel. Tea bowls are simple objects, and their strength lies in their simplicity. They are not estranged from the clay of which they are made. Here, each one bears the sign of Fujii's workmanship.
Artists of the tea ceremony are artists of taste and sensibility. The ceremony is conducted in harmony, respect, and serenity, encompassing for a brief moment in time the virtues of the ceramic bowl and of the smallest and simplest utensils used in this ritual.
The value of Fujii's ceramics lies In her originality and ability to individualize them - making each of these bowls an entity in its own right.