For his first exhibition in New York, the sculptor Masaomi Yasunaga presents a large body of new, experimental ceramic works. The gallery space features over 50 avant-garde vessel forms, including his largest to date, displayed on beds of gravel and flanked by structures fastened to the walls.
Yasunaga’s unique practice and outright omission of clay offer a re-evaluation of ceramic tradition and reposition the works beyond ceramics to constructions that encompass sculpture, installation and even performance. Looking Afar explores the artist’s unprecedented process and the sentimentality that guides it.
The act of firing lies at the core of Yasunaga’s practice. While pottery is typically formed from clay, fired in a kiln and sealed with a finishing coat of glaze, Yasunaga adopts glaze as the primary material from which to build his sculptural works, incorporating a pliable foundation that deforms when fired. The initial shapes are combined with raw materials–feldspars, whole rocks, metal or glass powders–before they are buried in various strata of sand and kaolin to preserve aspects of their structure in the firing stage. The physical process is an indication of the natural over the artificial. “I consider the process of firing as an act to retain a certain level of sensory distance between the creator and the material,” says Yasunaga. “After projecting the ego upon the material and creating a sculpture that stands against gravity, the firing process reverts that action by melting the material and letting gravity take hold of its shape once again, eradicating the ego along the way.”
Once cooled, Yasunaga’s sculptures are excavated from their beds in a studio process analogous to archaeological excavation and discovery. The display in the exhibition mirrors the unearthing process. The yielded objects appear honed and shaped by earthly elements over centuries, some whole and others curiously fragmented. The sculptures are simultaneously primitive and contemporary; objects of human culture which appear as if lost and found, seeming to confirm the supremacy of nature’s order over the world of humankind.
The pastoral landscape that surrounds Yasunaga’s studio in Japan’s Mie Prefecture influences his perspective. The distant views and the act of seeing afar conjure both physical and psychological experiences. He is interested in how one approaches something far remote, such as time, space, and thought. The kiln is a time machine and fire filters what remains. Thirteen years ago, following the death of his grandmother, Yasunaga incorporated her ashes into the glaze for an arrangement of white porcelain urns. Through the fire the artist’s memories of his grandmother were crystalized. The hollow walls within the artist’s unorthodox vessels echo senses of melancholy and nostalgia. Featuring an assortment of proportions, the works dig into the scale of past ruins, from insect bones to derelict buildings. They offer a reevaluation of the potential of the ceramic tradition, examining remembrance, highlighting the ambiguous nature of observing a distant setting, and identifying what’s left once filtered through the fire.
Works by Masaomi Yasunaga are included in an exhibition focusing on ceramic art at the Museum of Contemporary Ceramic Art in Gifu, Japan, opening September. Yasunaga will also be the subject of a solo exhibition at the Palomar Foundation in Como, Italy, opening October 2022.
all images © the gallery and the artist(s)