The small town of Imbe in Bizen, Japan has been continuously producing its own form of pottery, called Bizen for over a thousand years, albeit not without it's challenges. It was admired by tea master Sen No Rikyu for it's simple, rustic nature that derives it's look from a lack of glaze, unique regional soil, mystical kiln effects and a beneficial amount of chance. It was an essentially lost art form by the Meiji period until it was meticulously revived by a small group of dedicated potters in the 1930's and has since been recognized by the Japanese government as an Intangible Cultural Property.
Imbe is quiet, interrupted occasionally by a delivery truck or the footsteps of a lone tourist. The smell of burning red pine from kilns fills the air day and night. The narrow streets and alleys are a mix of residences, potter's studios and their shops. The shop's window displays vary from minimal and meditative to overly crowded and pandering. Many are empty, reminiscent of offseason beach towns and have that same inexplicable sense of loneliness. It was not uncommon to see one small sake bottle occupying the entire display. Some were clearly about commerce and others a form of enigmatic self expression. I rarely saw customers inside any of the shops.
A fellow visitor felt like she had gone back in time. I would add to that a sensation of time standing still and awe. Families have been producing Bizen here the same way for centuries, coexisting with the land and it's soil. There's an old adage, "don't sell the field even if the kiln is sold". Without the soil there would be no more Bizen.
I was told by a young artist from a multigenerational Bizen potter family that the clay in Imbe is running out. He lightly shrugged and without a hint of despair added that the remaining people that make Bizen are also dying away so it all evens out. His matter of factness was disquieting especially from someone that is so deeply tied to the tradition and land.
This rationalization filled me with disbelief and sadness. A strangely familiar feeling I've had in other places I've lived like New York City or even where I grew up in suburban Maryland. Places where change is rapid and brutal. What we've lost is almost impossible to keep track of - let alone remember. This body of work looks at this ancient way of life and how it exists in a present filled with uncertainties.