Human body as a shell containing life

Feeling of time passing, memory and change is main themes in my work. 

In this work human body is seen as a shell, a container of one’s essence. Sculptures often have cracks and texture symbolising fragile shell, exposing the space inside, showing the invisible. Human body is a tool between our inner worlds and outside reality.

The sculptures are frozen in their moment of change into decay. It is in a nature of things that everything changes, and I want to embrace this force driving us to the unknown.

If I know anything at all it's all about me」50x45x35cm、2016

En stund i tiden

Min beundran för människoskulptur har övergått från formstudier till viljan att fånga en stund i tiden. Jag arbetar med tankar om minnet i förändring.

Några år sedan bläddrade jag igenom bardomsbilder, något som jag har undvikit länge och upptäckte att min minne och bildernas verklighet skildes. Jag vill utforska detta subjektiva glapp, hjärnans förmåga att anpassa sig efter nuets behov. Eftersom minne förändras varje gång man plockar up den, det vi kommer ihåg är snarare idéer om tidigare självuppfattningar och händelser än objektiv sanning. Det vill säga man återskapar sig själv i nuet kontinuerligt och de äldre versioner av subjektiv verklighet försvinner i tiden som vissna skal. Jag är intresserad av de kasserade versioner som man ser genom gamla bilder och använder de i mitt skulpteringsprocess.

Jag vill berätta om minnet genom människroppen som är en total summa av alla inre och yttre förändringar genom tiden. Jag söker konstnärliga uttryck som kan visualisera mentala minnets konstukter som fysiska föreställningar. Jag har längre varit inspirerat av Antony Gormleys idén om den inre platsen “Min kropp innehåller alla möjligheter. Vad jag arbetar mot är en total identifikation av allt liv med min kontaktpunkt med yttervärlden, min kropp... En av mina uppgifter är att återskänka både kroppen och konsten deras immanens.”  (Lewis Biggs in Tate Gallery Liverpool, Antony Gormley, 1993, pg. 22) Allt börjar och slutar med ens kroppen. Man kan se kroppen som personlig tidsbegränsning, därför kopplar jag ofta kroppens förändring med växt och eventuell förfall. Viljan att stoppa tiden, hindra förändringen, njuta av stunden, uppleva livet utan att leva, dessa motsägande tankar finns med i mitt arbete.

「Inside the memory: berryboy」

stoneware, 99x43x27cm、2019

「Inside the memory: if I know anything at all, it's all about me」porcelain, stoneware、birch  from the left 135x90x60cm、160x120x50cm、2016

「Ichisan」stoneware、 45x50cm,、2016

Wabi- sabi aesthetic relevance today

The aesthetics of wabi- sabi is widely known and often misused is arts, crafts, and design. Ten years ago, when I was starting to study ceramics, I would describe it mistakenly so, as a minimalistic, often asymmetric design, surrounded by aura of romanisation of nature and all things Japanese.

Fortunately a lot have happened since then and with this inquiry I would like to look at how wabi- sabi is connected to Japanese way of seeing beauty as well as whether the qualities of wabi- sabi aesthetics are relevant today. I will also use my own experience in Swedish and Japanese art universities as a comparison case between different approaches of viewing and teaching art.

Several years ago, I came to Japan to study classical human sculpture, due to the extinction of such knowledge in art education in Sweden. It is an interesting case of knowledge/aesthetic migration, where in Sweden I had access and education in anagama and noborigama firing and building, which is traditional Japanese design kiln, while there was no education in classical sculpture, a long-time European tradition.

Since then, I had a chance to experience both Swedish and Japanese art education, which has different approaches to teaching and assessment of students works.

Swedish educational system relies on students learning to critically discuss their work and evaluate progress in context of different aesthetics, points of view and sets of different criteria. If the physical artwork is a top of the iceberg, all the written and oral work is the iceberg itself.

Many if not all works are encouraged to begin with a concept or formulated idea and a development plan. Inability to explain the work in words would often mean unfinished or badly defined sculpture or installation. Critical discussion between professors and students, exchanging the opinions in context is a precondition to successfully developing the project.

The drawbacks of relying solely on critical discourse in art making and art education is too controlled process results, lack of creative surprize or the unexpected outcomes (unless designed so); students concentrate on explaining the ideas in theory instead of developing the physical work or coming up with new ways of looking at things. The use of critical discourse is an attempt to standardize the knowledge in art, which can have negative impact on creativity.

Coming from Swedish educational background into Japanese university was refreshing like ice cold shower. Although the hierarchical relationships between professors and students do not invite the classroom discussion, or any form of opposition, the concise critique at the end of each day’s session was always given.

The focus was on material expression and the anatomical correctness of the sculptures. Most classes had live models where students would sculpt while actively observing.

Assessing the students work the importance of individual expression or sculptural concept comes after the anatomical correctness, the craftmanship and the correct usage of techniques and tools. Focus on results and how well the sculptural elements of volume, light, surface, shadow, balance, negative space, etc. are expressed. During the presentations, the observation is longer than the critique or discussion itself.

The drawbacks of such education might be lack of ability of critically assess one’s own work, its meaning and importance or lack of thereof. Following the path much walked by others might lead nowhere new. Being highly skilled in technique make you a craftsman, being able to invent a bicycle with every successful work makes you an artist. As kimono researcher Sheila Cliffe have pointed out in personal interview (2020) the Japanese art education focuses on the training of techniques and forms, and individual style or artistic expression takes years to develop. “This is the way with Japanese arts. You copy and practice for years and years. Teachers don’t praise. You just look and repeat. Many people give up and I guess many remain derivative. Self expression without a deep understanding of the techniques is not respected in Japan. You have to learn the ropes first and it can take years to master the crafts.” The so-called ropes can be more than knowledge, it is the social network of professors and students who can later become key figures in professional life.

Despite the difficulties Sheila Cliffe (2020) says “I am glad that I went through the strict training. I then discarded what I didn’t need slowly, over several years, and found my own style. As a foreigner, I think it was important to have gone through that though, but I did not start out as a very expressive dresser. It takes time and a certain sense that people who are naturally interested in fashion probably develop.”

The sense of beauty is a quality to be trained and learned to see, both as a creator and as a viewer. The same was said in the context of wabi-sabi by R. J Davis, O. Ikeno (2002) “People require mental discipline for real understanding of beauty because in this way of thinking, beauty emerges from inside objects.”

These experiences of art education in Japan relates to wabi-sabi aesthetic and Japanese sense of beauty in the ways such as active observation, attentiveness and interest in tradition and understanding of technique, material, or context. In this way artwork is not completed by words, but rather appreciated by them.

This silent introspective quality is well accepted but not always required in art education in Sweden. It is hard to explain subjective experiences and putting them into clearly defined narratives robs them of their emotional content. In the same way wabi-sabi is a subjective quality “recognized by heart”, as said by R. J Davis, O. Ikeno (2002), it does not fit the critical discourse way of analysing works. This might be one of many reasons why there is less oral or written reflection on arts or art making in Japan.

Although talking and writing about wabi- sabi and the introspective aesthetics alike is difficult, they are often expressed in poems in a description of the sceneries, opening inner landscapes.

This is a quality of emotional intelligence, which is hard to define in words but is understood though experience and feeling. Emotional intelligence is often looked upon as something to be repressed and ignored, but the ability to recognize and manage emotions is essential to personal and social health. Thinking of this quality in wabi-sabi aesthetic can help create better designs for meaningful communication. Additionally, including wabi- sabi aesthetic in art education can help thinking in nonlinear, visual terms, developing emotional intelligence in arts and design, contributing to mental health and social relationships.

According to L.Koren (1992) the digitalisation simplifies and standardizes human experience “Diversity of the cultural ecology is a desirable state, especially in the opposition to the accelerating trend towards the uniform digitalization of all sensory experience, where the electronic reader stands before the experience and observation and all the manifestation in encoded identically .” The author might be right considering that Facebook launched like button in 2009 and since then have added six more reactions, it would seem social networks are not advanced enough to express the palette of human conditions.

In R. J Davis, O. Ikeno (2002) wabi- sabi aesthetic is depicted as being in opposition to materialism or consumerism, “People used to live simple lives free from materialism and had the opportunity to cultivate a sense of unity with nature.” It is hard to imagine a time in history when humans hand no interest for shiny new things, or valuable old things, the more the better. It is with the industrialisation and democratisation of the different layers of society, that the scale of the consummation and pollution has skyrocketed. Before the Meiji Period the merchant social class was considered the lowest one. Merchant class had the means but not privilege, dressing out of own rank would be punishable and sumptuary laws was common. According to S. Cliffe (interview, 2020) “What people could wear was very strictly controlled according to class and status. Therefore there was a lot of hidden beauty. Colorful underwear, usually red. Warm and sexy. Hidden under the dull, often cotton outer layers. It was a hidden kind of expression, that developed and is still a part of kimono aesthetics today. Edo komon, appears plain from a distance but only when you get close can you see the fine dots of the pattern. It was a technique developed also to make the clothing look plain, when really it was patterned.” So much creativity and work put in to be seen being compliant to general rules, while expressing the rebellious connotations. A few years ago, I observed foreigners buying haori (a jacket worn over kimono) at the flea market in Kyoto and putting on bright inside out. The seller did not seem to mind the incorrect wear, probably a common phenomenon.   

And while wabi- sabi is said to emphasize imperfect, impermanent, incomplete things in life, materialism has had its own share of wabi- sabi aesthetics. As in example of the art of tea becoming the tradition of tea ceremony has institutionalised the ritual of tea where the utensils, the décor, the architecture has become a part of material culture. The production of high market value ceramics such as Raku family wares continues for last 450 years. Citing L.Koren “The concept of wabi- sabi, a vital part of iemoto proprietary intellectual property (particularly in the world of tea), was not to be elucidated – given away – unless in exchange for money or favours. Artfully obscured “exotic” concepts like wabi- sabi also made good marketing bait. Obscuring the meaning of wabi- sabi, but tantalizing the consumer with glimpses of its value, was the most effective means of iemoto style entrepreneurism.” Materialism is often viewed in negative terms, but it is argued that the ritualization of tea ceremony has kept wabi- sabi aesthetic alive until now.

From the account of A. Juniper that “it was suggested by a current resident abbot of the Daitokuji temple in Kyoto that one of the first real movements toward an appreciation of physical objects that have a humble and rustic appeal came at a time when Buddhist monks, whose temples were often underfunded, had to entertain guests.” Necessity is the mother of invention. Wabi- sabi concepts separately or as a compound expression has a history of more than thousand years. It would be logical to conclude that wabi- sabi aesthetic would change with times.

The most appealing quality of wabi- sabi is viewers ability to be actively present and aware. In age of permanent state of distraction where multitasking is considered a norm, many feel the need to reconnect with their inner selves. Wabi-sabi aesthetic can be used to train active observation, thus enabling different ways of thinking, or following the Zen tradition, not thinking at all. As creative output method the ability to concentrate on the essence of things can contribute to simple design solutions.

One more quality emphasized by wabi- sabi aesthetic is connection and appreciation of nature. World needs eco-friendly consumer habits as well as aesthetically pleasing renewable design solutions.

While thinking about wabi-sabi and how this aesthetic is intertwined with Japanese sense of beauty, I have tried to follow the ambiguous tradition of leaving the definition of wabi- sabi to the reader. The purpose of this small inquiry was to consider some of the wabi- sabi qualities and their application or relevance now.

The aesthetic quality, sustainability of design, diversity of creative approaches to different problems, etc depends on the methods of education nurtured at the university. Inability to teach a student to learn from the world of possibilities in a magic complexity of contrasting ideas results in disconnected, self-gratifying art and design.

I think many educational institutions would benefit from combining the contrasting paradigms as for example, critical discourse analysis and wabi- sabi aesthetics. Once the deeper understanding of cultural interconnectedness is achieved, new ideas can be born. In a world growing closer this can be one of the bridges of communication through art and education.




Cliffe, Shela personal interview, 2020

Roger J. Davis and Osamu Ikeno, The Japanese Mind, 2002

Koren, Leonard , Wabi-sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, 1992

Andrew Juniper, The Japanese Art of Impermanence, 2003 Accessed 2021-01-16