7-30 October 2022: The Smell of the Earth After the Rain by Jynsym Ong
October sees Oxford based artist Jynsym Ong exhibit her first body of work back in the UK since spending time in Japan after completing 2 years at Clay College in Stoke-on-Trent.
We are so proud and feel lucky to have be able to show this body of work. Ahead of the exhibition we've asked her a few questions.
What is the name of your exhibition and can you give a short sentence summing it up?
"The Smell of the Earth After the Rain" showcases new work made after the illumination of an interval in Japan. It is redolent of wetted clay; a dampening down of the dust and the potentiality of a plasticising. An impression of the rainy season, a gummy lushness you can chew on and taste. The water that revives, renews and replenishes has fallen and left us with the freshness of pure possibility.
How long have you been working with, and how did you end up working with it?
After I graduated from a very cerebral and anxiety-inducing university course I decided to do something manual for a while; a desire to get back to the body and a grounding in the stuff of the earth. So I picked up clay and never looked back. That was about seven years ago now, and during that time, amongst other things, I have been a teacher and technician at Turning Earth, a student at Clay College in Stoke-on-Trent and an apprentice at Mitoh Kama (Kiln) in Karatsu, Japan.
Who is a maker whose work you love and admire that we should know about but might not?
If you are not familiar with Karatsu pottery I would encourage anyone to look it up. Some very good contemporary makers are: Rui Mitoh, Kiyomi Kawakami, Kota Tanaka, Yasumoto Kajihara. There are many Japanese makers who are not well known in the UK and I couldn’t possibly name all of the ones I admire but some of those who are not from Karatsu are Toru Hatta, Shikamaru Takeshita, Tani Q, Yoji Yamada.
Having now worked with makers in the UK and Japan what do you find is the greatest similarity and the biggest difference in the approach to pottery?
I think that due in part to the early industrialisation of all industries in the UK there is quite a disconnect from the materials we are working with. We buy everything super-processed and already in plastic bags. This makes the finished pieces very clean but they have lost something. In Karatsu we dug our own clays and even sourced things like feldspars, sandstones and iron oxides from the mountain. We dried and burnt our own rice straw ash and I learnt how to process all these materials which meant they were a lot less refined. The impurities come through and make serendipitous marks and give the clay flavour and depth.
The glazes grow crystals seeded by what we in the UK might class as contaminants. Sourcing and processing all these things is very time and labour intensive but so worth it. You not only have to connect with nature by entering the mountain to find the materials, you have to follow the pattern of the seasons which dictate certain activities that must be done at certain times of the year.
I think the biggest similarity is that potters everywhere are very hard workers in general and have a lot of dedication.
What is your favourite part of the making process?
So difficult to say. I love the whole process and the cumulative results of the different stages resulting in the satisfaction of having a finished piece.
Where does your inspiration usually come from?
Oh, absolutely everywhere. Exhibitions, museums, people’s houses, books, conversations with friends and interactions with strangers, how I use pots and how I observe others using them. The observation of objects over longer periods, what survives and what might not, the stories that objects become through time.
What was the best lesson you’ve learnt from your time in Japan with regards to making?
How to impart a certain freeness to my work hopefully giving an impression of life bursting out of the forms, the mark of the hand applied and this energy left barely contained. Of course I am still working on it and it will be something I work on through my whole life. Japan is the best at this, a very cultivated naturalness and sense of ease that actually takes a lot of time to learn. You can see it everywhere from the gardens to the baths to the crafts in Japan.
Wood firing is important to you in your work; why? And it’s not the most accessible method, is there anything you think that needs to change or what shift do you see in the UK going forward as more and more young makers are showing interest in this medium where you need land, and resources that aren’t easy to come by for the a generation of makers?
Wood firing bestows the most beautiful surfaces onto pots, varied and nuanced, and I get really excited by using the kiln as another tool for mark making and not just as a means to an end. Also, firings are a really beautiful way to work together on something with other potters. This process is naturally incredibly intense as the firings can be very protracted, lasting five days sometimes. The impossibility of doing this by yourself means you are put in a situation where you have to work with and trust other people. These gatherings that happen around the kiln are not just work, they create a very special atmosphere where people can freely share knowledge and build relationships.
I love this aspect of wood firing, working with other people, as potting can otherwise be quite a solitary thing. For me it’s just as important as the work that comes out of the kiln, sharing these experiences where everyone is invested so much in the same thing. However you are right in saying that in this country it is not very accessible due to land access and fuel constraints as so much of the UK is no longer forested. I think that this is solved by utilising (in my opinion) the strongest aspect of wood firing which is the communities that are built around kilns.
Collaborating with others and pooling resources is necessary for our generation if we are to have a future incorporating wood firing into our practices, and I believe as well that community is one of the most important things for the future in general. So building communities around the things you are interested and invested in is the way to ensure the longevity of your practice and well-being.
The Private view for "The Smell of the Earth After the Rain" is on Thursday 6th October, 6-8pm. Please join us for a glass of wine to celebrate and be the first to see Jynsym's work.