Clay of the land
Studio Mumbai digs deep to unlock the creative potential of soil in Japan
A fragment of tree trunk conserved in the earth for a million years; abstract photography of the dissected layers of a quarry; ceramic spheres from a factory; and a mound of raw clay. These are some of the items showcased in a new exhibition, ‘Archeology of Mino, in collaboration with Studio Mumbai’, which casts a contemporary light on one of Japan’s most treasured materials: clay. Curated by Swiss designer David Glaettli (creative director of Karimoku New Standard and Tajimi Custom Tiles) and Indian architect Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai, the exhibition, showing at 441 in Tokyo, taps into the creative potential and ‘brutal beauty’ of soil from the Mino region of Gifu Prefecture, famed for a rich ceramics heritage meandering back 1,300 years.
In particular, it highlights the origins of Mino clay, an ancient material that is painstakingly mined in vast quarries cut deep into remote mountains. It is the first of three exhibitions planned in Japan over the coming year, which will culminate in the launch of a new ceramics brand, Mino Soil, with interior products to be crafted in collaboration with global designers (discussions are ongoing with Studio Mumbai, Wang & Söderström, Dimitri Bähler, Max Lamb and Kwangho Lee, among others).
‘Few people know that clay is still quarried in the Mino region, and even fewer have actually been to these quarries,’ says Glaettli. ‘They have a raw beauty that leaves a strong and lasting impression. The deeper the quarry, the older the clay that is unearthed – up to a million years old. When drinking from a ceramic mug, nobody would think that the material it is made of originated from a place that is actually hundreds of thousands of years old.’
A simple showcase of items evokes a sense of Mino’s ancient landscape – from small cubes of local clays fired using a range of techniques to the gnarled ancient tree trunk measuring around
1.2m in length, which slowly decays in contact with the air after being preserved in clay for so long. The exhibits are threaded together in the white-walled space through a series of large images of the clay quarries, shot with a direct intimacy by Japanese photographer Yurika Kono.
Kono’s images, on 35mm and medium format, give poetic expression to fragments of Mino, from the detailed abstractions of the layers of ancient earth to the dense green forests that wrap around the quarries. ‘Her photos of the quarries make one see and feel the primeval nature of the material and give a vivid picture of the Mino area, with its landscape, factories and people,’ says Glaettli.
Describing Studio Mumbai’s curation, he adds, ‘I wanted this exhibition to be about the material only, before taking shape, without showing any products yet. So a designer, or even an architect, did not really seem right. Then I remembered Studio Mumbai, with their very particular way of working and thinking between art and architecture and craft. It just seemed perfect. Bijoy was interested right away and a stream of thoughts and ideas followed that precisely put into words everything that I vaguely had in mind for the exhibition.’ The debut show is a springboard for the new Mino Soil brand, which will be directed by Glaettli and launched by two Mino-based companies: X’S Corporation (which is also behind Tajimi Custom Tiles) and manufacturer Izawa Corporation. A second exhibition will showcase a ‘ceramic interior’, with prototype products highlighting the techniques and skills of Mino artisans, before final products for the new brand will be unveiled in the third show.
Says Glaettli, ‘I hope that, with the exhibition and the Mino Soil products, clay will be appreciated more and be perceived differently: as a beautiful, valuable resource that is much older than mankind.’ ‘Archeology of Mino, in collaboration with Studio Mumbai’ runs from
8-13 June, at 441, 5-12-1 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, minosoil.jp