Report on the Preliminary and Final Assessments
OHNISHI ───── Yesterday, the Final Assessment was successfully conducted. Urushi is an important part of Japanese traditional culture and it has been very closely related to living creatures on the earth. Urushi doesn’t exist in its own right, together with various plants and insects, it is part of one organized world. Only human beings have the ability to make use of Urushi, which has caused some problems.
As you know, Urushi exists in the shape of Urushi trees all over the world. Especially high quality Urushi sap can be obtained in the far east of Asia. East Asia is surrounded by the continent and the sea, and further West the desert expands. I am sure that Urushi has much to do with such local, geographical conditions of East Asia.
We, Urushi artists, entrust our pride in Asian culture to Urushi and introduce many things to the world. Other Urushi artists and artisans have had the same experience, I suppose. I have been often asked, “Why are you involved in Urushi?” It is surely troublesome work because I have to repeat applying and polishing the coating many times. During this repetitive process, I seldom feel it is too much trouble. Most Urushi artists and artisans feel good while creating their works. Why do you think they feel good? Many people are concerned about me; “Can you manage yourself financially by doing such painstaking works in such a busy modern society?” I do not care. After all, the most important thing for human beings is that you feel good. I do not agree with the idea that something is good because it earns money. The same philosophy applies to creating artworks. It is no good to make a work with no soul even if the work is made by hand and by thought. Economic society today has no soul. I value soul and spirit. I suppose that the participants today love Urushi and feel the joy of living.
This Ishikawa International Urushi Exhibition started some 30 years ago in order to introduce the joy of Urushi to the people of the world. The fact that this exhibition started in Ishikawa Prefecture is noteworthy.
This year, the Preliminary Assessment was badly influenced by the COVID-19 Crisis. No one could have imagined such a chaotic situation. At the beginning of March, I expected the crisis would have calmed down by the next month. However, the crisis continued to spread all over the world. Because of this, the Preliminary Assessment was not able to be held in the usual way. The Executive Committee and I decided to conduct the Preliminary Assessment by distributing the information and images of the submissions to the members of the Preliminary Assessment Panel. For Urushi artists, including myself, images are completely different from the real thing. I understand the works by touching the work, smelling the work, and even tapping on it. In this way I can understand the inherent goodness of the work. Human beings cannot see through to the inside by looking at the outside of the work. All the members of the Panel had difficulty in assessing the submitted works because of this. In the modern era, unless the outer appearance is good, the whole item is underestimated. This should not be the case, particularly with Urushi ware. We had difficulty in feeling the ideas that the artists had tried to express from their souls and spirits.
I would like to express my overall impression of the works, which I think have become calmer in general. The world of art on the whole used to be vague. Ambiguity was a popular theme internationally and Japanese artists were under the illusion that we would be out of fashion unless we imitated that style.
Now I feel as if we have woken from the illusion. Art means going towards an unknown world, where you cannot find any signs. It is as disorienting as finding oneself in an unknown town without any directions. Contemporary art had become a kind of sign and we were led by it.
Such an interpretation of art was pervasive until recently, and that type of American-influenced art has misled us. The same can be applied to contemporary music and fashion.
The world of design was also influenced by that trend and has changed in many ways.
Now I think that it has calmed down which is good. We don’t need such signs. After all, we have realized we have to create our works rooted in Japanese culture.
Such an understanding comes out in the works submitted to the exhibition. I hope you share the same feeling with me, I think this is a good thing.
In the field of Urushi ware, even Wajima has been on the decline. At one time, some overseas buyers came to Wajima by helicopter to purchase Wajima Urushi ware. Urushi artists and artisans used to decorate their Urushi ware with unnecessary Maki-e technique. Maki-e decoration is sometimes necessary if it has a purpose. However, I wonder whether the Maki-e decoration is truly necessary for our everyday lives today. The artists had hoped the additional value of the Maki-e decoration would make the Urushi ware more profitable.
Fortunately that attitude has faded a little. I feel as if we are at a half-way point towards valuing only authentic items.
At the Final Assessment, all the members of the Assessment Panel had a rewarding experience. Each person has his or her own personality which directs their thoughts. We listened to one another and discussed together to decide on each prize winner. The exhibition is far from over, we are also at the beginning again to prepare for the next exhibition in three years. I hope you share the same feeling.
I would like us to discuss our thoughts and listen to each other’s opinions. I look forward to an active discussion.
FUJIHARA(MC) ───── Prof. OHNISHI, thank you very much. We would like the Panel members to comment on each prize winner. Prof. OHNISHI, please lead the Special Symposium.