Thursday, January 16, 2014

Living by Your Hands, Part 2

I've just finished reading one of Edmund de Waal's books, The Hare with Amber Eyes. De Waal is a major contemporary potter; check him out; He has been a potter since childhood, and has written several books on pottery. This one is a sort of family memoir. No, not memoir, rather a search for his family history, built on a search for some history for a collection of netsuke he inherited. Netsuke are a kind of traditional Japanese fastener, small clever carvings. It's a wonderful book, personal, thoughtful, expansive, and, basically very sad, I think.

What struck me in the book, for purposes of this blog on pot-making, is his emphasis on touch, his extraordinary sensitivity to all things tactile, the way he lives through his hands. The netsuke are objects to handle, with "passionate touch, discovery in the hands, things enveloped lovingly..."

The best I can say here is simply to quote what he writes about handling and touching and making objects, and about his understanding from experience by touch.

"I spent the first twenty years of my life as a potter earnestly trying to get objects out of the glass cases in which my pots were placed in galleries and museums...'Out of the drawing room and into the kitchen!' I wrote in a sort of manifesto...But the vitrine   --  as opposed to the museum's case  --  is for opening. and that opening glass door and the moment of looking, then choosing, and then reaching in and then picking up is a moment of seduction, an encounter between a hand and an object that is electric."

"Everything in this place, I realize, is very shiny. There is nothing to grip onto with these marbled surfaces. Its lack of tactility makes me panic: I run my hands along the walls and they feel slightly clammy."

"'Don't you think those netsuke should stay in Japan?' said a stern neighbour (yes, he's British) of mine...No, I answer. Objects have always been carried, sold, bartered, stolen, retrieved and lost. People have always given gifts. It is how you tell their stories that matters.
     It is the counterpart of the question that I am often asked: 'Don't you hate to see things leave your studio? Well, no, I don't hate it.I make my living from letting things go. You just hope, if you make things as I do, that they can make their way in the world and have some longevity."

I think relatively few people are so touch-oriented. Here is what that is like.

And I grew up with an aim not to be materialistic, and so devaluing the material. His perspective is very different; he focuses on objects, with great respect and care. It is certainly no crass materialism, and not in opposition to more intellectual or spiritual values. And I make pots, and value them, and have felt somewhat uneasy with the contradiction I felt.  So I read this book partly appreciating the invitation to say more "yes!", to include more in what is valuable.