Flowers from Clay 陶土开花

December 4, 2019 2019年12月4日

Kanako Kitabayashi spends her days surrounded by clay. Trained in traditional pottery and sculpture, the Japanese artist creates pieces that are neither strictly functional nor inaccessibly abstract. Varying in size and texture—some include braided ropes, while others are covered in grass-like shoots—they seem to embody the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, the notion that flaws can add beauty. And they all seem to share a plumpness that’s slightly suggestive, even unsettling.

Viewers often remark that Kanako’s sculptures, which were recently on display at Diego, a gallery and fashion shop in Tokyo, look more like rocks and stones than pottery. They lack a perfectly geometric shape or polished surface, and they’re dyed in understated pale or earthen tones. In the grooves and on the surface of these “rocks and stones,” yarn, resin plates, glass, tulle, and other materials burst forth like tender shoots, or like new leaves stretching outward.


常有人说北林奈子的陶塑不像手工艺品而像石头。这些陶器没有完美的几何外形,颜色是安静的青白色或原土色,表面保留着两三分粗砺 就是在这些“石头”的缝隙中或表面上,毛线、树脂、玻璃、绢网等材料像嫩芽一样破石而出,像枝叶一样自由伸展。

This sense of an artificially created nature is both a reflection of Japanese animism and an extension of the “soft sculpture” tradition of using pliable materials to mimic organic forms. Kanako’s threads, pearls, wires, strips of gauze, balls of feathers, and other objects call for a response different from detached appreciation. She seems to invite viewers to step into a miniature world and alight upon the details of each work—to touch the dimpled surface of baked clay, sit on a wire swing, or caress strands of yarn.


“Two years ago, at a show in France, viewers kept telling me that the style of my work was very Japanese, something I hadn’t thought about until then,” she says. “When working on a sculpture, I like to believe there’s a spirit living inside. I intentionally leave blank spaces to bring out the unseen elements, and maybe that’s part of what people mean when they call the work ‘Japanese.'”


Kanako was born and raised in Tokyo, and she now lives in the city’s Shinjuku district. “Shinjuku is very crowded, and the space between people is so slight that everyone’s are always on the verge of bumping into one another. In such close proximity to others, we can grow desensitized and feel cut off. It can be overwhelming.” This constantly crowded, overwhelming world has instilled in Kanako a solemn appreciation for the minor moments of everyday life, those unexpected discoveries that send a tingle down your spine.

“Such discoveries may be exceedingly small, hidden in the dust of everyday life. Or they can be short-lived, immediately forgotten once you look away,” she says. “Yet they latch onto the undefined spaces in our mind, and when the memories are one day triggered, they can surface again in a sort of déjà vu.”



Kanako’s recent Tokyo show, Urn, represents a formal return to the point where pottery and sculpture meet. Each piece is an empty vessel with a body and lid, yet as in her previous work, what these urns contain is not so much of a material as of a spiritual nature. They are windows onto another world, a way for the living to look back on the dead. Each one offers a moment of kindness, bringing some quiet to the surrounding world and clearing a little space for memory.

上月, 她的新作《骨壶系列在东京的 Diego 画廊/时尚杂货店展出。这一系列在形式上回归到了工艺和雕塑的结合点,每件作品都是有身有顶的中空容器。不过一如既往,这些骨壶,即骨灰坛,作为容器所承载的更多的是精神怀想,而非物件用具。它们是现世连接他界的窗口,是生者追思故人的凭借。它们各自献出一份诚恳的好意,让周遭的世界安静下来,为怀念保留一点余地。

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Contributor: Yangyu Zhang
English Translation: Allen Young

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Instagram: @kanako_kitabayashi


供稿人: Yangyu Zhang
中译英: Allen Young