Zhu Ohmu and the Charm of the Imperfection
Zhu Ohmu responds to the world around her in a personal and subtle way; and the ceramicist’s 2016 project, Plantsukuroi, is as much a reaction to modern technology as it is the ancient material properties of clay.
Ohmu sets out to explore the friction between machine-made and hand-made ceramics, by mimicking the technique that is used in 3D-printed ceramics. The resulting works are both visually striking and philosophically intriguing, as concept clashes with reality.
3D-printed ceramics are made using clay that is extruded from a nozzle, which lays clay coils one atop the other until the vessel is completed. A computer software and a robotic arm control the nozzle, meaning that complex ceramic designs can be printed quickly and accurately. However, without the uniformity and consistency that is guaranteed by a mechanised ‘maker’, Ohmu’s stacks of clay inevitably became lopsided, uneven - wonky.
Each work starts with the best of intentions, and with an almost human ‘distraction’, the pieces go awry; folding, bending and collapsing in and over themselves, creating rhythm, movement and fluidity. Ohmu celebrates the human quality of clay - the way it changes in response to the maker and the environment - and she communicates these fluctuations with subtlety, purity, and humour.
The drooping, fluid forms of the ceramic vessels are reminiscent of woven baskets – baskets that have been weathered and worn until the material gives into both age and gravity. Yet Plantsukuroi is as much about the plant life within the vessel as it is the form of the vessel itself.
The sculptural form of the plant – whether a vertical cactus or a sprawling succulent – literally brings the vessels to life. There is poetry in the combination of the inert and the ever changing; one growing towards the light whilst the other seems to sink under its own weight.
The work’s title is inspired by the Japanese practice of kintsukuroi, which translates as ‘golden repair’ and describes the mending of broken pottery with gold. Kintsukuroi is not simply a way of repairing cracks or breakages – which are inevitable when working with ceramic – it is a philosophy, an alternative way of looking at the world. Rather than viewing the imperfections or signs of damage as a loss, they are celebrated.
Plantsukuroi takes the philosophy of ‘golden repair’ in another direction – using the vitality of plant life, rather than the luxuriousness of gold, to fill and highlight the flaws in the ceramic.
Ohmu’s Plantsukuroi is also closely aligned to the philosophy of wabi-sabi. In fact, it is the perfect embodiment of it. As I flicked through my own copy of Leonard Koren’s Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers each of the sentences, quotes and ideas that I had previously circled or underlined seemed to speak directly to this work. Not only do the vessels “[eschew] any decoration that is not integral to structure”, they are created from the idea that “beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness” and that “greatness exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details.”
The crumpled forms of Ohmu’s ceramics are the antithesis of traditional ceramics – whether made by hand or printed by machine. They revolt against the taught, symmetrical, regular qualities of perfection, finding beauty instead in the folded, the torn and the fallen. As wabi-sabi suggests, “Pare down the essence, but don’t remove the poetry.”
All images courtesy of Zhu Ohmu