Shards in Box

52 Piece Shard Installation

“In my grandmother’s room which was filled with plants she tended every day I watched the last half hour of Santa Barbara and ate the sliced fruit she gave me and worked on one of her thousand piece jigsaw puzzles. It was satisfying to select a piece at random and find that it fit, that it made the broken scenery a little clearer.”
- Beth Nguyen, Owner of a Lonely Heart

When I was on residency at the Togei Center in Imbe, Bizen City, Japan, working on a commissioned piece for a 20th century suffragist, I stayed in the former servant’s quarters of a semi abandoned house, once majestic enough to be suitable for a great lord who considered stopping over on his travels down south. Behind the main structure were remnants of a silkworm rearing house. The property was overgrown by weeds and wildflowers, and home to many insects living both inside and outside the various housing structures. Where I stayed, the paper on the sliding doors were yellow and mostly torn, the bathroom was a shallow hole, and oversized spiders would scurry about at night hunting for centipedes and other food.

Reaching the Togei Center required biking on a narrow concrete raised path between rice paddies, and I could see the many herons, as well as snakes and small fish in the stream and the roadway for the passing cars and trucks. It was a sharp incline to the Center high up in the mountainside, and once in the studio you could watch the bullet train in the distance speed past the town of Imbe on its way to Okayama. I spent time with many potters, but mostly the team who assisted me in the production of the piece I was working on. Our conversations centered on bizen clay, the history, the firing, what stage in the process a person was in, whose kiln I might want to visit, what projects the neighbors were working on. The train station featured a small gallery and a relatively new coffee shop, and it served as a kind of meeting place.

I took frequent walks to visit the site of the massive communal tunnel kilns behind the train station, built at a time when the town once thrived for its ceramic wares. When I was alone, the landscape would bring up feelings of love and grief related to my Japanese family. I remember looking at the great hill of shards that amassed from years of discarded pottery. Each shard was a reminder of what it was not, of a void, while also holding its own unique shape.

I ended up returning a few years later to create a sculptural piece for a solo exhibition at the MFA in Boston. It was based on a drawing of 52 shapes. The number and form in the drawing is both arbitrary and emotional, something I can’t quite articulate but linked to the experience of that time a few years back. The drawing became a blueprint and it was scaled up to the size of the corner space in the Eunice and Julian Cohen Galleria of the MFA, and with as much precision as possible, the drawing went from pencil line to bizen clay which was then fired and sent from Imbe, Japan to the US and installed at the MFA.  

© 2023 Maia Ueoka Lynch