May 1, 2011
By Ryoko Sato
Japan has a long tradition in crafts and, as in many other countries, glass is considered as part of the crafts. But glass does not yet have a long-standing tradition, as does ceramics, wood, lacquer and textile. Japan began producing everyday glass in the 17th century but it was only with modernization at the end of the 19th century that it became industrialized. It was in the 70’s, with the arrival of the studio glass movement from the United States, that glass came to be recognized as an important material within the crafts tradition. Since then glass artists have had to make their own niche within the scene. Over the years, though still seen as “new comer,” glass has firmly established its position in Japan. There are now over twenty educational institutions where you can study glass and over three hundred glass studios.
In 1998, the second generation of studio glass artists were becoming leading figures in the glass scene and the first international glass conference occurred in Japan. The Glass Art Society (GAS) conference was held in Seto. A result of that, Sandbox, is a collective of eight emerging Japanese glass artists. The collective started when glass artist Mica Okuno began teaching a sand casting course at Kenji Ito’s private glass studio, Aya Glass Studio, in Kawasaki, Japan. The unique quality of sandcast glass and the illusionary space inside the solid glass captivated us, Mica’s students, and soon we sought to explore sandcasting techniques outside the limits of the course. We decided to name ourselves “Sandbox” after the box that contained the sand we used to make our moulds. And we began organizing projects together. We named our solid glass sculptural pieces and our exhibitions “KATAMARI Glass” which literally means “solid glass” in Japanese. The eight of us all had different backgrounds – ceramic, fashion, anthropology, geology, architecture and design – and we explored the possibilities of sandcasting in different ways and established individual styles with the help of each other.
Eleven years ago when we organized the “KATAMARI Glass I ” exhibition at the Meguro Art Museum Citizen’s Gallery in Tokyo, an exhibition presenting only sculptural glass was rare, especially exhibitions of only sandcast glass objects. Sandcasting was not a technique popular in Japan. Our aim was to present sculptural glass to the wider public and to present the potential of sandcast glass to fellow glass artists. We wanted to be informative and made short videos showing the process of sand casting, which accompanied the exhibition.
In 2000, “KATAMARI Glass II” followed. In 2001, we submitted a proposal to participate in the Glass Art Society’s (GAS) annual conference. To our surprise, the Society accepted our proposal and Sandbox was invited as an official demonstrator – a first for a group – to the 2002 annual GAS conference held in Amsterdam. Not satisfied with just demonstrating our techniques, we held an exhibition to coincide with the conference called “KATAMARI Glass in Amsterdam”.
Our Amsterdam demonstration and exhibition led to an invitation from kiln manufacturer, Barratcha Lda, to hold workshops and exhibit our work in Portugal. We were also invited to show our work at a Dutch gallery, Werfkade 16. These experiences were interesting to us in that we were in the position to “give” knowledge while in Japan we were in a position to “receive” knowledge from the west or from the traditional crafts. After our projects in Europe, we thought it was time to organize a project in Japan, where we envisioned a show where visitors could feel what the environment of sculpture glass is like and not just look at the works on display as disinterested observers. A 17th century Confucian temple open to the public, Yushima Temple in the heart of Tokyo, deeply inspired us. We realized our first outdoor exhibition in May 2006, using the inner courtyard and the cloister of the temple. The exhibition was entitled “KATAMARI Glass @ Yushima Temple.”
Since then, we have had several projects in Belgium, one of the members, Ryoko Sato, being based there. In September 2007, we had an exhibition at A&D Gallery in Antwerp, and in the following year we completed a project, which included a residency, exhibition and a workshop at the Glazen Huis in Lommel.
We find it important to record our activities and have made two catalogues, one for “KATAMARI Glass @ Yushima Temple” and one for the Belgium exhibition in 2010.
Currently there are six active Sandbox members and two are taking a break. The six members are now well-established glass artists with unique styles. They are no longer bound to sand casting, but use other techniques. They continue to be fascinated by solid glass.
Tomoko Doi is based in Tsukuba and has a background in ceramics. Both her own stories and fairly tales often inspire her pieces. In her playful and colourful figures and houses, she encloses what she calls “source of happiness.” “I believe happiness lies right in front of you. You just need to look carefully and nurture it.” She hopes her pieces will “bring a smile to people and be a small seed for happiness.”
Kanami Ogata is based in Yokohama. In the poetic world of Kanami, words and images are enclosed within glass. Her pieces are about beginning, “a door which leads you to another place. I make my pieces to capture and record the invisible matters (emotions, memories and thoughts) which surround me by using a transparent material called glass.”
Mio Muraki and Hiroshi Hamadate run a hot glass studio, Ipada Glass Studio, in Kanagawa. The studio is by a beautiful stream, with fireflies in the summer. Mio Muraki, in her massive sculptures, captures traces of time and moments. Some are inspired by nature, while others are more abstract as giving shape to “shinkokyu,” a Japanese word for breathing in deeply and exhaling. “When I think about ‘shinkokyu,’ an act necessary for living, I realize we unconsciously do it on so many different occasions and reasons – for being happy, sad, touched and so on. I thought of expressing these moments in glass.”
Hiroshi Hamadate is captivated by the wonders of nature and the magic of solid transparent glass. For Hiroshi, nature is filled with surprises and he translates his awe of nature into glass. “Once a year, when the time is fulfilled, on a night of full moon, corals lay eggs all at once.” Hiroshi’s works are simple and subtle. Small bubbles, fine lines and a slight deformation expand the world beyond the limits of the glass.
It is difficult to imagine Mica Okunos’ powerful pieces are created in a tiny studio in the heart of Tokyo. Mica’s pieces are manifestations of her ongoing investigation of space and light, which began during her studies at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie (1991-94) in Amsterdam. “A space quietly exists within a translucent skin. I fill the space with transparent glass. Transformed into glass, light inhabits the space. Light enables glass to expand infinitively and glass transforms light into energy.”
Takeshi Ito has been studying in Prague since the fall of 2010. He continues to pursue his theme of “passing on.” He believes that “life is about passing on something to a successor: children, loved ones and strangers. Passing on is life itself.” Tricycles, representing love of parents to children and hedgehogs, representing love, re-occur in his sculptures and installations. The colour red, which represents communication, connection and relationship in Japan, is his signature colour. For Ito, glass is a material which can hold light, darkness, air, will and time – fragile, yet all encompassing.
Shinsaku Fukutaka is currently focusing on his job as a designer at a Japanese glass company and is taking a break from the Sandbox. His work is an investigation of light, form and the nature of glass. His experience of studying at Australia and Helsinki after his studies in Japan, has led him to question what Japanese aesthetics is and what it means to be Japanese. “My stay in Australia made me reconfirm how deeply my aesthetics was rooted in Japan and how the environment, nature, religion and language can influence ones work.” He hopes to reflect his investigation in his work as a designer.
I, Ryoko Sato, am based in Antwerp, Belgium, and I’m also taking a break from the Sandbox after the birth of my second child. I greatly appreciate the skills and high level of quality in Japanese glass; at the same time I am influenced by my time at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam (2001-04) and have developed a more conceptual approach. I observe, remember and collect my daily experiences. Some are objects, others are thoughts and some are long distance memories. Glass serves as a capsule to enclose such treasures and transform seemingly insignificant matters to personal and precious objects.
Since Sandbox has organized our first exhibition in 2000, the environment surrounding glass art in general and our own lives has changed considerably. Yet we believe that there is good reason to continue working as a collective. We still do not know what our next project is, but we are looking into different options. “Taking initiative” has been our ethos for the past ten years. Japan has always been on the receiving end of ideas from the American and European glass art scene. We hope to slowly turn the tables so that Japan becomes an “originator” in the glass art world. Working towards this goal, we hope to continue our activities as Sandbox, at our own pace, in our own style.