The sacred and health

Mayuki Sonobe


Poetry leads to the same place as all forms of eroticism - to the blending and fusion
of separate objects. It leads us to eternity, it leads us to death, and through death to
continuity. Poetry is eternity; the sun matched with the sea.

[From George Bataille's "Eroticism", translated by Mary Dalwood (London & New York:
Marion Boyars, 1962 [1957])]


Why is the pottery of Noriko Pon so haunted by ghosts and evil spirits? Perhaps it is in her nature to be easily haunted. Having grown up in Hokkaido, the place where her pottery began, she was already well on her way to the land of the preternatural. So, maybe it is in her nature to feel attracted to the unknown and the unfamiliar.

The other formative influence on Noriko Pon was her initiation into pottery through the Miyano kiln of Moto Kato. The works in which Miyano kiln specializes - ceramic murals and monuments intended to compliment architectural or natural space - are communally created through a co-operative division of labour rather than by the more traditional apprenticeship methods followed by the other workshops in this area well-known for its pottery production. Through this influence, Noriko Pon feels strongly that her commissioned works ought to be an expression of the society and its members which influence it rather than the result of any one individual potter's technique. In this, Noriko Pon's motivation for finding expression through pottery separates her from many modern potters - an outlook of pottery made even more concrete for her through her encounter with Mexico.

Modern Japanese pottery has seen its status transformed from a craft intended primarily for functional and commercial use to that of an art form of its own. This modern rise in self-consciousness of an individual artist as potter matches the modern need for individual freedom of expression. From this period onwards Japanese ceramics diversified, each potter creating works expressive of these new ideas of "self", "self-consciousness", "individuality", and "freedom". Noriko Pon's position on this as expressed through her works, however, differs from that of many other modern potters. It is difficult to say of her work that it is the product of self-expression based on self-consciousness. Rather, her work, incited by ghosts and preternatural spirits, comes urgently as something which she cannot stop - is not allowed to stop! In tune to an other-worldly awe, her works do not release light. Instead, about them floats the shadow of death.

A common topic heard these days is health. When economic growth is at a stand-still, or as society becomes more and more complex, some sort of centre to everything around us seems impossible to find. Even with so-called computerized advancements, it is hard to foresee a bright and progressive future. Within that there now appears a desire to return to nature and become one with it. And this desire has appeared in pottery too. But death too is a part of life. Life and death are opposing concepts, and any artistic expression of life that avoids death is not real. Likewise, our modern-day preoccupation with health focuses only on life's more palatable aspects while ignoring completely anything having to do with death.

For Noriko Pon, "healing" is something given by the gods, spirits, and ghosts that dwell in Mexican nature, like the wind sent by Mixteca ancestors and the Sapoteca gods of protection. Their religious beliefs, like those also found among the Ainu and other folk people, hold that within the flora and fauna of the forest live ancestral spirits and gods of protection, which unite the other-world, the dark, and death. Thus, gods and spirits have a dual purpose. On the one hand, they bring suffering, fear and destruction to humans; on the other, they bring growth and blessings. The intermediary between man and these gods and spirits is the shaman (or shamaness). And Noriko Pon, through her work, acts as such a shamaness, communicating us with the spiritual worlds.

Noriko Pon's creations do not aim to please. For example, anyone looking at one of her animal pieces will not gush about how cute they are. Indeed, as Taro Okamoto states in his "Today's Art", great art does not aim to please but rather to stir-up and unsettle the observer. People looking at Noriko's representations of "Spirit hell", "Evil sprites", "Devils", "Marsh and gloom" (all, titles of her own making) will feel confused and threatened. But, if the observer perseveres in their attention and comes to understand the intent of the piece, amidst that tension will also arise a powerful feeling of joy. And surely that is the healing power of art.
Still, are individual expression and freedom of expression transcendental realities? Modern pottery seems to be defined by these two criteria. One's difference from others - that seems to be the condition to individuality. However, in today's consumption-oriented society, the constant need to be so-called different becomes merely a reaction to others, with the resulting work being only a symbol rather than having intrinsic meaning of its own. Perhaps this is why health is such a theme of our times. People want certainty, both in the things around them and in their own existence. To achieve that, though, what is needed is to direct our attention to the mysteries which lurk beneath human life and give support to our society.

As our spiritual medium, Noriko Pon wafts to us here in Japan a Misteca wind from Mexico, thereby undeniably granting us new hope and vitality.

(Ebetsu City, Ceramic Arts Center)