En Iwamura

En Iwamura was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1988. Under the influence of both parents who are painter, he grew up in artistic environment. After graduate the BFA in craft at the Kanazawa collage of Art and Craft, he began to be interested in international Art world. he considers that the ceramic has the potential of being one of the international languages, which can cross the different cultures, people and countries.

En Iwamura's current research investigates how he can influence and alter the experience of viewers who occupy space with his installation artworks. When Iwamura describes the space and scale in his works, he references the Japanese philosophy of Ma. Ma implies meanings of distance, moment, space, relationship, and more. People constantly read and measure different Ma between themselves, and finding the proper or comfortable Ma between people or places can provide a specific relationship at a given moment. Through his work, Iwamura intend to create such an encounter with site-responsive installations, and provide through entering the space, an opportunity for viewers to recognize Ma themselves.

Interview with En Iwamura

Questions by Beatrice Helman

Hi En! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. It’s hard not to be totally enamored with your ceramic installations. How did you start working in clay? Have you always been drawn to ceramics or is the medium one you were drawn to over time?
At the beginning, I was not curious in ceramics. When I applied art college, I applied for painting major. However, I was rejected and enrolled to craft major… I had no idea about craft, and my high school teacher told me “You might have to make cups and dishes…”

I found potential of ceramics as the one of the international languages, when I start touching material, and knowing more and more…

Can you give us a little bit of background on where you grew up and the ways that your childhood shaped your work?
My both parents are painter, and I grew up in the artistic environment. My playgrounds were my parents studio, art gallery,  and museums.

In what ways do you subvert the idea of ceramics as a serious medium, whether it be through form, shape or subject matter?
I start using the ceramics as a one of the communication tools, then start using coil building techniques as the 3-dimensional doodling. I think subject, themes, contents are coming after touching the materials. I normally start making something without drawing or sketches

What do you like, appreciate, or even dislike about ceramics as a medium that is three dimensional? What power does its three-dimensionality give it?
Of course, there are many limits and I have had hard time dancing with clay all times. For example, I always make bigger, but kiln is always smaller than what I want to do. I want to stretch the shape father and thinner and freely… but always I have to negotiate with material… Shipping is painful!

….However, there are more good things happening when I play with ceramics. I have no complain with it so far. 

What do you try to communicate through your work—what are some themes that you keep coming back to again and again?
One theme always I am thinking is “cultural diversity”. I grew up in Japan, and study art in Japan and US. I have been in residency at USA, Japan, China, France. I want to think about the world and myself from where I have been and where I am now.

I am intentionally using childhood influences such as Manga, Anime, Heroes with reference of historical ceramic objects and artifacts. My works color, shape, and contents came from both historical; and pop cultural influences. I want to communicate with people lives in different cultural zone and different time zone like future people. 

You mention that your “current research investigates how he can influence and alter the experience of viewers who occupy space with his installation artworks.” Can you expand on that a little bit more, particularly the ways in which the installation works to alter the viewer’s experience?
My idea is based on Japanese Philosophy of “MA.” Ma implies meanings of distance, moment, space, relationship, and more. People constantly read and measure different Ma between themselves, and finding the proper or comfortable Ma between people or places can provide a specific relationship at a given moment. Through my work, I intend to create such an encounter with site-responsive installations, and provide through entering the space, an opportunity for viewers to recognize Ma themselves.

Texture, particularly surface area, is such a huge part of your work and so distinctive. Where does the inspiration for different textures come from and what is the significance of the surface area of your pieces?
As an extension of researching Japanese Manga history and my works influences, I started to researching historical ceramics and artifacts from different cultures. Haniwa figure’s facial expression was so impressive, and I found a lot of similarity in modern art design. Also, Jomon Pot was big for the line works. Having the line on my works gives me a lot of information like ancient artifacts. I research different line decollation from other cultures. African mask, Chinese bronze, zen garden, Aztic golden artifacts and more. I often mention my work as “future artifact”. 100000 years later, I want to future people excavate my work as real artifacts and to confuse the future history!

What is the relationship between this idea of fine art and ceramic art? In what ways can ceramic artists start to break through the idea that ceramics are not fine art?
I am always struggling and curious about this boundary. I recently, try to not call my works as a ceramic art. I try to not care if people think I am ceramist or fine artist. I use clay with my intention.

You use a wide variety of color and often color that isn’t usually seen in ceramic work. Could you talk a little bit more about that? Do you think that this derives any influence from painting?
The color has strong impact in the space, and this is what I am enjoying in my recent work. I am testing how the shape and color can change the space. I refer a lot of contemporary artist using color in their work, such as Ugo Rondinone, Katharina Fritsch, Shinta Cho, Maki Sasaki, Lucio Fontana and more.

It seems as though your work exists in a world that includes comics/manga. Would you agree with that, and in what ways have they influenced your work? Your work seems to bridge the worlds of pop culture and ceramics beautifully.
I lived in USA for 5 years. And I want to use my own cultural influences to communicate American and international audiences. I grew up with Japanese comic, manga, anime, and video games. Also, I like illustration, graphic art, children’s book, and contemporary art.  It was not difficult to use Manga-ish expression in my work in order to talk about where I came from and where I am.

Are there any pop icons that are particularly informative in terms of influencing either your process or work?
Facial expression is coming from Haniwa figure, more than pop icons. Based on my research, the fundamental manga / comic designs came from reference of historical art works. I am intentionally using these ambiguous balances in my design.  

Do you work with any other mediums, and if so how do they differ from working with clay?
I do painting, drawing and other material also. Everything is same for me. Clay is little more familiar than other medium.

How do you get over something like say, feeling out of sync with your work or being unsure about where to go next?
I just come to studio and stay there for a while. Even if I can not make something new, it is OK.

Who are some of the people who were formative in the way that you think about ceramics and creating in general?
Jun Kaneko, Matt Wedel, Anton Alvarez, Beth Cavener…..and more…

Can you talk about the physical process of working with clay—are there motions you return to over and over, do you find that the physical action influences your mental state or vice versa?
I went to the athletic high school and took track and field seriously when I was young. Still my inner conversation is important in my studio like running or jogging. How to use my body efficiently is things always I care. The results of forms are relating to my physical condition and situation. When I can control my mental and body smoothly, I think am making OK shape with coil building. For me, coil building is 3-dimensional doodling, and my process is about action drawing in to 3D space.

I’m really fascinated by the very act of working with one’s hands, it’s so personal. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with your own hands?
Clay is unmediated material, and I can form the material directly. That’s very important for me. Form I make is kind of conversation between me and clay.

En at work in the studio

En at work in the studio

Do you find that clay has a connection to the past, and are you conscious of it in your work? How has your own history come to life in your work?
I value ceramics as an important information technology. We can know the old information from past through ceramics object,  and hope future people can reed my works contents as an artifact in the future. I put my own ward in to my work as an created history of my personal life.

And then to jump off the last question, how much, and in what ways, does traditional Japanese ceramics influence your work or process?
I studied at craft major and trained my skill under the famous Japanese potter, ceramic artist Hiromi Itabashi. I is fluent about Japanese traditional ceramics and told me how important to keep the quality. On the other hand, he also told me how important to be creative and ignore the stereotype ceramic rules which exists in the traditional Japanese craft world. Unconsciously, I work these influences for sure.   

What is your work process like, from inception to execution? How long does a project usually take from start to finish? Has the way you approach a new project evolved over time?
Always I am working on multiple projects in different methods. There are no beginning and ends. Usually, I find new idea when I am making other works.  

What are some of the challenges that working in ceramics presents, or to put it differently, what are some of the limitations of the form and/or idea of ceramics?
Kiln size? Color? And may be shipping??

What’s a typical day like for you?
My happy day is spending all day in my studio with playing radio. Reality is dealing with emails and paper works all day long….

Works in progress in the studio

Works in progress in the studio

Do you find yourself interacting with social media, and do you find that your work has a relationship to it? How does something so physical interact with something so virtual? Do you see the possibility for any relationship between the two?
I mainly use Instagram as my main marketing tool. It is not easy to find solo show opportunity. I use Instagram as my solo exhibition. However, still I think real exhibition is interesting for me.

Do you find that your physical surroundings, or emotional surroundings, influence your work?
I am using my own story as my works inspiration. Residency and meeting new people are always inspiring. However, I need privacy as well. I need the balance between social and myself.

Do you have any projects, shows or residencies coming up?
Still secret, but I have!

Thank you so much for talking with us!
You are welcome.