Recently the small island of Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea, about 13 kilometers off the shores of the port city Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture, has been attracting much attention as a lively center of contemporary art.
There are many ways to feel and experience contemporary art on the island, including a studio that creates ceramics from slag--byproducts generated in the melting process of recycling industrial waste. It is a unique way of making old into new; waste comes alive with a new artistic value. Here, ceramic artists host classes for tourists who want to try throwing a piece of pottery.
The Naoshima Slag Ceramic Art Experience Studio was opened in 2006 as part of the “Eco-town” project that sought the creation of a recycling-oriented society, put in place by Kagawa Prefecture and the town of Naoshima.
There is a small remote island called Teshima that lies to the east of Naoshima. It was made into a huge dump site in the 1980s. Over the years, a company dumped some 900,000 tons of hazardous industrial waste, including automobile shredder refuse, on the island.
The Teshima island scandal was widely reported. Cleanup efforts began in 2000 as a consorted effort led by local governments. In addition, a waste processing plant was built in nearby Noashima.
When industrial waste is treated and melted down at a high temperature the furnace produces “slag,” a glassy substance harmless to human health. Usually, slag is used as an ingredient for making concrete and bricks.
Then it was discovered that slag produced in Naoshima had properties similar to ceramic clay. When ceramic artists, including Hiromitsu Otsuki, tried incorporating slag in their work, they managed to create art and utilitarian pieces with great success.
The Naoshima Slag Ceramic Art Experience Studio sells pottery clay with a 30 percent slag content for 1,500 yen ($15.30) per kilogram. With the assistance of studio staff, visitors can use the potter’s wheel and throw their own mugs or roll out the clay to make plates. Afterward, the pieces are dried and fired.
The whole process can take about two weeks to a month. Tourists who don’t have the time can try their hand at "painting" porcelain tiles prepared by the studio.
Actually, Otsuki is a traditional “Bizen ware” artist. Bizen is the old name for the area that is now Okayama Prefecture, and the reddish-brown ceramics produced there are known as Bizen ware.
Seven years ago, Otsuki was asked by a friend who works for the Naoshima tourist association to help get the Naoshima slag ceramic studio up and running. That was when he encountered slag for the first time, which was a defining moment. He still commutes to the studio on Naoshima three times a week by ferry. Between his classes teaching pottery to residents and tourists, Otsuki finds time to work on his own pieces.
“I do this to make good from the negative legacy of our modern society--so that it can rest in peace,” he said.
The Naoshima Slag Ceramic Art Experience Studio
Walking distance from the ferry terminal
A painting experience class takes about 2 hours.
The cost is 500 yen to 800 yen depending on the size of the material.
The studio is open daily from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. except Mondays.
For reservations, call the Town-Naoshima Tourism Association at: +81-(0)87-892-2299