An interview with Masaki Kusada

I  Story

Mr. Kusada spent his childhood in a place with rich nature where Nagara River, which is known for its clear water, flows through, and moved to the city when he was in the fifth grade of elementary school. He said he remembered when he saw the dirty river flowing through the city, and felt uncomfortable with the city as a child. Later, he became interested in architecture, living space, and the environment, and majored in civil engineering at university. At the time, he thought that in the future he would like to work in the field of urban planning to suppress uncontrolled development and preserve nature as much as possible. After graduating from the graduate school with a major in urban planning, he went to work for a think tank in Tokyo. He worked in a department in charge of regional planning, where he drew up future visions for local governments and proposed urban development.

In his second year in the company, he encountered glass making. At a glass factory in downtown Tokyo, he was taught pin-blowing as a method that even a beginner could do by himself. He said he was fascinated by the beauty of this simple technique, which uses the steam from wet newspapers to inflate the glass instead of blowing in through the mouth. However, he gradually became so busy with his work and he forgot about glass.

The work of city planning was exciting, but he didn't have time to notice even the beauty of flowers on the roadside in such a busy daily life with overtime work every day. He felt that his life was far away from that sense of happiness, while he was engaged in the work of city planning, a job that considers people's happiness. The self-contradictory feeling of working without a sense of connection between the larger vision and daily life became stronger and stronger, and at the age of 30, he left the company to reset himself once and for all.

After leaving his job, he decided to go to Yatsuo in Toyama Prefecture to put himself somewhere quiet for a while and reflect on himself. It was an old thatched house deep in the mountains. There, as he lived a simple life of just cooking and mowing the surrounding grass, he had the feeling that some excess things that had accumulated over a long period of time were falling away. He said it was a time that seemed to reaffirm something like the roots of human life.

When spring came after the winter in that place, he found out that there was a glass rental studio nearby. When he touched the glass for the first time in a long time, something resonated in him.

"I think it was good for me to face the fire. The temperature in the melting furnace is about 1,300 degrees Celsius, and when I was working with the fire, I felt like my otiose thoughts were blown away. I went to the studio as if I was going to train myself rather than as a hobby. At the time, I wasn't making things because I wanted to be an artist or make a career out of it. As I was thinking about what I wanted to do in the future, I felt that my desire to strip away the excess from my mind and the simple technique of pin-blowing, which uses a combination of natural forces such as steam, gravity and centrifugal force to form, overlapped, and I felt a pure joy in making things."

After that, he started his career as a glass artist, and said,

"My work is like a mirror that reflects my inner self, and even if I don't understand myself, I can see myself by looking at my work. When I make pin-blown glass, I always feel like I am told to keep asking myself what is important to me. Simplicity. To be natural. Transparency. These are what I'm trying to get closer to when I make my work."

 

II Dialogue with Masaki Kusada

-When you were in university, you started a theater company and wrote and directed plays. Your works have poetic titles, is there any reason for that?

When I started making works in glass, they were in the form of vessels, I didn’t intend to make tools, so I thought that a name like "small bowl 15cm" wouldn't fit. Then, I decided to name a work by the images that came to my mind while I was making it or by the impressions of the finished work. I want to give priority to the impression that the vessel itself has, and I also want it to make sense to the person who has the work. Therefore, I’m always very careful when I give it a name. In the case of ordinary mouth blowing, you would probably design a glass with a diameter of a certain number of centimeters and a height of a certain number of centimeters before making it, but in my case, I start my work from the impression of the title, like I want to make a ''glass of wind man'' because I feel great with the wind today, or a ''warm rain'' on a warm day. Technically, I try to minimize artifice by combining natural phenomena, and in terms of my feelings, I find it better to create works based on the feelings that come naturally to me, such as the comfort of the wind I feel as a living creature, or my feelings about water. So, for me, the title is a starting point for creating a piece of work, and by having a title, I can remember what I felt when I first created it.

"Glass of wind man" is a glass that I have worked on since the early days. When I first made it, I was fascinated by its shape. The way the glass standing figure is somewhat wobbly, and I thought it would be close to the impression of someone like Snufkin in the Moomins. So, I named it after a glass that such a person would have. The name ''Cold Water'' expresses the sensation of scooping up cold water in mid-summer or melting snow in spring. I think a "soft azimuth" will be used as a lipped bowl, but I didn't want to call it so because it was not created with functionality in mind. The adjective 'soft' would not be appropriate for something that indicates direction, but I think this sense of discomfort and ambiguity expresses a vessel whose use cannot be limited as a tool. "Jupiter" is a rather recent work, and it is based on the planet Jupiter. I use natural forces such as gravity and centrifugal force when I move the stick to create a shape, but the way I move for this work is a little different from the way for other works. Wind and rain are phenomena on Earth, but I imagined celestial bodies that are farther away and have different orbital periods and rotation speeds. Jupiter is mainly composed of gas, and the movement of its atmosphere is complex. I want to feel the complexity of the planet.

 

-When you quitted your job and became a glass artist, did you notice any changes in yourself?

In my mind, I felt that the work of city planning and the work of an artist had not changed fundamentally. I believe that both jobs are related to people's happy lives. However, when I was working in urban planning, I had a lot of people in mind, and I was thinking about the greatest common denominator of happiness for everyone. Even though it was a great idea, I felt it lacked in concreteness. Then, when I started working with glass, I remembered thinking that I would be able to be more deeply involved in the happiness of individuals henceforth.

 

-As a creator, what do you think about your role in society?

When I worked for a company, I was so busy every day that I couldn't even notice the beauty of the flowers on the roadside or the scenery. My role is as an artist who had escaped from that, I feel that it is to create an opportunity for someone to relax their mind. Rather than wanting to express something with the vessel itself, I want to awaken the feeling of beauty in the person who holds it in their hands. I want to create something that evokes a more primitive and fundamental feeling rather than a lifestyle item.

 

- What does making glass mean to you?

When I make glass and face the fire, I feel strongly that I am alive. I come to know that I am made of water. I feel death in the fire, and I feel life in the water. I feel that these sensations appear as transparent glass with a form. In that sense, it's a very private, personal act of mine, but it's amazing that my work becomes something important for the person who has it, and I'm happy to think that they can sympathize with something in me that I can't put into words.


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