by Louise Mazanti, PhD, curator and writer

Nature Morte - Ceramics as Images. Exhibition Catalogue by artist group VERSUS. 2010

With her Japanese background Mariko Wada has a natural perspective on the international ceramics scene and the reality of the globalised world. In recent years her works have explored the role of ceramics in a realitythat is largely mediated and virtual. The special physical qualities of ceramics allow her works to heighten the appereciation of object and space respectively; two basic human anchor points that are greatly subjected to mediatory influences. By using the organic plasticity and material immediacy of ceramics, she creates works that demand physical presence can by described as the artistic meddium that is closest of all to the person. Clay is worked directly with the hands in an intensive process that often lasts hours and days. The slow, intense working process gives ceramic objects a special immediacy. The result is not an image, but concrete, physical objects that anchor the person in a ‘here and now’ of bodiliness and sensation.

Mariko Wada’s main contribution to the Nature Morte exhibition is Shadow, the meaning of which plays around the exhibition’s subtitle Ceramics as images. In this work she is operating in the field of tension between the two-dimensional painting and the three-dimensional object. The work incorporates both aspects in the cylindrical shapes whose object character is transformed into the two-dimensional - into shadow - in a dynamic movement away from the room’s central light source in the form of a naked, freely suspended bulb. Mariko Wada has drawn inspiration from two classics of world literature: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Shadow. From Plato she takes the view of the human conscousness as a sleeping consciousness that confuses the shadows on the cave wall with reality. We are unaware of the reality behind the shadow; we are doomed to take our bearings from the reflection until we awaken to a higher consciousness. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale continues this journey into the backwaters of the consciousness, dealing in essence with a man whose shadow takes over his identity and passes itself off as his real self. Both stories therefore ask queistions  of our perception of reality. We can be victims of a dupery that prevents us from seeing reality in a clear light. What lies behind the shadow - what casts it - is therefore central.

Here we are back at Mariko Wada’s engagement with her virtually oriented age. The shadow refers to an essence, just as a mediated reality must necessarily build on the notion that there is an authentic  reality to reference. And it is this reality that ceramics is so well suited to accessing. In the present work the two-dimensional shadows suddenly rise up and acquire a life of their own. They become independent beings whose organic form and two-dimensional softness have unmistakeable bodily references.

Yet it is important to note that the cylindrical form is the strictly recurring form. Instead of using a figurative idiom, Mariko Wada maintains an abstract starting point and is thereby faithful to the most basic form of ceramics. Instead of letting herself become entangled in new figurations - in new visual duperies - she allows her shapes to follow the room’s energy and the surfaces are marked with discreet bodilly references that merely hint that there is a meaning behind the neutrality of the cylinder. In this working of shape and surface each object acquires an individual character, and yet it is clear that they are all objects in transition. They are defined in relation to a general movement away from the light source, and hence follow the still life concept’s reference to the idea that everything is in movement. This is a temporal process in which the objects are subject to changeableness. Hence we are observers of a frozen moment in the human perception; the moment when shadow takes on form; either as mastery of the consciousness or as the moment when the shadow is illuminated and thereby subsumed into the object of which it is a reflection. The moment of perception, in other words. Perception intimately associated with sensation.

Mariko Wada’s other works at the exhibition, Apple Orchard I and II, similar existential quentions are to the fore, once again based on formal themes that include the relationship between shape and surface. In a reference to the Fall, when human selv-knowledge awakens as a result  of the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, she thematises the moment when consciousness awakes only to be expelled in that same moment from Paradise... and is taken down into Plato’s cave, one might continue. The apples have been peeled, eaten and munched, they have been reduced to windfall squashed on the floor, and in this way Mariko Wada conscious, but where this consciousness is discarded and perishes. The perishableness applies not only to the nature of the body, but also to the two-dimensional surface and three-dimensional shape is central in works whose conflict consists in emphasising the fullness of the physical object and the deficiencies of the painting - a reference to the idea that virtual space needs a bodily anchor.

Photo: Ole Akhøj

Translation: Borella projects

© Mariko Wada 2019