I meet Hiroko Nagase in her studio in the historic center of Lecce, near Porta Napoli. Prowling between shelves crammed full of her ceramic creations and taking care not to bump anything and not to interfere with the delicate balance of the shelves between owls, fish, cribs and bowls of all shapes and sizes, I think to the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi.
In the Hiroko studio in the heart of Lecce
Cornerstone of Japanese culture, is formed by the wabi and sabi words that translate both with beauty. But in the first case it is a discreet beauty characterized by natural or random imperfection. In the second case it is related to the passage of time, such as wear in objects and aging for people. Together they mean that nothing is perfect, nothing is permanent, nothing is complete.
The silent work and diligent by Hiroko of the lathe distracts me from this train of thought. At one point she looks at me and apologizes “creative” disorder all around, instead fascinates me. I watch her with her small hands that shape the clay and give life to a cup, a rooster, an owl.
And then I exhort her to tell her life: from Japan and her native Okayama, city in south Japan 200 kilometers from Hiroshima, the United States, where as a student she continued her studies in Anglo-American literature began in Kyoto, knows her husband Pietro, professor of Physics of Tuscan origin, she graduated in Chicago and married. Not necessarily in that order.
Then her husband was transferred to London and she follows him. And then, again, in Trieste, where he was engaged as a researcher at the International Center for Theoretical Physics. In Italy they settle permanently but in Lecce, despite the birth and family of Pietro are in Tuscany, in Pontremoli.
Meanwhile Hiroko continues to shape and enchants me with gestures and words. She continued her story talking about irreconcilable differences but well matched, given the duration of the union between her and her husband. She likes art and nature, from which it derives the greatest inspiration for her creations. To him the numbers, the precision, the game of chess.
I am passionate and closer to her life, full and beautiful. Approaching the idea of creating with their hands still lives in the United States: evidence nostalgia for her country and someone suggested to devote to something that goes beyond the study, that the distraction from her melancholy thoughts. So she comes close to the craft world by learning how to dye fabrics and continuing to London to learn then to print them.
The transfer in Salento allows her to attend the local pottery centers: Cutrofiano and San Pietro in Lama. After two-three years opened her small studio in Lecce and at the same time she graduated at the Academy of Fine Arts. But her innate curiosity and desire to learn even more about the history of the country in which she chose to live, the also push to graduate in Archeology. And with eyes that light up she talks to me about Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and what she liked to dip herself in classical culture.
After four years comes the second degree but it does not end her thirst for knowledge: it is this that affects in Hiroko. In fact recently it began for her a new “adventure”. For one month a year she moved to Procida which has a little house and an exhibition space with laboratory and also she produces there. “They are different ceramics – she says – more related to the sea and even the colors and the Neapolitan culture”.
Before greet she is washed the hands to remove traces of clay and accompanying her words with gestures tells me that if her inspiration is nature, are the heart and brain to guide her in the creation of her works. Where the heart is the people around her, while the brain is the soul that helps to understand things and people. As she said handing me a small fish making me see a particular which lack coloring. Return to the concept of wabi-sabi, imperfection of beauty; and the circle is closed.
Thank you so much Hiroko.
(Ph. by Lucilla Cuman)