CALM TALK 06 Sense subtle changes, move, and create｜Kota Arinaga (Glass Artist)
Kota Arinaga, who creates beautiful shapes with blown glass, is also a contemplative runner.
Notojima is a quiet island in the middle of the Noto Peninsula. At Kota Arinaga's atelier here, he shows us how he makes glass using the glass-blowing technique. Glass is melted in a kiln at a very high temperature, taken out through a metal tube called a blowpipe, and blown to expand it. The shape of the glass is quickly formed as it is adjusted in a separate kiln for molding.
Arinaga's movements are so precise that it is almost like watching a contemporary dance or an elaborate gymnastics routine. It is clear that glassblowing is both an aesthetic and a very physical activity.
For Ms. Arinaga, who ran 800m in track and field as a student, this kind of physical activity is something she never tires of pursuing.
Arinaga first came into contact with glass when he entered the College of Arts and Crafts. After experiencing ceramics, dyeing and weaving, and glass during her first year of college, she chose glass as her major.
Blown glass is very difficult to get into, but once you get the hang of it, it's a very interesting material. I chose glassblowing because I thought it was a material that I wouldn't get tired of even if I did it all the time. Compared to other materials, it allows for very direct modeling. With blown glass, the shape of the glass you are working with is exactly the same as the finished product. Ceramics shrinks when it is fired, and casting (a technique of forming glass by pouring it into a mold) replaces glass made from other materials. Blown glass is finished when it is blown, and it comes out as it is when it is put in the pot. There is no discrepancy with my own senses, and I feel very comfortable with that.
Mr. Arinaga's insistence on valuing his own senses seems to be an extension of his repeated acts of using his body well, as he has been climbing mountains and running in track and field clubs since he was a child.
In particular, the sensations she had while tackling middle-distance running and the 800 meters of track, which are generally described as tough, are also connected to her blown glass making.
He says, "When I was running the track, what was I thinking...? The scene kept moving, somehow...it was the same two laps of a 400m track, but the scenery was different in each stadium, and the content of the race was different. It was interesting. Sometimes I could run smoothly, sometimes I couldn't run at all, and sometimes I was in a group and couldn't move at all because of the tactics. It wasn't just a simple track race. We would do that in a condensed time frame, so that was interesting.
In a corner of Mr. Arinaga's studio, there is an interesting corner. Single-tooth geta (Japanese clogs), tabi (split-toe socks), and thick-soled running shoes are grouped together.
At first I was wearing shoes with good cushioning, but they were a bit uncomfortable on my back. Then, when I was thinking that it would be a little difficult to continue, I met someone who was doing these single-tooth clogs. He told me that I should wear a different type of geta because I was using my body in a different way. So I started using tabi socks.
I also like to run while bouncing around in these cushioned, thick-soled shoes, so I try them out as part of a rotation of various shoes. When I walk in single clogs, I have to use my torso to move or I get wobbly. Once I got used to it, running in tabi socks became a lot easier. It's interesting."
By wearing different shoes and making changes in the way he runs, his body has changed and his back pain has healed.
Glass work is made by leaning over. That's why my left-right balance is so off. So when I run after I finish work in the morning, I can see how my body is balanced that day. It's almost like meditation because I am detached from my work and I run without listening to music. The whole time I'm running I'm aware of my body's movements."
He has always liked the idea of moving his body while sensing subtle changes, as he did when he was running the 800 meters.
He says, "Perhaps that's true. The work itself is tableware, made within the traditional techniques that existed originally, but the fixed parts of the work can be subdivided, so it can be expanded in any number of ways. I think I like that kind of feeling.
Creating time-conscious works of art
Arinaga's glass works are favored by many restaurants and cooks, and are difficult to find. What is the source of their beautiful forms and charm?
I make arts and crafts-like objects, and I also make vessels, but when it comes to vessels, I am really conscious of ease of use. Also, in the opinion of the maker, it is very important to be able to create accurately and quickly. The faster you can make it, the lower the price, and the easier it is to get it into people's hands. Besides, the quicker glass is made, the more beautiful it is, due to the nature of blown glass.
The simple beauty of Arinaga's vessels is also a result of rationality. On the other hand, her craftwork expresses the multilayered nature of time.
As I said before, glass is a very fast process. I started working with crafts because I wanted to put another axis of time into my work.
For example, the meaning of the patterns in this work is weaving and knitting. This process itself is very similar to the process of spinning threads, and I wanted to create a work that would have two time axes in a single piece.
It gets really long when I start talking about it (laughs). (Laughs.) I start talking about the history of glass, the history of textiles, and so on. It's a material with a long history, so I wanted to make a work that would show that aspect if possible.
Making blown glass permanent
Blown glass is a traditional craft, and Mr. Arinaga continues to improve the quality of his work while refining his own sensibilities in the context of its history and format.
At the same time, he is bringing innovation to blown glass, which is difficult to manage and few people are willing to take it over.
There are not many people who want to make things nowadays," she says. I hear from schools that the number is decreasing year by year. There is also the fact that it is difficult to start blowing glass. People who are older than me say that blown glass studios are hard because they don't make a lot of money. They even say that it's so hard that it's better to quit. But I thought there must be a different way of doing things, so I decided to set up my own studio.
After moving to Notojima six years ago, Mr. Arinaga began by developing a kiln in order to establish a new style of workshop.
Since I work alone, I started from the kiln design with a kiln maker and developed a type of kiln that had never existed before," he said. It was common knowledge that a kiln (melting furnace) for melting glass cannot be stopped once it is fired up, and that it would not be stopped for a year or so. The temperature inside the kiln reaches over 1,200 degrees Celsius. It usually took four or five days to raise the temperature to that level. Once the kiln was shut down, the crucible in which the glass was made was broken and had to be replaced.
We made it so that the pots could be used for two days after the fire was turned off without breaking. When I first decided to open my own studio, I thought of breaking down the difficulties that glass blowing studios have, one by one. I thought of things that could be cleared up by changing these things and made them. Then, surprisingly, it worked out well. That is why we often have young people in their 30s who want to start their own business come to see us.
We think fundamentally about how blown glass should be, and update it to suit the present while respecting the core of it. This essential way of thinking is paving the way for the artists who will follow in his footsteps.
Efficient energy that produces glass.
We asked Mr. Arinaga, who wears a "CALM JACKET" made of "RENU® " polyester yarn recycled from discarded clothes, what he usually thinks about sustainability.
Blowing glass requires a lot of heat, so it is a very energy-intensive job. Therefore, this kiln (blast furnace) itself is made to be as thermally efficient as possible with good insulation.
We can operate it with 2/3 to half the energy of a conventional kiln. The kiln for work (second kiln for molding) is also well insulated and can be completely sealed when not in use, making it difficult for heat to escape when not in use. One of the themes when we built the workshop was to use energy as efficiently and wastefully as possible.
Because we use that much energy to make our products, we use up all the glass we melt in our house. Therefore, there is almost no glass that goes to waste. Only 20 kg of glass is disposed of each year. I want to take responsibility for the materials I use and create with energy.
I am now telling kiln makers to think about kilns that can do everything with clean energy. Until recently, glass artists themselves were saying that glass was not good for the environment. If that is the case, the industry will not be accepted in the future, and it will only become smaller and smaller. I think that glass makers need to think about this and properly promote it so that the surrounding industry will also revolve around glass making.
Mr. Arinaga, who has been working alone up until now, is trying to establish a foundation for living on glass by hiring young people and passing on his skills as he continues to develop this kind of system. Establishing the way of making things and creating a path for future generations is also a sustainable act.
1978 Born in Sakai City, Osaka
1998 Studied at Frauenau Summer Academy, Germany
2001 Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts, Department of Glass Crafts
2001-2003 Staff, Shikinosato Glass Studio (Fukushima)
2004-2009 Niijima Glass Art Center (Tokyo)
2009-2011 Freelance Artist based in Notojima (Nanao, Ishikawa)
2011-2016 Glass Studio Specialist, Kanazawa Utatsuyama Craft Workshop
2017 Established kotaglass, a home studio on Notojima Island
2022 Expansion and relocation of the studio to the same location