At the first meeting that of Kathleen Reilly work, the spectator perceives the transubstantiation of everyday objects into other objects and experiences. Injected with typical Glasgow humor, Reilly’s playful and beautiful works, such as a packet of crisps with a zipper, or a dryly named series “Gran’s Plate”, are examples of his deep interest in everyday life. A graduate of the prestigious Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art, Reilly received the Daiwa Fellowship in 2019 and moved from the UK to the Niigata town of Tsubame, a place renowned for its metalwork. Creating in tandem with the many artisans who reside there, the Scottish artist is taking her current work with cutlery to the next level. In an interview with Tokyo Art Beat, Reilly discusses his background, his projects with artisans and institutions, his experiences at Tsubame and how Japanese text, poetry and aesthetics have had a profound effect on his artistic output.
Tokyo Art Beat (TAB): You are an artist and a metallurgist. How did you start to use metal as a creative medium?
Kathleen Reilly (KR): My whole family is made up of artists and musicians, so I was very lucky to grow up surrounded by creativity. However, no one in my family has ever specialized in metalworking. Initially, I wanted to study painting in art school, but I took a little jewelry making course, maybe once a week for a month in high school, and I became totally fascinated by them. metal properties. For me, there was something truly magical and inspiring about the ability to melt the material and use it over and over again. There was something I knew I wanted to explore more and learn more about… and here we are ten years later.
TAB: Your job is to collaborate with chefs and kitchens. Could you tell us more about this and what you hope to achieve through these collaborations?
KR: I have been working with chefs and kitchens for a few years. I am currently creating a new collection of tableware (for dinner) with Korean chef Jeong Kwan. This is the second time that I have collaborated with Steinbeisser’s Experimental gastronomy initiative, based in Amsterdam and active worldwide. Experimental Gastronomy events bring together renowned chefs and artists for a unique culinary experience. It’s a really exciting project that I’m very grateful to be a part of! When I collaborate with a chef or a kitchen, I find it so important to fully understand their practice, their objectives and their goals. Usually when I do research something about their practice jumps out at me and turns me on. I will then take this as a starting point for my collection of works. For example, right now I’m really interested in Jeong Kwan’s philosophy that “food is the expression of what you have in mind”. Thanks to these collaborations, I hope to achieve not only an interesting and engaging body of work for the user, allowing him to think[side] setting up the conventional table, but also by collaborating with a chef, I aim to create fresh narratives, opening new doors for our own future practices, whether together or individually. I think it’s a great part of the collaboration.
TAB: What was your experience at Tsubame? Can you tell me more about your work and your life there?
KR: I lived in Glasgow, London and Tokyo before coming to Tsubame in October 2020 as part of the Daiwa scholarship program. Being a city girl has been quite an adjustment living in the country, especially since I don’t have a driver’s license! Although the funny thing is that the weather here is almost the same as my hometown of Glasgow (it rains a lot in both cities) so I guess you could say I got used to it quite a bit. quickly. For someone who has a degree in ironwork and has been studying metal for 10 years now, living in Tsubame, an industrial metallurgy town in the heart of Niigata Prefecture, is truly a once in a lifetime experience. There are factories and studios on every corner of town, from hand-engraved file makers to industrial presses and of course cutlery factories and showrooms. I have been working and training here for eight months now. My goal is to produce cutlery with the artisans of this region, marrying my design concepts with the high-tech skills of these Japanese artisans.
TAB: You received the Daiwa scholarship in 2019. How has it benefited you and how has it supported your work?
KR: Receive the Daiwa scholarship in 2019 was truly a life changing experience. I have always been interested in Japanese design, craftsmanship and the marriage of Scottish and Japanese design aesthetics which I experienced firsthand while studying in the Charles Rennie Mackintosh building of the Glasgow School of Art. . I also studied jewelry design in Japan for a few months in 2013. However, I knew very little of the Japanese language. I always knew I wanted to explore Japan more and produce work with Japanese artisans, many of whom do not speak English, so learning Japanese was essential. Oh, I’m also very interested in Japanese tanka poetry and wanted to be able to understand the original texts! The Daiwa scholarship was tough, really a lot harder than I ever imagined. I took a year of my own manufacturing practice and focused all of my time on learning Japanese. Which is not an easy language to learn. I am far from being fluent, but the program has benefited me immensely. I can now communicate (enough) to translate my thoughts and ideas to artisans in Japanese, and engage in conversations that benefit my research and design work, which I would never be able to do in English. Understanding the language has given me a deeper and richer understanding of Japanese culture which I already know is and will continue to benefit my practice for years to come.
TAB: How have Japan and your experiences here influenced your creative process and your work as a whole?
KR: My stay in Japan has greatly influenced my creative process and my work. As I said before, learning the Japanese language has given me a better understanding of Japanese culture, which benefits and influences my practice in new ways. I am able to have first-hand conversations with artisans in factories which often lead to new discoveries or discoveries. Even informal conversations can lead to something interesting, for example why someone is using a tool in a certain way… I feel that when speaking through a translator, often a feeling of intimacy can being lost, this intimacy brings the conversation closer together. My experiences in Japan also affected my design aesthetic. I have definitely developed a greater appreciation for beauty in simple, authentic, and good design with honest materials. I began to consider not only the most well-known Japanese aesthetics such as wabi-sabi but also the shibu aesthetics or beauty of the simple, subtle and discreet. There has also been a lot of inspiration in the arrangement of Japanese tables and cutlery that we don’t have in Western culture, for example the tableware used for traditional meals like kaiseki and even chopsticks and leftover chopsticks. .
TAB: Can you explain what you are currently working on?
KR: I am currently working on a small cutlery line that I am developing with artisans from Tsubame in a factory here since I moved to Tsubame last October. The release is slated for the end of this year, so keep an eye out for it!
Using the generations-old manufacturing techniques of Tsubame Town and influenced by the placement and arrangement of traditional Japanese cutlery, the shape of the design allows Western cutlery to interact in new ways with additional objects at the table, creating new possibilities for setting up the table on a daily basis. (Extract from the press release)
As I mentioned earlier, I am also working on a new tableware collection for the Jeong Kwan culinary event with Steinbeisser which will take place this year.
I also recently explored the metal casting techniques of Toyama Prefecture and Takaoka City for a new project next year.
TAB: On your website, you indicate that:
“By writing poetry, she observes and absorbs fleeting moments and unconscious actions every day. The key texts are chosen and summarized to form tangible results. As she associates her writings with the physical world, memories awaken and juxtapositions form. Reilly plays with the semiotic qualities of his objects which seem to fluctuate between circumstances.
Could you explain more about this?
KR: I have many facets to my practice. I have my work with chefs and very material and collaborative kitchens. I then have a smaller product line that I am in the process of developing. Then I have my works to which this text refers. I use writing to see “the invisible”. I use it as a tool to broaden my vision, a way to deepen and consider the subconscious. Instead of starting from a concept and instinctively creating and developing work around that concept, I like to write about it. As I wrote and then re-read these writings, associations and memories came to the surface that I would have gone through or perhaps not even thought of. I constantly write small texts or short poems. I hope to one day publish a book in Japanese and English.