The Oxford Anagama Kiln Project
The Oxford Anagama project is an Anglo-Japanese collaboration between potters and anthropologists to build and fire two traditional wood-fired Japanese kilns in woodland owned by the University of Oxford. Working 6-hour shifts, the two Japanese potters from Bizen, ceramic artists from Witchford Pottery, and a host of volunteers from around the world stoked the kiln 24/7 over 10 days. I documented the last night of the first firing of the Brick Kiln to capture the spirit of co-operation between people from different cultures.
On the last night, the kiln temperature failed to reach the required 1300 ˚C, which delayed completion. With different clay, woods and ways of loading, experienced professionals are needed. Especially, at this final stage, a team of proficient potters usually works around the clock to make subtle manipulations by listening to the sound of the burning wood, looking at the colour of the smoke and checking a small sample of pottery from the kiln to see if the desired finish has been achieved. However, in reality, there were only two Japanese Anagama experts, who spoke limited English.
Seeing the Japanese potters working without sleep, local potters often asked the Bizen artists to take a rest. However, the two professionals did not want to miss a single moment. At the same time, they found it hard to explain the situation and their thinking. In spite of such communication problems, their fellow potters made every effort to learn about Japanese ceramics and did not stop offering valuable assistance, such as chopping woods for the kiln, provide food and drink, washing dishes or just staying there to cheer them up.
Finally, the firing finished successfully, though leaving room for improvement, not only in the way of firing but also in communication. Although both sides experienced difficulties at this first firing, their joint endeavour was worthy of respect. It was the beginning of an ongoing project, which holds much potential for future international collaboration.