A lively, outgoing and naturally energetic woman who laughs cheerfully. A tender-hearted dog lover. A mentor who listens to my pointless talking carefully and gives me thoughtful advice. Likewise an honest interviewee who answers the questions genuinely with passion. That is Kazumi Tsuji, a glass artist who I’ve been acquainted with for several years. If I was asked to describe her in one word, I would say “strong” or “tough”. I was a bit surprised then when Tsuji-san opened up to me about a bitter memory. And yet, I admit that I was thrilled to be touched by her inner rawness unexpectedly.
The event happened around twelve years ago. When Tsuji-san visited a flea market, she found out that an acquaintance of hers was selling her glass work at the market. “I was shocked more than I expected, since I had to face the reality that my glass didn’t fit into her life. I know, I shouldn’t have been shocked by such a little thing though. Somehow, the event made me think deeply. I came to the conclusion that there might be more of my glass works that became unnecessary in others’ houses.” Since Tsuji-san founded her glass work studio, Factory Zoomer, over ten years ago, she created roughly tens of thousands of men-choko (one of her standard glass tablewares, in a shape slightly larger than soba-choko). “Considering such huge quantities, it would be impossible that all of my men-chokos are cherished forever by everyone who purchased them. Humans lose interest easily. Their lives and lifestyle change, they move. That’s why I launched a project to ask my customers to return any of their glass works made by me that they no longer use.”
“Take your no longer needed glassware over to Factory Zoomer.”
Tsuji-san decided to produce new glass works by melting together the glass by-products and waste materials, such as samples and failed works. Some customers gave back their broken glassware, and so Tsuji-san’s recycled glass project started. Production takes place once a year (now it is about every nine months) just before the glass melting pot in the furnace is changed, when the timing was ideal. Once Tsuji-san tried to melt the glass, she recalls that “the color that came out was the most unexpected thing. I frequently make black colored glassware, and so were the by-products. I predicted that, just like paint, the mixed glass would be gray, but it turned out blue.” Pale, light blue. It could have been affected by cobalt, one of the materials used for coloring glasses. Finally, her collection, Reclaimed Blue, was born.
Tsuji-san has not only been reclaiming and reinvigorating glass. She says, “Beyond recycling, I thought I must be able to turn the glass debris into something precious.” She decided to form the recycled blue glasses into shapes inspired by ceramics from the Lee Dynasty and onward. The Reclaimed Blue series can be considered Tsuji-san’s attempt to address her question, “What happens if I recreate the old shapes in this modern era?” In other words, it’s also a collection of reclaiming shapes. “Only recycling glass was very ordinary. I needed to do something extra to make a fun chemical reaction happen.” That’s who Tsuji-san is. She isn’t satisfied with just making reclaimed blue glass cups or men-choko. “Because I’m a twisted person (laughs), to plot something is always my priority.” Tsuji-san is an absolute artist. “My glass works are shaped in tableware, but nevertheless, they are literally my WORKS. Making glass tableware is my intention to bring my works closer to people’s everyday life. That’s partly where I’m different from craft artisans.”
Since her 20s, Tsuji-san devoted herself to making glass art. Besides handcrafting glass tableware, she created contemporary glass art for a while. She says, “I created a lot of strange, incomprehensible stuff. Such things that I put out were nothing more than regurgitated.” If one could discover the way to connect what they spew out with society successfully or transform it into something special, then the greatest pleasure would be brought. “That’s exactly the mission of an artist.” In another interview, Tsuji-san describes her attitude as “socialization of works”. She asks “how can I socialize what I make?” as the basis of her creations.
Tsuji-san always declared that she is “creating glassware for someone, not for myself. Through my glass works, I hope someone’s heart will be healed.” Whether or not her glassware is used practically in everyday life, even if they are just displayed on shelves or just kept as Omamori (lucky charms), that would also bring her pleasure. No matter how her glass works are brought into someone’s life, “if my customers are encouraged or relieved by my glass works, that would be wonderful. I hope the existence of my glass works will be helpful for someone in some way. I’ve been making glass works with this in mind.”
The main showcase at this exhibition is her reclaimed blue collection in a wide range of blue colors, from a deep indigo that makes the shape inspired by the Lee Dynasty stand out to a light blue that makes the carved patterns on the surface look refined. Among these, the one which represents Tsuji-san’s current perspective the most is the series named Relife. In a wooden box with a partition inside that hangs on a wall, a reclaimed blue work sits on the left and her tablewares of the same weight as the reclaimed blue work are packed messily in the right. It shows before and after recycling. The concept of such conceptual work is also “reclaimed”. Tsuji-san says, “Destroy things once, then something new is born. We can’t stay in the same place, must not keep on stepping on the same place. Such messages mean that I must reset myself as well. The Relife collection is almost like the way I live.”
Live your life once again. Revive your future from now on. Tsuji-san delivers these strong messages and hopes that those of us living in the world after COVID will receive them positively through her magnificent glass works.