P & T Makers Interview with Matthias Kaiser
Matthias, what’s your personal and artistic relationship to tea?
As a student in New York, I was very much involved in traditional Chinese medicine and would frequently explore the many herbalists in Chinatown. It was here that I started to develop an interest for tea and tea culture that would also influence my pottery, shifting my focus to the manufacturing of tea pots – a particular challenge for any beginner.
My shop of choice, back then, was Ten Ren Tea on Canal street, where I remember spending a relatively large part of my then meagre income on fine teas, especially aged Pu-erh for up to 40$ per ounce.
Years later, after moving to Japan, I was introduced to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony by my pottery master, who stressed its importance in truly understanding the art of hand crafting any fine tea ceramic. Our short tea breaks in the workshop, called ippuku (lit. a cup of tea), were also an integral part of the production process, granting us time to take a step back and contemplate on our work.
Along my travels I have encountered many different ways to drink and serve tea, from special milk tea in India, to a strong cup of sugared black in Iran, used as a stimulant for prolonged sessions of meditation. Tea will, however, to me, always be a spiritual vessel, an ephemeral comfort within the dilemma of our physical existence.
Does a ceramic influence the way we experience tea?
The way we drink tea says a lot about the society in which we live, its history and ideals. Different tea room styles can be found from Japan to England, the Chinese tea pick-nick dating back many thousands of years. While the choice of tea and form of preparation are important factors in how we experience tea, what’s most important, in my opinion, is the experience of drinking itself and the situation it creates, both physically and mentally. Experiencing tea has a lot to do with a certain state of mind, and being receptive to the moment itself. Any cup or pot that helps create this state is the ideal utensil, in my eyes.
Is there a particular tea drinking experience that influenced you more than any other?
One of my most memorable tea experiences was at a bus stop in Baluchistan, where I drank sweetened milk tea from antique Chinese tea cups that seemed to have been in use for centuries, and in between large truck tires, sitting on straw mats. The strange combination of different elements and harsh contrasts really made a lasting impression.
What is noble is always open to interpretation. The obviously perfect will never be as inspiring as the imperfect and unexpected. This approach is reflected in my ceramics, their humble form disclosing not only their manufacturing process, but also allowing them to continuously evolve with every use. This openness and adaptability, to me, is much more satisfying than their obvious practical use.
How does that influence the way you create and manufacture tea ceramics?
Every good ceramic should always leave something to the imagination of the person using it. This creative act of mental completion is a fulfilling part of any tea drinking experience. The art of creating ceramics is, therefore, always allowing for something to be left open, while never compromising its use – leaving something out, without there being anything missing.
How did you first discover P & T and whose idea was it to collaborate as part of the P & T Makers Edition?
I remember a friend of mine telling me about this great tea shop in Berlin and how my ceramics would really fit in there. So I decided to check it out, and after sending an email with my portfolio, Jens contacted me and asked if I was interested in a collaboration as part of the P & T Makers Edition. The rest is history.