In 2009 I was a resident artist at the Banff Centre for the Arts. I found myself working late at night in the clay studio, often trying to figure out how to produce the ineffable qualities of “irregular beauty” that craft philosopher Yanagi Sōetsu described in his book The Unknown Craftsman. At one point in the process, around three in the morning, I decided to go for a walk around the facilities to clear my head. As I walked down the corridors I noticed a subtle luminescence of pattern and texture emanating from the floor. I looked down and realized that what I was seeing were the gestures of the janitor’s mop. I was struck by how each loop and swirl of his cleaning reminded me of the beautiful slip work I had seen in some of Japan’s most rarefied Hakame-style ceramics. It also occured to me that this same janitor was using this same mopping technique to clean the drips of slip I had left on my studio floor. For days I would make a point of working late into the morning with the hope of catching the janitor, and each time I would only find the elegant traces of his evaporating trail. After weeks of trying to find him, I finally caught him in the act of mopping. I explained how much I enjoyed his brush work. He was humbly unphased. I asked him about his life and he explained to me that he had degrees in philosophy and had come to Banff to be the janitor.
I asked if he would be willing to collaborate with me in a role reversal - for him to make slip work, and for me to clean up after him. He agreed to the concept as long as I never revealed his name or showed his face. He mopped the floor of the gallery with the slip of the pots I had been throwing all month. The slip was on the floor for three days. At the end I mopped up after him. I was not nearly as talented.