News: The Japanese Art Form That Turns Ordinary Dirt into Perfect Mud Spheres

The Japanese Art Form That Turns Ordinary Dirt into Perfect Mud Spheres

People have been transforming mud into art, aka pottery, for thousands of years. This is not a new phenomenon, but often the finished product has a certain utilitarian aesthetic, such as a bowl or vase.

Bruce Gardner takes balls of mud and turns them into... shiny, more polished, hard balls of mud. And that's what makes it so damn cool.

Hikaru dorodango is a Japanese process of taking a ball of mud, manipulating it into a perfectly smooth and consistent sphere, drying it, and polishing the ball until it becomes shiny. It's so simple, yet the final results are breathtaking. (Gardner has brief instructions available on his website.)

Gardner sifting dirt. Image by P2 Photography/Vimeo

The phrase hikaru dorodango translates to "little dumpling," said Gardner, referencing the shape of the work, though it is also commonly translated as "shiny mud dumpling." This is an incredibly laborious process, and Gardner admitted it took him 30 tries to get it right.

He was initially exposed to this art form after reading William Gibson's essay in TATE Magazine, "Shiny Balls of Mud: William Gibson Looks at Japanese Pursuits of Perfection."

Some of Gardner's work. Image by P2 Photography/Vimeo

I was interested more on how Gardner got started with this very niche medium, so I reached out to see if he had a background in Japanese art or culture. His response was, "My wife and I have always appreciated Japanese aesthetics and we have collected a few pieces of art over the years, but this is my only real immersion into a Japanese art."

Gardner gave multiple reasons for why this style has stuck with him, such as the meditative process of creating the dorodango, the vastness of the possibilities, and his love of "the idea of making something beautiful from dirt." I completely understand his fascination because the idea of selling or displaying a glorified mud ball in a gallery is an interesting thing to wrap your head around, but that's what makes it so compelling.

One of Gardner's favorite pieces from a yellow deposit near Golden, NM. Image by P2 Photography/Vimeo

The finished hikaru dorodango are sold for $400, with larger pieces and commissions made out of specific soil going for $500 or more.

Gardner acknowledges that he has caught some lucky breaks with his work, having the above video featured on P2 Photography's Buck the Cubicle series. He said, "It's definitely an internet phenomenon... the popularity of that video led to postings on several websites and interviews with Japanese media."

If you would like to see more of Gardner's work, be sure to check out his online gallery.

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