Project Japan 34

Monday 27 August

One day to see the sights of Tokyo, and the pair of us totally knackered anyway: physically and emotionally exhausted, tetchy, short-tempered, in foul moods because we were about to go back to the UK. Laughable…

Because it was a Monday the almost impossible job of choosing where to go was made somewhat easier, insofar as almost all the galleries were closed. However, there were a few open and we eventually decided to go to Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum: not because there was anything we particularly wanted to see but a) because it was in Ueno Park where there were several other things possibly worth doing, and b) it was an easy journey by subway from our hotel.

On such ill-considered decisions do futures hang…

***

After brunch we headed up to Floor 2F to what we thought was an exhibition of modern art. We paid our 500¥ each and walked into this:

Moments like these are why the phrase “WTF!” was invented. Almost every genre of painting is represented. There’s calligraphy, sculpture, collage, photography, and those ceramic dolls, plates, and figurines. There is some nice stuff, but most of the work is pretty hideous and clearly amateur. In the absence of a single word of English interpretation and no-one amongst the staff on that floor able to speak English, we assumed it must be some kind of “Tokyo Open” competition.
OK. Fair enough, but not exactly what we were looking for. Surely our Japan art adventure couldn’t end here!

***

Bemused and rather dejected we wandered over to the other side of Floor 2F. At the entrance to the exhibition—free I may add—we were given a beautiful catalogue and this is a small selection of what we encountered:

Fantastic! Really, I could have put up twice as a many photographs as I have done and still not do the exhibition justice. Almost every piece was interesting and challenging in some way, but without it all getting vanishingly conceptual. Extending across two large gallery spaces, this was a genuine find: a large collection of high-quality contemporary art united by medium.

It was at a certain point in the last of the rooms that I struck up a conversation with a Japanese gentleman who fortunately had pretty good English. This turned out to be none other than the Curator of the exhibition and Director of Atelier Outotsu, Ritsuwo Kanno. This Outotsu Hanten exhibition, then, was a mixture of work from his atelier and open-call submissions, and it had recently been on show in Paris.
By now Heather had joined in the discussion and she got very excited: her background is as a print-maker. She and Kanno immediately got involved in some technical stuff whilst I smiled on benignly in the background. After a short photo-op, Kanno disappeared stage left, but then came back almost immediately with his wife Kaoru Higashi. She is a fellow print-maker—both she and Kanno have works in the exhibition—and another round of quite detailed discussion took place (with me again totally out of my area of expertise so just keeping my mouth shut). Needless to say that by this point Heather was almost visibly throbbing with excitement and on the verge of spontaneous combustion…
Both Ritsuwo and Kaoru were a delight to talk to, and, as has so often been the case with the lovely people we’ve met on this trip, they were unstinting in their generosity:

So what started out as a bewildering and rather unsatisfying gallery visit suddenly turned into a visual feast and another wonderful chance encounter. A fabulous end to our month in Japan.

***

We did one last bit of sightseeing around Ueno Park:


Then it was back to the hotel, start packing, have a final meal, and hit the hay. First thing in the morning we would be off to Narita and the UK.

The End

Project Japan 32

Saturday 25 August

Get up late. Exhausted. We’ve peaked. We’re suddenly burnt out. Go shopping. Still baking hot… Have a nice Teriyaki dinner and then spend the evening catching up on the blogging (which has completely dropped off in the last week because we’ve been so busy).

Sunday 26 August

Pack and check out of the hotel, leaving the luggage there. We go for a last walk in the Imperial Gardens. Even mid-morning it’s incredibly hot and humid: we’ve adopted the Japanese habits of carrying an umbrella to keep the sun off and carrying a small hand towel to mop up the sweat:

We then head off to Gallery G-77 where we take the show down. Much easier than putting it up! Then a a farewell lunch with Carl, Matthew, and the latter’s wife Remi: unfortunately Sueko couldn’t join us. With heavy hearts we depart in time to catch the 18:35 Shinkansen to Tokyo:

Arrive in Tokyo just before 21:00. WOW. Even this late on a Sunday night it’s like we’re dwarfed into inconsequentiality by the huge and wildly extravagant post-modernist architecture. Ginza is a neon-emblazoned temple to consumerism, the scale of which staggers the mind. It makes London look silly:

Immediately we get lost on our short walk to the hotel: the state we’re in this could get ugly. We are saved from ourselves by a passer-by who intervenes, takes control, and walks with us virtually all the way to our destination. Lovely man.
A quick meal and we drop into bed.

Project Japan 31

This an easy one: last quick run-through in the morning, setting up in the afternoon, The Resonant Interval ‘Special Event’ at 6pm.

Heather gave a very successful talk on Arts and Health between 6pm and 7pm with support from Sueko Boland doing the English-Japanese translating. Truly outstanding work by both!

7pm until about 7:45 Carl and I did our audio-visual pieces. I started with Exploded View 1 followed by The Crystal World. Then Carl did Tokyo and then, together, we performed our brand new 15-minute magnum opus that—as yet—we must call Untitled. Mercifully, a very positive reaction to all four pieces.

Here are the few photos I have (although there are loads knocking about on Facebook and some video too courtesy of another of our new friends Gregory Hilton):

Overall, about 30-40 people turned up which—as we’re starting from scratch in Kyoto—is a pretty good turnout. There were drinks, many good conversations, and crucially for Heather and myself, some great links established.

Job done.

Project Japan 29

So we’re still on Thursday 23 August. Hot and humid with heavy showers. We meet Matthew Fasone at Kawaramachi Hankyu subway station and, after a short wander, head over to Art Spot Korin and a meeting with artist and very, very, nice guy Masahiro Kawanaka. As with so many people we have met on this trip, Masa was incredibly generous with his time and the four of us had a great afternoon together, eventually having quite a deep and subtle discussion on art practice. Hugely enjoyable.

[A special shout out to Matthew here, not just for sharing several days with us and showing us the ropes both in Osaka and Kyoto, but for his excellent Japanese which allowed us to bridge the gap with Masa much more effectively. Thanks Matt!]

Late afternoon we left Art Spot Korin and Matthew showed us around Gion, which an the area in Kyoto where they have tried to retain its traditional look (there being no airborne power-cables, for example). A bit of a tourist-trap, but I’m glad I’ve seen it… Here’s my photos from the day:

That evening I worked until very late: I had to get my two tracks ready for the next day’s performance and had to ensure that the video cueing worked seamlessly for all four tracks in our set, hence the projector now hooked up to my little Noku Hotel studio. This would be my first attempt at using QLab in a real-world situation and ensuring it all sync’d up perfectly was a huge concern. In particular, the piece Carl and I were doing together—effectively the ‘main attraction’ of the evening’s show—was 15 minutes long and I wanted to make sure it was absolutely in sync and rock-solid right the way through. In practice it was pretty straightforward and QLab worked perfectly:

Finally to bed around 3am. Sheesh!

Project Japan 28

Tuesday 21 – Thursday 23 August
Daytimes we go out and about in Kyoto. It’s still baking hot (35-37 degrees) and heavily humid. The first day is largely “wasted” by visiting the Emporer’s Imperial Palace (closed) and Nijo Castle (closed), but had a good time nonetheless visiting temples and wandering through the lovely gardens:


The sound of Cicadas has been constantly in the background all summer. This what they look like:


And this is what Japanese politicians look like:


Wednesday was more productive: a visit to Rengeoin Sanjusangendo temple to see the 1001 Buddhas and then just over the road to the Kyoto National Museum. Unfortunately in both places photography was banned. In the case of Sanjusangendo this is entirely justified: it does mean visitors are more respectful and it is, essentially, still a working temple: there were people in there praying. The 1001 Buddhas are themselves incredible works of art and devotion. There are 1000 Buddhas arrayed in ranks. Each is about 5 feet tall and made of wood, with spiky halos and twenty arms each carrying a small implement. Each of the 1000 Buddhas is unique. They are protected by 8 guardians. All of these flank one massive central Buddha. The overall effect really is awe-inspiring (these images downloaded from the Internet):


Here are my slightly more prosaic images from the day:


In the evenings I was pulling 6-hour sessions developing the music and video for Friday’s show. I built myself a little studio in the hotel room:

Satisfying but relentless. A full-on week, and I haven’t even mentioned what we did during the day Thursday.

Project Japan 27

Downtime in Tokyo: knocking these posts out now to wrap this up before we get home and it all goes stale.

Monday 20 August

Heather and I leave Sugoshicho behind and head for Kyoto. The afternoon is spent finishing off the install at Gallery G-77 and, as at Tenjinyama, the most labour-intensive element is putting up Hev’s Pocket Remains 1-79. It takes about three hours of repetitive and painstaking work—not helped by a time-consuming false start—but it looks good when it’s done.

As does the show as a whole. The gallery is quite small but has two floors. Matthew and Hev rightly dominate downstairs but everyone is represented on both floors. Downstairs, panning from just inside the front door on the left all the way round to the right (behind the partition):

And with this on a low table in the middle of the space:

Upstairs, panning this time from the right-hand wall round to the left:

Hard work. Well done Heather and Matthew for doing such a well-considered and professional job. Well done Sueko for the logistics: ordering projectors, printing, and the PA, English-Japanese translations, and for doing all the driving!

Project Japan 25

Some ambient shots of Sugoshicho. Apologies in advance for the overhead power-cable obsession:

Project Japan 24

Continuing directly on from my last post. The scene: Carl and Sueko Boland’s house in Sugoshicho, Japan.

Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 August
As part of the Resonant Interval show at Gallery G-77 in Kyoto—on Friday 24 August to be exact—Carl and I are scheduled to do a performance, the centrepiece of which is supposed to be a brand new 15-minute audio-visual collaborative piece. My main job whilst I’ve been in Japan has been to make the film. It’s more-or-less done by this time, but the music remains in an entirely skeletal state: over this weekend Carl and myself are supposed to be developing it and rehearsing for the show.

So basically we spend two days in his studio whilst the sun shines down and rural Japan dreamily meanders along outside. Carl does most of the audio processing, I do most of the structural work. Two long, hard, but ultimately pretty successful days. By Sunday night the track is mostly there, but the first section remains in its original skeletal state and we haven’t practised together at all. We’ve run out of time.

Meanwhile on Sunday—whilst Carl and myself stay in Sugoshicho—Heather, Matthew, and Sueko meet at the gallery and  begin putting up the show.

***

The only break we have is a few hours on Saturday evening. There is a Buddhist festival in the village—a bit like our Harvest Festival (with donations to the temple of food)—but celebrated at the start of the harvest rather than the end. Heather and I are generously invited by the villagers to take part. As with the visit to the temple the evening before I found the simplicity and emotional authenticity of the experience humbling and deeply affecting:

After sausages-on-sticks, shaved ice sundaes, and plenty of alcohol—mainly for the men hanging out on the temple steps—the dancing began. This was a kind of circular line dance with a specific set of moves that symbolise the sowing and reaping of the rice harvest. The heavily rhythmic and hypnotic folk music goes on and on, with endless verses by alternating male and female vocalists about, um, farming (according to Sueko who’s a local and knows these things). Needless to say Hev and myself were dragged into the action:

The whole thing was utterly delightful. As you can see it’s a very small and tight community. Everyone was extremely warm, welcoming, and friendly. The kids are joyous and just run free in what is clearly a very safe and loving communal embrace.

I’m at a loss for words to describe how profoundly moving this evening was, and how privileged we felt to be immediately and unquestioningly accepted into these people’s lives. An amazing and totally unexpected experience.

Project Japan 23

Apart from a couple of quickies earlier today I’ve not posted here for a week. I cannot tell you how busy we’ve been. As I sit here typing this on a Saturday afternoon I am absolutely knackered, burned out, washed and wiped out, fried, brain-dead, the lot. But, really, it has been an absolute blast—not an adjective I use very often but entirely appropriate here.

Thursday 16 August
Music tech shopping. Not so straightforward in a city you don’t know and where the language is alien to you: even Google Translate struggles with detailed and technical Japanese-English Internet searches. Eventually we found one of these at Ishibashi Music:

Bizarrely, we ate that evening in a Hawaiian restaurant. No: don’t ask.

Friday 17 August
After some gift-buying (for our soon-to-be-hosts and their daughter Yoshino) we took the JP Rapid service from Osaka direct to Notogawa (avoiding the change at Kyoto):

We were met at Notogawa by Sueko Boland, wife of Dr. Carl “CJ” Boland, lately of this parish, who were to be our hosts for the weekend. They live in a small village called Sugoshicho which is north of Kyoto and just south of a small city called Hikone, right on the edge of Lake Biwa:

The contrast between the urban craziness of Osaka and the rural calm of Sugoshicho could not have been more stark, and again I had that sensation of someone channel-flipping me:

Meeting Sueko at last was great—we had been in email contact with her for going on six months and she had been doing much of the logistical arrangements for us ahead of our arrival—and their lovely daughter Yoshi, and of course it was good to see Carl again. They live in a restored traditional-style house right in the middle of Sugoshicho and about 100 yards from the beach. Say hello to the nice people in Swansea, CJ:

After dumping our bags we headed straight down to the beach: very warm but quite breezy. Lots of catch-up chat and beachcombing. Brilliant:

Little did we know, but our day was only just beginning. Sueko’s father (now sadly deceased) was head priest at one of the local Buddhist temples (and I say “one of” because there are several despite the small size of the village). This role has now been taken over by her brother-in-law, Akira, who had kindly granted us access to the temple for a private visit. Whilst it was all relatively informal, due respect was observed and Akira performed a short ritual for us upon our arrival. Incredibly, he later brought out a prototype Japanese-style Kalimba that he and Carl were developing (with a view to fitting contact mics at some future point) and some funky improvising ensued:

The temple bell. Note graphic score!


(Left to right): Sueko, Heather, CJ, Akira.

Thanks to Akira, Sueko, and Carl for arranging this visit. An absolute privilege.

***

Dinner time. Yakiniku: cook meat at your table. The Japanese like their meat good and fatty and they’ll eat almost any part of the animal. I’m far too squeamish for some of the more (ahem) choice cuts but great fun nonetheless: a very sociable and involving way to eat.
 
And so to bed. One crazy day…

Project Japan 18

A sort of day off. Next week we have another exhibition, this time in Kyoto. There are four of us showing: Heather and myself, obviously, Carl Boland, and an American artist named Matthew Fasone. Sueko Boland is going to document the show and has done much of the hard work ‘on the ground’.

I knew Carl from our time teaching together in HE, and Matthew was someone that Carl knew and suggested would be a good addition to “the collective”. We saw his work online, loved it, and since he came on board has been an influential and integral part of the team. He has done a huge amount of work (with Sueko) liaising with the gallery director and sorting out all the PR materials (which obviously have to be bi-lingual), and has been instrumental in sourcing frames for Heather and myself.

He lives in Osaka, and we had agreed to meet him this morning for the first time. We all hit it off from the get-go and had an absolutely brilliant day of sightseeing, eating, and non-stop talking.

***

I find it interesting that in Japan the power cables are all airborne:

Flyover running over Dotonbori River:

Medieval barn (1500s) in front of the Osaka Museum of History:

Crossing over the road we came to our principal destination: Osaka Castle.  It’s not an original, but has been burnt down at least twice. This concrete recreation dates from the 1930s. But note the original massive stones—one stone split in two!—that make up part of the outer wall:


Heather and Matthew:

Kendo Hall:


Japanese-style open-air cafe:


Is it baking hot and humid? Feeling tired? Dehydrated? What you need is a salty lichee beverage! It’s actually delicious, unlike some of the Japanese sweet/sour combinations (e.g. the dried sour plums):


…and back to the crowds: