OK. Here we go: final days in Japan. Winding down.
Wednesday 14 August
A slow and relaxing start to the day before heading off to Yodobashi Metro. We’d been invited to Yutaka Moriguchi‘s house in Ryokuchikoen (= Ryokuchi Park). Yutaka is Heather’s Arts and Health contact in Osaka: she’d already been over to see HP at Atelier Outotsu, and they had been to visit one of Yutaka’s student projects at Nara Hospital (all of which is detailed here). Let’s just say they hit it off…
Yutaka’s lives with her husband Zenya in a stunning modernist house designed by her late father (a sculptor of some repute). Colleagues from Kindai University came a bit later. All very relaxed, some lovely food, and I particularly enjoyed a lengthy conversation with Zenya. We were still there at 9pm: I’m sure we overstayed our welcome. A treat.
[I would have loved to have taken some photographs, both of the house itself and the fabulous artworks contained therein. But it seemed like a step too far to even ask.]
A last dash around town. First a visit to the post office to send off a parcel back to the UK. It was in the ground floor of the slick glass curtain-walled Dojima Avanza skyscraper, outside of which was a shrine that looked like it might have been designed by Buckminster Fuller. Cue short meditation:
Photographing the overhead power lines has been a theme throughout both visits to Japan: a chance to capture this series of dense installations along a single street in Sonezakishinchi:
Wandering then up through Umeda for some last minute gift shopping, and then a quick dash down to Shinsaibashi on the Metro for more of the same. Presents for the kids. With a couple of hours to spare I walked over to Mitsu Park (aka Triangle Park) and messaged Greg Hilton to see if he was around. Not to be.
Packing. Dinner. Lovely chat saying goodbye to Simon in the hotel.
Up very early. Kansai airport by bus. Mata kondo!
Tragically, I can now report that we’ve arrived back in the UK. We’ve had a few hours sleep since the long trek half-way around the world, but obviously body clocks are hopelessly out-of-sync. Fortunately we’ve allowed a day to decompress, so here I am on Sunday 18 August hoping to wrap up the narrative.
Saturday 10 August
I’ve arranged to spend the day with Carl ‘CJ’ Boland shooting video. To keep out of the baking sun—it’s 37ºC outside and incredibly humid—we decide to head off to one of the underground shopping malls around Shinsaibashi. We have a good afternoon with both of us getting plenty of material. At teatime we head back to the hotel and archive it all off and share the day’s haul with each other. With Heather now back from Atelier Outotsu we head off for a yakitori dinner.
Delighted to see CJ again and spend some quality time together. All great fun!
The plan was to meet CJ again this morning, head up to Kyoto (where we have to take down the Mirror exhibition after the gallery closes at 6pm), and visit a couple of exhibitions in the afternoon. However, CJ isn’t feeling too well so heads off to Hikone.
As it turns out, we meet another Atelier Outotsu resident artist Laura D’encre at Kawaramachi station in Kyoto. We drop some stuff off at Art Spot Korin where we meet up again with gallery owner Kanama Muratsu and his wife/invigilator/very helpful person Yoriko. Unfortunately the meeting is all too brief and by the time we get back they’ve gone. Arigato gozaimashita!
Honestly, I’m not impressed by any of the three films. They are all clearly influenced by Herzog and the basic idea in Atrato was explored by Jon Hassell as far back as 1981. Nonetheless, Heather is very taken with Cayuco which she says is “a great way to make a drawing”. Fair comment…and her much more positive take on the exhibition is here.
Before we go back to ASK we have afternoon tea in the Art Centre cafe. Heather and Laura tuck into lashings of cake and ice cream; I make do with an espresso doppio:
Suitably refreshed, we walk back to ASK and take down the show. It all goes very smoothly and quickly:
Masahiro Kawanaka is with us by now. The four of us go out to eat before we take the train back to Osaka. I get some great video footage on the way. Result!
Last week I interviewed and videoed Ritsuwo Kanno and Kaoru Higashi, the directors of Atelier Outotsu. Whilst clearing up afterwards I had quite a long conversation with Kaoru about various things, the upshot of which was that she asked me to make a video for her. She has a solo exhibition in Osaka coming up in November, and she asked if I could make a short film showing off her work processes. Of course I was delighted to be asked.
Hopefully, it’s all turned out OK. We got plenty of footage and Kaoru worked very hard under a lot of pressure to develop a bilingual script. I enjoyed the day immensely and it was a privilege to be allowed such an insight into her working methods at first hand. I’m looking forward to putting this together.
We’d finished by about 4pm so I shot off to Shin-Osaka station to buy Shinkansen tickets for tomorrow’s trip to Nagoya.
Monday evening we met up with Matthew Fasone and his wife Reimi. It would most likely be our last chance to see them as they would be off to the USA on Thursday. A warm, funny, and memorable evening with our friends. I miss them.
At last year’s performance at Gallery G-77 we met Izuru Mizutani. We stayed in touch throughout and he contributed to the “international” 1SSUE 41 (which of course also included simultaneous exhibitions at Oriel y Bont in Cardiff and at Art Spot Korin in Kyoto). He is the son of artist Isao Mizutani, worked for NHK as a TV producer for 15 years or so, and has had a series of extremely prestigious exhibitions of his own work. He currently runs the Arts and Mind Centre in Nagoya.
Most of this we only learned on Tuesday as we spent the day with him. He picked us up at the station at about 10am and we went directly to the beautiful Aichi Arts Center where the 2019 Aichi Triennale is showing:
Contemporary art at its best: a fascinating mixture of installation, painting, video, projection mapping, research, etc., etc., some of it trivial, some humourous, and some deadly serious. There was nothing that really moved me, and I didn’t like all of it, but taken as a whole the exhibition is a thought-provoking and fascinating experience. There has even been some controversy: a section of the exhibition that highlighted Japanese war crimes has been shut, provoking a national debate about “freedom of expression”. See here or here, for example. Again: Heather’s take on all this here.
After lunch we went to a couple more Triennale venues: one by Michiko Tsuda, in an old traditional Japanese house, involved the clever use of cameras and screens to reflect the interior spaces in non-linear ways. In the same venue but in an out-building Takahiro Iwasaki (I think) created an installation that powerfully evoked a burnt-out wartime Nagoya. His use of charcoal looked “real” and used our sense of smell to powerfully evoke the devastation:
Coffee break, and then to Izuru’s Arts and Minds Centre. We were joined by glass artist Irika Amano and a friend from last year (also an artist) Yuki Shinada. We had an interesting and engaging conversation that focussed on the social function of art, and it became apparent that this is something Izuru is passionate about, deeply committed to, and is able to express powerfully. That moved me…
At some point we broke for dinner, and afterwards Izuru dropped us off at the station in good time.
Fantastic day. It was a genuine pleasure to get to know Izuru better, and we are grateful that he was willing to share his time, his expertise, and his excellent English language skills with us. A lovely man. Domo arigato gozaimashita!
Well, I’ve been at this all day—it’s 8pm now—and the narrative is still some way from being “wrapped up”. The jet-lag kicked in about three hours ago, and this post is long enough already. So so so…
I mention this because we had been looking, of course, but I happened to end up at the Museum of Fine Arts simply because I was on way way to somewhere else. It’s in Tennoji Park which is right next door to my intended destination, Shin-Sekai.
There was an exhibition running in the basement, which seemed to be work derived from schools and/or colleges. I say “seemed” because I’m not sure: even though I have the guide here in my hands there’s nary a word of English (which is fair enough). But there seem to be a lot of education-oriented adverts on it, and the exhibition itself was packed with teenagers.
There was lots and lots of work—about six huge rooms worth—but even so you could see there were definite themes and recurring motifs which suggested curriculum-guided topics: dinosaurs, lanterns, technology, portraits. Lots of bright colours, mild psychedelia, strong anthropomorphism, hundreds of moody women doing magic or having magic swirling around them. A strong Manga influence. Pungently Japanese:
After that I strolled into Shin-Sekai: peak Osaka according to the guide book. A strange mixture of hyper-Japanese frontage for the tourists, but then immediately off the beaten track it all gets quite sad and run-down: the old market in particular is almost entirely shuttered up:
Onward, ever onward, towards Daikokuchō metro station. On the way: Imamiya Ebisu Shrine. Said to have been founded in 600AD it is host to a Shinto festival in January when (allegedly) around a million people visit. There was one other person there when I was, praying. I had a quiet word with myself before heading back to the hotel:
Thursday 1 August
On our train rides into town I’d seen a group of traditional-looking roofs amongst the contemporary sprawl. Again with the aid of Google Maps I identified where it is: off I go to Amagasaki. It turns out there are several temples spread across two compounds or enclaves: the most prominent appear to be Honkoji and Kanroji. I spend a couple of hours wandering around taking photos and paying my respects. There’s no-one else around at all even though there are cars parked within the compounds.
Walking back I catch a street festival similar to the one I videoed last year in Sapporo, but this one seems to feature mainly school kids on the shrines and they’re on wheels rather than being carried. I recorded some nice audio as well, with me standing in the entrance to a big garage, the drums and bells echoing round inside…
After lunch I head off to Amagasaki Castle: built in 1617, demolished in 1873, and rebuilt as a museum in 2018-19. It’s only just opened. Mainly I’m scouting shooting locations and I think I’ve found one up on the battlements…
In the morning I do some clothes shopping at UniQlo, a quick lunch, and then we’re off up to Kyoto again. This time we’re accompanied by Kaoru. We get off the train at Katsura and go to a tiny gallery/craft shop/cafe where two of Outotsu’s members, Yuko Tsuyoshi and Motoko Chicamatsu have an exhibition. They are both superb printmakers, but I particularly love Motoko’s work: I even included a couple of images of her pieces on last year’s post on the Outotsu show in Tokyo.
After this—and by now in a small group—we went to Art Spot Korin for a guided tour of the show by Heather and myself. Although principally interested in Hev’s work everyone dutifully and attentively sat through both my films.
Afterwards we had a meal and then made our way back to Nishinomiya, arriving back quite late.
In the morning I pop up to the post office to send a package back to my children. Much hilarity ensues, but at least I get some use from our Japanese phrase book. Then we’re off again to Kyoto. We go food shopping in Daimaru and then with our booty head to Art Spot Korin for the Mirror party. From about 4:30pm there’s a steady stream of people through the door, lots of our friends from last year turn up, and a great time is had by all.
Well, someone’s got to do it…
Filming in the Outotsu Gallery with Matthew. Two long interiew/conversation sessions and about three hours of material. I’m using two iPhones as cameras: they’re both recording audio but I also have discrete audio feeds from Lavalier mics onto my Tascam DR-44. Gruelling in the heat: we have to turn the air con off because of the noise from the fan.
As usual in the evening we go out to eat. Matthew joins us. Later I back up, organise, and archive the day’s haul.
Ditto. Another three hours of material. Did I mention that it was hot? Like, really hot?
Another trip to UniQlo in the morning: damn those dirty underpants! In the afternoon I filmed a long semi-structured interview with Ritsuwo Kanno and Kaoru Higashi. Another couple of hours of material in the can.
I then head back to Amagasaki and set up the shoot I’d scouted earlier. I set the camera recording and enjoy a very peaceful 90 minutes watching the sun go down and basking in the warmth. A very Zen-like moment of relaxation-with-focus, just revelling in the fact that I’m alive.
After dinner I go out with Heather to begin her new art project, which involves painting liquid rubber onto strips of fine cloth laid out on various surfaces:
Beginning on the top step of Atelier Outotsu, we get maybe 30 yards across the road in front of Kusugawa station when the armed police arrive. Nothing heavy-handed occurs and Heather is even allowed to take up what’s been done so far. However, we are told in no uncertain terms that we must desist immediately and that we must never do anything like this in Japan again.
After some much-needed help from an English-speaking local, an eternity of form-filling, and a constant radio to-and-fro with their HQ, we are allowed to leave. It’s obvious they thought we were hilarious. The most dangerous moment was me surreptitiously taking this photo:
Moving day. Our residential tenure at Atelier Outotsu is over and we move into a hotel in Umeda. Not without its challenges. As well as playing a convincing Laurel and Hardy, Heather and I also do a passable “good cop-bad cop” routine which we feel compelled to perform once we’ve seen our matchbox of a room.
One of the assistant managers steps in and smooths the water. A very nice man, with whom Raymond Chandler would have had a Moose Malloy-esque field day: black, clearly of African origin, about seven feet tall, and mellifluously fluent in both Japanese and English (the latter with a sweet Nigerian Kenyan lilt). He plays basket ball in his spare time. Hontō!
Yakitori for dinner.
Heather’s off to Outotsu. I go to Tempozan, wander round the port for a while, and then visit Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. It’s absolutely heaving but I manage to shoot some useful video. [One of the films I am exhibiting in the Mirror exhibition uses video I shot at the aquarium in Barcelona. Doing this one has given me an idea for another more expansive and sophisticated work which this Osaka footage may end up being a part of].
Afterwards I go wandering around the Tempozan area. I have a couple of close encounters with Cicadas, a quick but reverent look round the Chikko Koyasan Temple Shinto shrine, and am awe-struck by the expressways and bridges around Tempozan junction.
Before heading back to Umeda I walk around Yahataya Park. A group of young boys hector me with what was almost certainly racist goading. I laugh it off. In the distance I could see Namihaya Bridge soaring away to the South. Incredible:
[Those last two images not my own.] Ramen for our evening meal. Phew!
We’ve been here now for about two and a half weeks. We leave a week tomorrow. Heather has been blogging furiously so I guess we all know what she’s been up to, right? Printmaking at Atelier Outotsu mostly: even though we’re no longer resident there Heather will still be working in the studios until the last minute (I suspect). She’s also had a couple of days (including today) working with her Arts in Health contact Yutaka Moriguchi (a well-known artist in Japan). No days off for Heather!
Things have been a little more, uh, open-ended for me, but I’ve still managed to get a lot done. Here’s what I’ve been up to, part one:
Tuesday 23 July
Arrive Kansai Airport, Osaka. Go directly to Atelier Outotsu. Well, not directly: via Kobe actually!
Taken by Atelier Outotsu director Ritsuwo Kanno to their exhibition at Nishinomiya City Hometown Museum. See here. We get the full tour of the Atelier in the afternoon and in the evening we stroll up to Imadzu to eat and do some shopping.
We met our friend Matthew Fasone—a US artist currently resident in Japan—and went down to Suminoekoen to see his studio. Matthew and I have been planning a collaborative work since we met last year, and this is all part of the planning.
Back to Umeda for more detailed planning over drinks and sushi, and then back to Outotsu for a show-and-tell session with Kanno-san, Kaoru Higashi (the other director of Atelier Outotsu), and a handful of the atelier’s members. Good fun!
A typhoon is passing over Kyushu and the south-western peninsula of Honshu and so Saturday morning it is hammering down with rain. I go for a run down to what on Google Maps looks like a resort area on the coast—Koshien Hama Seaside Park—but it’s all quite desolate, surrounded by shipyards, working docks, and with an expressway more-or-less running over the beach. (Apparently the only “proper” beach around here is a 25-minute train ride away, past Kobe to Suma.)
The rain clears in the afternoon and we’re straight back up to to 35ºC. I go exploring/taking photos whilst Heather gets down to some serious print work.
I go into town and take the Metro down to Namba. From there I walk to Denden Town. Lots of anime, manga, and games shops/parlours/galleries. Funky.
Atelier Outotsu have a barbecue up on the roof that evening to celebrate the end of their big show at Nishinomiya City Hometown Museum and of course we’re invited. What a lovely bunch: all very talented, all very friendly. Fortunately enough party-goers with good English to compensate for our virtually non-existent Japanese.
To Kyoto. Meet Masa and Matthew at Art Spot Korin. Put show up.
Up to Kyoto again. Heather has a few tweaks to do to the show and later in the afternoon we’ve arranged to meet the owners of the gallery, Kanama Muratsu and his wife Yoriko. See here.
Baking hot as usual. Really humid. Time to climb a mountain. OK, only a very small mountain but I did reach the top of Kabutoyama Forest Park.
Hugely enjoyable. I tried filming some ants but that didn’t really work out too well—all video deleted since—but on the walk back I managed a quick freehand shot of a bird feeding its chicks (in a nest on someone’s front porch basically). TBC.
Here are my best shots of the Mirror exhibition now running at Art Spot Korin:
General view of the downstairs gallery:
Heather’s pieces, beginning on the left-hand wall and moving clockwise around the gallery:
Finally, the Art Spot Korin crew (from left to right): “Mati” (invigilator), Masahiro Kawanaka (curator), Kanama Muratsu (gallery owner), and Yoriko Muratsu (invigilator).
Tuesday afternoon we sat down with them all and had a lovely time talking about Lacan, Žižek, Zen Buddhism, and ’emptiness’. Very, very, nice people and as usual we are deeply grateful and moved by the generosity and support we are offered by our Japanese friends.
We had these the other day, sat down in front of the guy making them. Very entertaining. Even though the video title claims this is a seafood pancake the ones made here actually have belly pork in them (which is the “classic” okonomiyaki). I had shrimp, Hev had cheese (like a good Manchester lass). Delicious needless to say.
In theory, of course, all these things should be straightforward. In theory. In the upstairs gallery, all I had to do was set up a projector, hook it up to a media player via HDMI, plug in a USB memory stick, and route the audio output into a sound system. That took me about six hours.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Heather and Matthew were cracking on putting up the 50-odd individual items that made up her six pieces. Matthew has exhibited at ASK a couple of times before and his experienced eye really brought out the best in Hev’s work. A superb show. They finished before I did.
Thanks to Masa for doing the translating for the information boards and for running around to the shops (in the sweltering heat and suffocating humidity) at my behest and totally unnecessarily. Thanks finally to Carl ‘CJ’ Boland for his crucial last-minute technical support.
We arrived at Atelier Outotsu around 5pm Tuesday afternoon. As seems to becoming standard practice, after a good flight over HP and myself indulged in the usual in-Japan transport hi-jinks which delayed our arrival by a good hour. I cannot talk about it in public. Let’s just say that before we even arrived at our new home, we’d been on a lovely sightseeing jaunt to Kobe. Really, there are times when we would put Laurel and Hardy to shame…
Anyway. We were given a fabulous welcome by one of Outotsu’s directors, Kaoru Higashi. The Atelier is spread across the top two floors of a 1960s apartment block, and we have been allocated a small flat on the fifth floor. Cool! After a tour of the facilities I kind of collapsed and slept for a good 12 hours.
The next morning we were in action immediately. We were taken by Outotsu’s founder and director Ritsuwo Kanno to an exhibition they currently have running at Nishinomiya City Hometown Museum. Spread across two huge floors, the exhibition is a mixture of work we saw last year in Tokyo and a lot of new stuff. Needless to say the quality was sky-high, some of the work absolutely exquisite. It managed to be both a varied exhibition but also one that had a definite underlying (modernist) aesthetic that tied it all together. Very satisfying!
Before we went the opportunity of a photo shoot presented itself. Whilst not someone who normally revels in such things, this photo delights me simply because it is almost identical to a photograph taken on our last day in Tokyo in 2018. The only difference being Kaoru Higashi is absent, but instead it is Izumi Ueda Yuu (another superb print artist associated with the Atelier Outotsu (cue Google)) on Kanno-san’s right:
Satisfyingly, this photo glues this first day of our visit almost directly onto the last day of last year’s. Who would have thought!