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 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 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 16

The last couple of days in Sapporo were actually pretty hectic. Then – BANG – we’ve packed up and left and I’m writing this from a hotel room in Osaka. A bit like someone suddenly changing channels on the TV when you’re half way through a good film… So just a very quick review for completeness: I already feel like I’m in another world.

Sunday morning I spent video editing and then gave a presentation 1pm – 2pm on my films. The reaction to them has been incredibly positive and I had been asked lots of questions about my working methods. It was also an opportunity for us to give something back to the Tenjinyama residents and staff, and so proved to be a satisfying social event. Heather went out and bought cakes and soft drinks so a jolly time was had by one and all: nice to see some kids there too.

Sunday afternoon we had been invited to dinner by textile artist Yumiko Inagaki. She showed us her work space and some of her beautiful and lovingly produced pieces: she dyes her own thread, designs the patterns, and weaves using all sorts of materials including metal. These pictures simply do not do her work justice: there is a profound simplicity and honesty expressed in every nuance of colour, texture, and form:

Monday Yumiko travelled to Tenjinyama to see our exhibition before it was taken down. She arrived at 9:30am and by 10:30 sadly was gone, at which point our other friend Rinako Otsuka arrived with her parents. They had the full tour and were great company.

Rinako, Heather, and I then headed into town for lunch and an appointment with Yuki Yamamoto at Naebono Art Studio. This is an art collective based in an old canning factory near the railroad tracks in central Sapporo. There are six artists based in the complex and they have their own gallery, this currently hosting an exhibition of Mexican artists entitled Mexicaido: the link to Japan and Sapporo being none other than our new friend and LA resident Kio Griffith:

Yuki generously gave over most of his afternoon to us and proved a highly genial and amusing host as well as a hugely talented artist (with pretty decent English). He has an exhibition in Hamburg coming up and was hard at work on a series of abstract works that he imbues with an almost 3-dimensional surface through the clever use of translucent acrylics and an industrial sander:

This is an incredibly abbreviated account of our last two days in Sapporo, but it’ll have to do. By the time we’d finished our tour at Naebono with Yuki, the weather had broken and it was absolutely hammering down. It had been hot and humid the whole time we’d been in Sapporo and the sudden change seemed to foreshadow our equally sudden departure…

Last night—it already seems a lifetime ago—we packed and said our farewells. A last few goodbyes early this morning and we were on the road by 7:30am.


What a great time we’ve had! The people we’ve met in Sapporo have without a single exception been delightful, and we are especially grateful to Yumiko and Rinako for their generosity, kindness, and thoughfulness. The staff and residents at Tenjinyama Art Studio have been just great: a massive “thank you” to one and all.

I suspect I’ll still be processing all this for many months to come.

Project Japan 14

Having the exhibition up and running has given us a bit of breathing space, although I’ve still got loads to do. I am still working on the video for the Kyoto show, but the off-the-cuff installation video for Heather’s Pocket Remains 1-79 also spiralled out of control somewhat (but in a good way) eating up yet more time.

Last night Mami Odai—the Director of Tenjinyama Art Studio—kindly ferried a few of us residents down to Benizakura Park for the opening ceremony of their ARTAnnual 2018 (which runs until September 15). This is a new event where works of art are located in the landscape of the park. There is a brand new building at the entrance, a strange mixture of East-West architectures. It has an auditorium area and a stunning chapel, designed for weddings rather than as an explicitly religious environment.

[Bizarrely, this building does not have any toilets. To relieve oneself you have to walk through the park, up a muddy path through the woods, and up to an older restaurant building. Did I mention it was dark and raining? Accessible they are not, and how the future brides are going to feel about schlepping through the woods in a white dress and high heels I leave to your imaginations. To be fair, once there, the facilities are superb despite the semi-wilderness location!]

I digress. The opening ceremony was kicked off with a long plenary session with the artists which, again, and entirely reasonably, was in Japanese throughout. At the suggestion of one of our co-residents we went for a walk through the park to look at the artworks before it got dark. Good call, Yuya!

Afterwards, drinks and nibbles with the luminaries: we made some useful contacts and had another chat with Kio Griffith. Some went on further to enjoy the Mongolian barbecue and free drinks, but at that point Mami kindly drove us all back to Sumikawa and home.

Project Japan 12

Following on from my last post, here’s the video:

Project Japan 11

Thursday 9 August. The show has got to be up and running by opening time tomorrow morning. The most time-consuming piece of work will be Heather’s ink drawings (part of her Pocket Remains series): 79 of them! They’ve all got to be mounted on foam board as well… The 1SSUE editions we’ve brought are easy to lay out and the other Pocket Remains displays should be pretty straightforward to set up. My video installation had more-or-less been assembled and tested—it just needed final positioning and tidying up (or so we thought).

We cleared out the gallery in the morning and had a fairly detailed and wholly productive tech meeting with Chiami and Hiroki from Tenjinyama: lighting configuration, power, exact sizes of this and that, what needs painting, shelving, interpretation boards, etc.

Once Heather and I actually got down to laying out the gallery the first thing to go was the plinth with the AV equipment on: this was swapped for a much smaller and neater wheeled trolley. This allowed us to reuse the plinth for another set of Pocket Remains and allowed us to hide the AV equipment behind the plinth. Nice. Only one problem: under conditions of extended play the videos don’t loop correctly and one of them that does play stutters badly.

After lunch we get down to the main task: mounting the ink drawings. We set up a booth outside and use spray mount to glue the drawings to the foam board. It starts raining and we have to abandon temporarily. By the time we’ve resumed and finished I’ve got a splitting headache from the glue despite doing it all outdoors.

By now it’s 5:00pm. Hiroki has painted the plinths and resets the lighting before he goes for the day. Heather and I start putting the drawings up using a laser cross-line levelling kit (courtesy of Tenjinyama) and a whole mess of Command Strips. It’s 8:30pm when we finish. We’re both knackered.

After dinner we sort out the rest. Relatively simple. I fix the video issue: once I convert them all to mp4s everything runs smoothly. By midnight we’re clearing all the day’s detritus out of the gallery and we sit back and look at our handiwork:


Modest and unassuming it may be, but nonetheless the gallery looks and sounds pretty cool (we think). However, there are a few minor things that need fixing:

  1. The way the lights form a heart shape over the ink drawings looks really cheesy. It’s a simple job to fix.
  2. As you can see in the top three photos, the wires from the AV equipment need tidying up and, of course, are a Health and Safety issue as is.
  3. There are no interpretation boards as yet: Chiami has done the English-Japanese translation but it all needs printing and mounting.

These will have to wait for the morning. A very long day, but a satisfying one. And my headache has gone…