Thursday, 29 November 2012

Moments in Mino...

I have spent a couple of hours (it takes me along time to write anything!) jotting down thoughts about cycling around Mino. It's proved to be really important to my stay here. Cycling has opened the extent of the whole experience both inside my head and in the landscape within which I've been moving. Please excuse my mixture of present and past tenses and please excuse anything else you find fault in...just try and imagine yourself in this magical place.

29th November
Cycling every day now. Visited temple and shrine with cat again; it's reliably luxuriating amongst the vivid foliage. See kingfishers most days. See so many herons too. Enjoying the movement through the landscape. The wind passing my ears, I remove my hat to ensure I feel movement through space. Sunshine provides warmth in morning. See the same people too. People exercising, walking quickly, dressed from top to toe in black. Wearing protection from the sun. I always see one man, shakily trembling in his strides, fighting the onset of a condition that may render him immobile one day - for now, he's fighting it, punching his way along the river path.

There is colour in the hills, fire from the trees. Colour encircles the temples and shrines, it seems to have a holy purpose here - people, generally wear somber colours, black, beige, cream, navy etc. They're unified by the universal desire to be amongst, be part of, and not, in front of or separate from. Colour appears to be an expensive spiritual currency and of course, controlled by man. I pass people trimming leeks, people with wheel barrows overflowing with greenery. I pass people in the river, tending nets, (they've removed the nets now though, as it's cold). I cross a bridge, many cars are passing over it, rush hour, it always take a long time to move over this point. Dogs, 'guarding' their houses, bark at me as I pass, revealing my presence. I pass Persimmons hanging from balconies, from the eaves of houses, drying in the sun. I've watched their forms shrink, shrivel and their hue darken over time. Raddish, huge, long, white and bright in the sun are also hanging, drying in lines. At one point I travel through an area of old and densely arranged housing. I love shooting on through the narrow corridor streets. Convex mirrors are conveniently positioned at various bends, so I can look ahead, look around a corner, without reducing my momentum. It's great fun and the closeness of the buildings' walls, only intensifies and enhances the feeling of speed and exhilaration.

Bonfires neatly burn, housed in galvanised bins, they smoulder, filling the river plain with sweet, milky smoke. Plastic poly-tunnels are slowly filling with forms. Plants are beginning to emerge through black, bin bag, plastic. Order in nature, often planted by octogenarians. The elderly appear to be the most active, however crippled by their bent over physicality, they insist on moving; they continue to tend their world. They can't allow nature to get a foothold on their plot. The milk processing plant, near the river; it has fibreglass cows residing in the car park. Cows are unseen, they are hidden in sheds to ensure their aroma doesn't escape. Chickens too, are disguised in barns, shame, they produce such beautiful eggs with yolks, the colour of glowing apricots.

The river continues to assists my movement. It pushes me down the valley. Even cycling against the flow seems easier somehow. I'm compelled to witness something new amongst the cradling routine I've found in Mino. I pause occasionally to view the deeper pools of heavy bellied water. Fish sway through the streaming flow, they're held in limbo, being pressed into weightlessness by the passing currents; must be nice to be a fish.

As I return towards the centre of Mino, I pass numerous examples of manufacture. There are beautiful satin sheen fabrics on display in the window of the Futon Maker. Every now and then, a pile of rainbow patterned pillow beds appear, presumably waiting collection. I have seen numerous tatami floor mat factories, (I say factories, I mean open fronted houses). The slightly damp, straw-like, aroma is comforting, it reminds me of sleep. Tatami are always warm, there's an inert softness I love, the smell is also reminiscent of playing in barns as a child, being near livestock. I pass one small building every morning; the shed window is usually open. I see a man routinely standing in the same position. I can't see his hands, but the sound I hear gives away the purpose of his stance. He's sharpening knives (and possibly brand new knives made in, nearby Seki City). All day, everyday, putting an edge onto the blades of knives. I can smell the grind stone, the fumes are ejected from the building via extraction, the visual evidence of this, streaks its way down the exterior wall. At least he keeps his window open.

The studio is located in the historical centre of Mino City. The 'Udatsu' houses are distinct. They are terraced, covered with shiny, graphite coloured, tiles; these beautifully reflect sunshine and are pleasing sight when wet too, (a commiseration when the heavy Gifu rains fall.) Geometric wooden window frames punctuate the linear frontages and copper guttering is suspended from beneath the eaves. They are neat and their stature is admirable. The area attracts tourists and school parties from near and far. I often have to avert my head, (when cycling along the main street,) to avoid the gaze of elementary school children.

That's as far as I've got for now, hope it enlightened you a little as to why I've found this whole experience moving and life changing. Thanks for reading.

Friday, 23 November 2012

It's Kaki Time!

I have posted an image on Twitter of these delightful fruit!  Kaki , (also known as Persimmons).  They're in high season at the moment.  Falling off the tress like apples in Herefordshire.  People peel them and hang them to dry on sunny balconies and under the verandas of sheds etc. I have had them, dried, raw, in a salad, frozen, on toast etc.  Apparently they sell them in Aldi and Asda, (other supermarkets are available of course).  Buy one and try one:-P


All going to plan...

Latest work.  Leading up to the final exhibition, I have been trying the pressed Mino Washi paper pieces I  made, in various situations and contexts.  The most obvious, I guess, is the image at the base of this post.  I placed the pieces within the confines of two tatami mats.  These lie at the centre of an eight tatami mat room at the Udatsu Studio. The boundaries of each mat have symbolic meaning for me, as do the subtle differences between each paper square.  
I am playing with titles and I imagine a huge vertical display of these at the show.  Approx 750 separate pieces will be used in the final piece, should look great with the lighting effect, shown below right.  I am being slightly cryptic about the whole affair, because I want the piece to be dramatic, cinematic and performative...all aspects that have occurred to me on this journey in Japan.

Influences for the piece are far ranging from floor/wall tiles to human and plant cell structures.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Remember Who and Where You Are!

This colourful, but rather innocuous, photo has an story behind it. Taking it, reminded me that i am a guest in Japan and I shouldn't forget that fact.  We were kindly driven to the Gifu Flea Market on Friday morning by Suda San who works at the Cultural Office. He was accompanied by Mrs Haba, the wife of Haba San, the paper lantern expert and maker. We were driven to a temple in the centre of the city, Temples are often the sites of Flea Markets; I have been to several over the years and they have always been held at holy sites.  There were already masses of people milling around the stores, mostly older people and plenty of people who looked to be bordering on being homeless were present.   

I took out my digital SLR camera, photographing random objects and textures, as I usually do; being careful not to photograph people who are too close, (as I feel, most of the time I should ask for permission first).  So I began photographing rolls of old kimono fabric.  Kimonos are often broken down and recycled in Japan; people use the scraps to make everything from new clothes, coasters and kids toys.  The images were vibrant and pleasing, particularly in the morning sunshine, (still hard to believe its November here when its nineteen degrees some days).  All of a sudden, I am startled by shouting.  Loud voices are generally heard in happiness, the sharing of a joke, or the enjoyment of food etc.  So it literally took my breath away when I realised the shouting was directed at me!  I was horrified, embarrassed and tried to muster up an apology somehow, (one of the only phrases I have learned during my time here).  The guy who had raised his voice toward me was now shouting at me to stop taking photographs, (I think).  He didn't desist.  I sloped off.  I felt so bad, gutted that I had offended someone, that I had broken the rules somehow.

This is the first time I have upset, or been upset by, anyone whilst living here.  I am pretty clued up on a lot of social protocols in Japan and I seemed to have avoided ruffling anyone's feathers, (to my knowledge anyway).  You see, the Japanese seem to expect us to F@£k up.  We are generally excluded from blame because how could we possibly know the rules, the 'right thing to do'.  However, this was a wake up call for me.  Even if the guy was 'Del Boy' market trader enjoying embarasing me in front of his peers, the incident reminded me that I am a visitor, bound to get something wrong even if I try really hard.  Up until this point, I have felt totally safe in Japan, totally free from harm.  Mino City, (but Japan in general in my experience) is very safe. People leave their cars and houses unlocked.  Children walk home by them selves, without their parents.  It seems ludicrous to have security staff at the Hyper Market or CCTV cameras in the bookshop; nobody is going to steal anything or do anything out of the ordinary.  

I am so obvious, wherever I go, I know, people are looking at me, maybe not directly into my eyes, (well actually kids sometimes do; they point. They call me "Gaijin").  As I pass adults, I can see them gawking, their reflection in a window or mirror.  I have caused people to drop things, nearly crash cars and stop in their tracks.   I have been passed by cars and motorcycles three or four times within minutes, people wanting a second, third or fourth look.

I craved my anonymity for the rest of that day in Gifu. I hankered to be invisible and not a virtual celebrity, being driven around in the back of a local government van  Japan will suit you if you're an extrovert, if you like being looked at all the time.  It'll make you feel special in a superficial way, you're seen wherever you go.  I thought I was extrovert before I left the UK, happy to sometimes be at the centre of things.  But if one day, you feel shy, feel as though you would like to be left alone, there aren't many places you can go to enjoy the feeling of solitude.  I do have places I can go to be myself; I hadn't realized just how important this aspect of my personality was.  I occasionally need space to function properly - to allow people back in, to 'restore' myself.  

Living in Japan for two months has taught me that I am a fee paying guest like every other westerner.  My fee has been my creative privacy and my personal anonymity.  Using the internet to publicize this trip is one thing, I  have a certain amount of control there.  But just by leaving the house in Japan, you are open to scrutiny, observation and judgement. I am learning to accept this because the cost is massively outweighed by the rewards.

Hard to Believe this is Paper

But it is. I am enjoying the process of working with the fibres that make up Washi. Even more than that, I am enjoying photographing the results on a small and close level. I'm not worrying about the end result, just the moments that are being made here and now....

Monday, 5 November 2012

Process Pictures

These images are of various points in my creative process. They document, just a few of, my experiments over the last seven weeks.  They show just how varied and exciting the whole material experience has been!!


Five weeks to go...

The time seems to be flying by now.  Only five weeks until we present our work at the Washi Museum.  I am still enjoying making, I have returned to using the circular motif I was using earlier in the year.  I was originally pressing toilet paper between copper plates, leaving the impression of a circle on each of the paper leaves.  I am now using the same plates, only this time, I am pressing Washi paper, (made by me at the Washi Museum Workshop).  It has wonderful properties, it's creasing in just the right way and insinuating new and interesting concepts. However, I do have to have to fix the paper with spray lacquer, this helps the paper to retain its shape, (one observer, an artist, who shall remain nameless, expressed the view that this was an unspeakable thing to do!);  I feel it perfectly reflects the combination of natural and artificial I am experiencing on this residency. 

Paper work from back in the UK
New press forms made with Mino Washi
We had an open day yesterday.  The workshop was open for the general public to visit us and see how our work is developing.  I relished the chance to talk about my work; its an interesting thing to do and you wonder if the translation is communicating my intentions accurately..who knows?  We had many visitors and I was asked some really good questions, some people seemed to really understand my intentions, once again proving to me, that the language of visual art really is universal. 

Paper forms lit from behind
I have often thought and discussed the fact that I am here because of my art, (I still have to pich myself daily). It's hopefully, going to be the way I earn my living in the future. It's just amazing to think that this adventure started with ten photographs and a two hundred word statement of intent.  I hope I get the chance to do more work like this, I have already started looking for residencies and work that is suitable for when I return.  I am also comfortable with idea of working by myself now, I actually enjoy working alone. When you work in a group situation like this, (or at least in a situation where you are 'on show'), one loses some creative privacy; I am looking forward to recovering this aspect of my process.