Art

Adventure 18 Day Five | Naoshima Now

Thursday

I woke up really early (apologies once again, hostel buddies) and caught the 7:37 train from Hiroshima, using my trusty Seishun 18 Kippu. I stopped at Hiro station and left my luggage there, running to catch the next local train to the ferry port.

Naoshima is an island so sleepily inaka you would never guess it plays host to such big name works and museums. The streets of the town around the edge of the island are quiet except for visitors and volunteer guides. The streets that cut across the island are empty and lined by trees and rice paddies.  I rented a bike for 500 yen to make my way across the island. It was a wonderful day biking through the streets and seeing the water – both exhilarating and calming.

My favourite place I visited was Minamidera, part of the Art House Project. People are allowed to enter in fifteen minutes intervals and I waited in line watching the group ahead of me leave the building looking dazed. When it was our group’s turn to enter the guide gave us some brief instructions, telling us that it is dark inside and we wouldn’t be able to see anything. We followed her voice, our hands running against the wall to our left. After entering the building we took a few turns until eventually we were in complete blackness. Eventually we were instructed to sit down on a bench and slide until we reached a wall.  The group had been giggly and talkative before at first but everyone fell silent as our eyes struggled to see. I’ve never experienced so much darkness, being able to see absolutely nothing. After about five minutes of searching my eyes started to pick up some light at the end of the room. My brain strained to process the shape and make it clear. Slowly my eyes adjusted to the light and I could see the vague presence of my hands. Not what they looked like, but that they were slightly different looking than the area around them. After a few minutes the guide asked us if we could see a light and everyone said YES practically yelling. Ok, you can stand up she said, and we all stood up excitedly and shuffled towards the light. I still couldn’t see well but I could see the forms of people around me, feel their movement and hear them talking excitedly to each other. It was a really unique sensory experience and unlike anything I’ve done before. After a few minutes I made my way out of the building, blinking in a daze just like the people before me.

I finished the day off at I ♥ Yu (you can see pictures here!) which combines three of my favourite things – puns, onsen, and art. The pun is that in Japanese, yu means hot water – a joke I wish I had coined. After biking and walking all day it felt wonderful to shower and sit in the hot water of the onsen. Bonus was the giant elephant statue above my head. I called it a day in the late afternoon, catching a ferry around 5:00 and making the trek from Tadanoumi to Hiro station, and eventually all the way to Himeji at 10:00.

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Golden Tokyo

Last weekend was Golden Week in Japan, aptly named for the string of public holidays that make it the busiest time of the year to travel. Travel and lodging are booked months in advance as people take advantage of this time off. I went to Tokyo for the four day weekend, and despite preparing well ahead we weren’t able to get reserved train tickets for the journey there. That meant standing in the centre aisle practicing my snowboarding stance and thinking enviously of those sitting around me. Lucky for us though, the train ride is actually pretty fast and we got to Tokyo in about four hours.

The weekend itself was a lot of fun, and maybe the most random assortment of activities I’ve experienced in a weekend. Saturday we traveled, checked out some shopping, and explored Shinjuku area. We ate dinner at a pretty great Thai place that made me realize how much I miss Thai/Vietnamese/Cambodian food that used to be a staple in my week.

Sunday we strolled around Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, which was free since it was “Greenery Day” holiday, and went to “Happy Cakes”, which is a make-your-own pancakes restaurant. You pick your batter and toppings and cook everything at your own personal grill, exactly like okonomiyaki.

Then Harajuku for some fun which was insanely crowded. Around two in the afternoon we made our way over to Tokyo Dome, for the main event of the weekend, the YG Family concert. YG Family is an entertainment company from South Korea that parents many pop music groups, most famously PSY (though he was not at the concert). Without being too dramatic, I have to say this was one of the best experiences of my life, but I’ll save that for later.

Monday was very rainy, so we went to Ueno park to the Metropolitan Art Gallery. This was a great decision and we spent about 4 hours there. We happened to be there during the Shinkseiki Art Exhibition, which has since left the museum. It was cool to see contemporary art from so many Japanese artists.  In the park we also ran into an awesome guy who was celebrating his 20th birthday (legally adulthood in Japan) who was asking for strangers to write messages all over his white clothing.

 

Making my lucky “Sarubobo” doll in Takayama

Last Friday was my school trip to Takayama, about a two hour drive from Toyama city. I’ve heard it called the “Little Kyoto”, because of its old streets and buildings. Our time there was pretty quick so I hope to go back soon. While I was there, a teacher and I decided to make our own Sarubobo dolls! These little dolls are good luck, originally meant for women and are named “Sarubobo” after baby monkeys. Now, they have several colours to pick from, and choice for the clothing fabric that you can decorate yourself. I wrote the word “strong” on mine. The dolls are meant to bring you things like good health, friendship, love, and success, and to me being strong is the overarching component to feeling you have these things.

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Some cute Sarubobo doll souvenirs


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All the materials- you can choose the colour of your doll’s clothing.


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My colour choice, practicing the positioning of the cloth square.


Practice kanji and flowers with different coloured markers.


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Our two dolls together.


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The finished product! My little sarubobo doll in all its lucky glory.


 

Andreas Gursky Exhibition in Osaka

The first day in Osaka I went to the National Museum of Art, Osaka to catch an Andreas Gursky exhibition, a German photographer known for his hyper-realistic photographs. His work is usually large scale, capturing large areas and scenes with minute detail. It was a rare opportunity to see such a huge amount (51 photographs from 1980 to 2012!) of one artist’s career, and particuarily exciting since Gursky himself was part of the selection process.

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National Museum of Art, Osaka

The exhibition pamphlet

The exhibition pamphlet

Throughout the exhibition, there are a few ideas from Gursky’s work that seem to stick out: consumerism, crowded and empty spaces, reality; and visual characteristics like saturated colours, minute details, as well as unique composition.

Gurksy focuses a lot on “modern” life, creating images of large housing complexes, office buildings, and many images of various stock exchanges around the world. One of his earlier images Tokyo, Stock Exchange, 1990, captures a frenzied environment. I liked looking at all the different people in the scene- some moving so fast they are complete blurs of white, others still and quiet. It’s a photograph that makes you think about photography as a mechanism- and how this environment is transformed into a still image.

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Tokyo, Stock Exchange, 1990

With the development of digital processing, Gursky began creating images that used a wider field of view and with minute detail. Hong Kong, Shanghai Bank, 1994 shows an office building from a high angle, giving a glimpse into the actions of those inside while still keeping them separated.

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Hong Kong, Shanghai Bank, 1994

What I find interesting about Gurksy’s work is the composition of his images. It seems he uses photography to create images- not photography to capture an image that exists. In this sense he acknowledges that there really is no reality in the visual world- only what we see and perceive.

In Frankfurt, 2007, the scene is one that we can accept as real- technically everything looks correct, yet the glossiness of the surfaces and the stillness of the environment makes this look entirely false. It’s almost too perfect.

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Frankfurt, 2007

One of my most fascinating photographs was the photograph taken of Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm, 1950. This was a) the only image of another artist’s work and b) the only image of grainy quality- practically pixelated. My mind just churned trying to process the image of a painting I have seen in person in a grainy photograph surrounded by the hyper-realistic images.

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Untitled VI, 1997

Then, some of his works are truly visually stunning leaving me in awe, like this image of a massive water tank in Gifu Prefecture.

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Kamiokande, 2007

When I was leaving there were books on sale with images of every photograph featured in the exhibition. Flipping through, I noticed that while the photographs were beautiful on paper, there was something very important about seeing them in person. Their full size lets you see tiny details, and their large size swallows you up letting you get lost on the photograph.

The exhibition ends on May 11. National Museum of Art, Osaka: website

Hokusai at the Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Art

I had the pleasure of seeing the Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Art’s touring show of Hokusai prints in Nagoya. The exhibition features many early works as well as his most well-recognized The Great Wave off Kanagawa, 1832, and Red Fuji, 1832.

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It was really interested in the use of dimensions in the prints. Art History education (at least in my experience in Canada) tends to emphasize (and praise) the use of light and dark, like the flickering light of French Impressionist paintings or the deep contrasts of Italian Renaissance chiaroscuro. It’s a shame that this emphasis results in overlooking a lot of really important art, like Hokusai’s, as my classes barely touched on anything outside of Europe. Print makers like Hokusai use light and dark in an entirely different way: creating shapes, areas, and outlines of different shades. I was really intrigued by his portrayal of clouds: flat white space with almost rigid black outlines. Not necessarily the image that comes to mind when thinking of fluffy clouds. Yet these images don’t leave any confusion as to what they are and, to me at least, offer a strong sense of cloudiness.

The museum itself as a partnership between Nagoya and the Boston Museum of Art- which sends pieces from its collection for two exhibitions a year. This was actually the first time I’ve been to a museum of this nature, where a permanent collection was not he focus of the museum, but rather dedicated to traveling exhibitions. It seems like a great way to give people the opportunity to see art they might not otherwise have. Although, I can’t imagine the stress these curators experience transporting so many works halfway across the world.

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Some recreations of "Great Wave".

Some recreations of “Great Wave”.

The exhibition will continue to travel to Kobe, Kitakyushu, and Tokyo. The official website can be found here.