Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Headspace Residency: Nara Mountains, Japan

I came to Japan around 10 years ago, straight after having gone straight through 20 years of education: GCSE's then A'Levels, then foundation, BA, MA and PGCE. I decided to take a year off and see a bit of the world. It is only the last couple of years that I realised that what I was imagining Japan to be at the time (and which I only got fleeting glimpses of through train windows on the way to the airport,) was rural Japan - and so where I ended up (Tokyo) had not satisfied what I had wanted to explore.
When Ellie Doney, from Manifold (the artist group that AirSpace collaborated with for the BCB last year) sent through a call from Headspace in Nara, I immediately got in touch. The idea of a rural residency/retreat really appealed to me, and so I was delighted to be accepted. Months later, and I am suddenly here.
I had the idea of presenting Stoke-on-Trent as an exotic city to artists here, and doing a workshop where we would look at areas of the city and rebuild them according to Japanese design principles, and with an eye on creative purpose.
Jamie explained to me later that this really is a rural retreat, and that there are not many people here, let alone artists: mainly elderly farmers, and so my idea would not work. In fact, that I should come, soak up the place, and see what happens. So I intend to do that, but still come equipped with a plan to make a 'How To Retreat' Kit, for other artists that come to Kayamori House for the residency after me.
So now, I arrived yesterday - Jamie from Headspace met me at the train station, unfortunately I was late: as I found it difficult to understand how to buy the right ticket for the train! On arrival Jamie took me up to 'the viewing point' to get a sense of where we are.
We are 500m above sea level, and so though it is still very hot, it is cooler than the city. The viewing spot is close to a small shrine with a lake (see top image), full of big koi and turtles.
Then we went to Kayamori House and I had a look around. Wow.
I am not sure at this stage how much to say about all that I am seeing and doing, as this could turn into a travel-log. But perhaps I can summarise in words and pictures.
Explored the house and garden (above - my studio space for the next two weeks), met the cats, saw a lot of bugs, looked at mint drying on a rack in the sun, ate some amazing home-grown/home-cooked food made by Aiko,
met Okata-San a local rice farmer, who brought rice bran around and demonstrated how to use it to preserve vegetables, tried 20 year old snake sake made by Okata-San (he caught the snake and made the sake), went to a rice field to look at fireflies, had my palm read by Aiko, collected Cicada casings with Jamie at breakfast, 
saw more bugs, and now thinking about what I am going to do for the next 14 days. Below is an image of the veg bowl here at Kayamori, most is grown here, but some is from neighbours: Aiko got up early this morning to go to meet a local farmer who emailed yesterday to say he would be farming on his land until 7.30 this morning, and to come and pick up some corn on the cob, and also Aiko and Jamie go and help out Okato-San during the rice harvest, and he gives them rice all year round.Sharing. 
Plans formulated before I arrived, in Osaka, and since arriving at Kayamori include:
photographing the bugs to make a mushi print (mushi is bug in Japanese), creating the 'how to retreat' kit, a series of postcards with retreat based wisdom on them, collect sounds (Jamie tells me at the moment the sound of cicadas is just the baby ones - a bit like crickets) but that over the next two weeks the sound will get louder and become the whirring, so it will be interesting to try to record that. I wish I had a better sound recorder - I am just using my phone; also I will select and pick and press a flower each day.
Today's flower is from the sour gourd: which is growing just outside the door. Jamie tells me it is like a lumpy skinned cucumber, and has to be cooked correctly or tastes disgusting. And I hope to explore the idea of a text piece, walking around the imagined city, perhaps it is a mountain city? I want to include an exploration of Boro (which is the repatched and mended rural clothing - so patched that the original garment is almost gone) and I would also like to consider the art of kintsugi: which was from ceramics = where broken pots are mended in gold, and then become more valuable. 
Also, ideas for when I get back: turn the photos and sounds into an animation, and make a full-size wooden doll version of myself - the kind where you pull the strings and the legs and arms kick up - I saw one of these dolls at the Museum of Housing and Living, and it made me want to make one, and the idea of Brownfield site ikebana.
So what do I do first?

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