The Japanese noun for "human" is written with two Chinese characters -- the first represents "people" and the second represents "space" ( 人間). Lee Mingwei's work emblematizes this concept that the space between us helps to define our relationships with others, and in turn defines ourselves. Mori Art Museum's Lee Mingwei and His Relations; The Art of Participation--Seeing, Conversing, Gift-Giving, Writing, Dining and Getting Connected to the World is a show that re-enacts many of the artist's works from the past 20 years. Creating open-ended participatory installations, Lee Mingwei invites museum visitors to explore day-to-day interactions and dwell on how quietly magical the mundane can be.
Take, for example, the artist's The Moving Garden, first conceptualized in 2009. In Mori Art Museum's iteration, a rectangular granite structure installed in the middle of the gallery space contains colorful blooming gerbera daisies. Visitors are asked to participate in the work by taking a flower with them on two conditions: (i) to take a different route when leaving the museum than the one used to arrive; and (ii) in that detour, to give the flower as a gift to a stranger. With these directives, Lee Mingwei not only permits visitors to interact with the work, but also sets the scene to create tangible relational effects outside of the museum walls. The artist has facilitated an unexpected exchange that creates kindness and a connection between strangers.
As I walked about the structure, I noticed other visitors hovering around, enjoying both the unexpected surprise of seeing beautiful fresh flowers installed in the museum, and tentatively deciding whether to participate in the work. A pair carefully selected some gerbera stems, carefully inserting the flowers into plastic sleeves complete with hydrating gel and the name of the exhibition printed on them available for taking the flowers away. I myself decided to choose an orange gerbera with a long stalk, later finding out that orange gerberas stand for patience and an adventurous spirit. (I did give the flower away to a then-stranger and now-acquaintance who I met at an appointment after my museum visit!)
Another piece that stuck with me is The Living Room, first created as a commission for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 2000. In the original iteration, the artist created a living room in the museum, allowing staff and others to serve as hosts who engaged in "show and tell" dialogues using objects of personal importance. As originally undertaken, Lee Mingwei created an environment where visitors could reflect on personal collecting and the significance of sharing objects with others -- some of Gardner's very motives for building her own museum. At the Mori Art Museum's iteration, hosts shared memories of the history of the Roppongi neighborhood in which Mori Art Museum exists. When I dropped by the space, Yumi spoke about her mother's connection to the Roppongi neighborhood; as a young woman, Yumi's mother worked for Nikka Whiskey, one of Japan's first whiskey distilleries, that had a business office in the area (and also happens to be the basis for an upcoming morning serial drama series). While the conversation first began as Yumi's storytelling, the dialogue began to flow as more people convened on the sofas within the space.
A section of the exhibition dedicated to works from Hakuin, D. T. Suzuki, John Cage and others served as an interesting interlude to Lee Mingwei's participatory works. Following a more traditional format, this section of the exhibition posited Lee Mingwei's practice with relational art and happenings, and across history and different cultures. Seeing the powerful calligraphy and ink brush paintings of 17th century Zen Buddhist painter, Hakuin, and hearing the recorded voice of 19th century theorist, D. T. Suzuki (who was seminal in spreading Zen tenets in the West), I was reminded that one aspect of Zen philosophy is "mindfulness" or the acceptance of one's being in the present moment. Lee Mingwei's work most certainly helps make visible invisible relationships and connections, and in doing so, aids the visitor in achieving self-awareness within one's environs. And perhaps that is what it means to be human.
Lee Mingwei and His Relations is at the Mori Art Museum until January 4, 2015.
With gratitude to Ms. Mami Hirose, Senior Consultant at the Mori Art Museum, for graciously allowing me to see the show and for sharing her perspectives.
These photographs are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
The Japanese art of indigo dyeing, or aizome, experienced a boom in the Edo period. Using leaves from the indigo plant, the process dyes natural linens and cottons in a spectrum of blue shades. Japanese people are nothing if not keenly detailed; apparently, 48 shades of natural indigo have been identified, from the palest of icy blue (ai-jiro, or white indigo) and bluish green (sabi-asagi or rusted turquoise), to aubergine purple (appropriately named nasu-kon or eggplant navy) and grayish blue (kachi-iro, kachi being a homonym for "victory" and consequently used by Kamukura period samurai warriors for their gear). At the beginning of the 19th century, Japan annually produced close to 9,000 tonnes of sukumo, the organically composted indigo that serves as the basis for the dye.
The preparation of organic indigo dye is a labor of love that takes close to a year. During the winter months, farmers must cultivate the indigo leaf fields. Starting in March every year, the farmers sow the seedlings, first into pots. Come May, the seedlings are planted in the fields and tended to throughout the summer months. A crop of indigo leaves can usually be reaped twice in the months of July through September and then dried. In the autumn months, the dried leaves are composted. In winter, the fermented mixture is stirred once a week for four straight months. Finally, in around February, the sukumo is ready. Limestone (alkaline substance), wheat husk (a fermentation aid) and wood ash lye--all natural ingredients--are combined with the sukumo and fermented for approximately 10 days, and, only after that is the dye finally ready to be used.
Given the painstaking and lengthy process involved, fewer and fewer Japanese farmers grow indigo. However, Tokushima prefecture is still widely known in Japan for its aizome. BUAISOU. is the artisanal duo of Kenta Watanabe and Kakuo Kaji who have decided to place their roots in Tokushima in order to carry on the aizome tradition and create products for contemporary times. Focusing on each and every step of process, they are involved in harvesting the indigo leaves and creating the sukumo, all the way through to product design and production. (BUAISOU. is the name of the house that 20th century Japanese businessman, Jiro Shirasu, lived in, and legend has it that Shirasu was the first Japanese person ever to wear jeans.) BUAISOU. currently produces limited editions of bandannas, totes, and other accessories.
All this talk of small batch, artisanal, organic products is bound to get any Brooklynite's heart a-flutter. Lucky for us, BUAISOU. has started to run private aizome workshops in Bushwick! At BUAISOU. Brooklyn Lab, I had the chance to experience the first batch of sukumo brought to NYC. Dipping my white linen shirt into the vat of aizome (which had liquid at the top and the fermented compost at the bottom), I was instructed to swirl the shirt around in the liquid portion of the vat. Then, as the shirt was brought out and pulled taut, the indigo was exposed to air, and the oxidization set the color. Repeating the process about three times and letting the color sink in overnight resulted in a gorgeous denim-like color.
The second batch of sukumo will soon be ready and available at BUAISOU. Brooklyn Lab. For those interested in attending a private workshop or potentially collaborating with BUAISOU., please contact here.
Also, come check out an installation of BUAISOU.'s art objects in Bassanova Ramen.
From July 13, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Bassanova Ramen 76 Mott St (between Canal & Bayard Sts)
Opening Reception: July 13, 3-6pm
If you've already experienced BUAISOU. Brooklyn Lab, please come wearing your dyed creations!
Photos courtesy of Sayaka Toyama.
Sebastian Masuda is a tastemaker and leader of Harajuku culture. Originating from its namesake neighborhood in Tokyo, Harajuku culture cannot be easily defined, as it is a conglomeration of youth cultures that each expresses their ideas, in-group attitude, and what members of the group consider to be important by their mode of dress, and that co-exist within the Harajuku ecosystem. These groups at various points in time included: the Take-no-ko-zoku (late 1970s/early 1980s) where youth were seen dancing to disco sounds emanating from their boom boxes; Gothic Lolita (1990s~), where girls dressed in frilly silk and lacy fashions reminiscent of European rococo attire with a hint of Addams-Family-goth; and Cyber (late 1990s), where ravers dressed in futuristic science-fiction styles. The sensational kawaii subculture (kawaii is the Japanese word for "cute") and its various incarnations is perhaps now most recognized as representing Harajuku culture throughout the world. Known for its explosive bursts of color, and its appropriation and interpretation of a first world conspicuous consumption attitude, it has become mainstream to the point of being adapted (not without its own sets of essentializing problems, of course) by the likes of Gwen Stefani in Harajuku Girls and Nicki Minaj with her idea of Harajuku Barbie.
Masuda has seen almost all that is Harajuku, and most certainly lives to tell. Having worked in avant-garde theater and art, he has been based in Harajuku since the 1990s, first opening his wildly popular 6%DOKIDOKI store in 1995. Since then, he has continued to serve as an original ambassador for Harajuku culture (for example, acting as concept and artistic director to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu), and has now finally made his debut in New York with his first solo art installation, presenting his own interpretation of the Seven Deadly Sins.
In Colorful Rebellion~Seventh Nightmare (2014), Masuda's installation takes up almost the entirety of the project space. Upon entering the room, the visitor notices a vintage bed. Surrounding the bed are the various zones of sin: desire; the future; delusion; fate; wound; and reality. Each zone features wall panels of protruding objects of visual material culture layered, glued, taken apart, and re-mixed. While this might appear to be visually chaotic, the experience of the work is strangely calming, as the viewer feels cocooned by the tonal layers of color and texture. The work is apparently a self-portrait of sorts, as Masuda has interpreted six mortal sins he has committed or experienced. Masuda also mentions that the work is meant to be experienced by one person at a time, lying down on the bed and letting the visual explosion of color flood the viewer's senses. In this way, the seventh sin is left for to the viewer to interpret, requiring the viewer to complete the experience of the work.
Art is created with imagination and skill and...expresses important ideas or feelings. Here, Masuda has attempted to make evident the process by which people are "attracted to, and become dependent on, kawaii things." However, through the title of the installation, Colorful Rebellion, Masuda also appears to hint at the revolutionary possibility of positive action through this very process of developing dependence. In this way, Masuda--using an aesthetic that is reminiscent of Mike Kelley's stuffed animal installations and Yayoi Kusama's colorful infinity patterns--represents a uniquely Japanese vision of culture-as-revolution. But in doing so, he provides his viewers with the courage to celebrate and interpret culture as a fantastical, but very real, form of free expression…which is universally applicable and extremely powerful.
Does this all sound too theoretical for you? If so, I would encourage you to read this Tumblr post (with 2,405 comments and counting) from someone reacting to Masuda's installation.
Sebastian Masuda's Colorful Rebellion~Seventh Nightmare is at Kianga Ellis Projects until March 29, 2014. The installation will be activated at specific times with performances during Armory Arts Week--details are available here.
© Sebastian Masuda. Images courtesy of Kianga Ellis Projects; photography by GION.
James Turrell: A Retrospective at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is an expansive show featuring works by James Turrell from over five decades. Using a variety of techniques, Turrell has attempted to elucidate the "seeing that occurs within"; in creating an environment where reality collaborates with the visitor's subjective perception, what Turrell refers to as the "thing-ness of light…itself becomes a revelation." LACMA's show spans light projections (such as Cross Corner Projections where Turrell projects light onto corners creating the semblance of objects, Space Division Constructions where light creates a sense of surface across an actual opening, and Wedgeworks that use architecture to frame light), prints, drawings and models of his Roden Crater project, holograms, as well as immersive environments. I had the wonderful opportunity to experience three immersive environments (Light Reignfall, Dark Matters and Breathing Light)--each contemplative, revelatory and mind-blowing in their own ways.
Light Reignfall (2011) is essentially akin to an Aten Reign (2013) on fast forward for one. Not for claustrophobes, the work is from the Perceptual Cell series, which are enclosed structures that provide single-viewer experiences. From the outside, the structure looks like a globular MRI apparatus. A white lab-coated attendant asked me to choose between a "hard" or "soft" program (I chose the former), and handed me a very detailed (but extremely comprehensive and well-written!) waiver to sign. Having taken my shoes and spectacles off, and given a "panic" button lanyard and headphones, I was slid into the chamber. In the next 12 minutes, a light program enfolded before my eyes, while a constant noise emanated through the headphones. I initially panicked, as I perceived the intensely hued blankets of light layer onto my eyes like multi-colored blindfolds. Eventually, however, I settled into letting the pulsating light wash over me. While I kept my eyes open at all times, the experience of seeing in the Perceptual Cell was similar to the experience of closing one's eyes really tightly and seeing colorful bursts--a phenomenon that is apparently known as phosphenes. Strangely enough, the experience felt extremely short, and of course, singular and unique.
After coming out of Light Reignfall, I experienced an entirely different kind of perception experiment through Dark Matters (2011). This work is from Turrell's Dark Space series (which Turrell describes as facilitating the difficulty of
"[differentiating] between seeing from the inside and seeing from the outside"). Directed by a wonderful guide with a calming voice, I was led through a snaky unlit corridor into a pitch black room and asked to sit down. After what seemed like a few minutes of staring into complete nothingness, my eyes adjusted to focus on a faint glow far off in the distance. Contemplative yet still unnerving, the experience allowed me to focus on how my eyes adjust to the environment around me.
The last work I experienced was Breathing Light (2013), an entire room. In fact, you need to line up in an external corridor, then wait in a corral area, and then ritualistically enter the temple to light that is the work. It's a Ganzfeld--the German term for "entire field"--where being inside the space deprives you of all clues as to any sense of direction or depth. In comparison to the other two immersive works, Breathing Light was extremely calming and peaceful. Having experienced an afternoon of Turrell, I was reminded that Alain de Botton commented in Art as Therapy that Turrell is a "choreographer of experience [we] might have" and not a recorder of an experiences he once had. And master choreographer he most certainly is.
I was reminded that one of Turrell's Skyscapes is installed very close to home. Open during certain afternoons, it's Meeting (1978), created in MoMA PS1 since 1986. A parting image from my experience of the work in 2012:
James Turrell: A Retrospective is on view at LACMA until April 6, 2014.
All images (except Meeting) by Florian Holzherr, courtesy of LACMA
All works © James Turrell
I recently had the opportunity to visit Rob Pruitt. He's most recently known for his all-over paintings of cuddly pandas, but he's so much more than that.
Pruitt told me that he was schooled in a nurturing environment which engendered empathy for others, where the kids at school wore T-shirts emblazoned with the acronym, IALAC, standing for "I am Lovable and Capable." He decided to use the panda as his subject--lovable indeed. Adorable and "equally black and white", the panda perhaps became a stand-in for the soft-spoken, yet perceptive and witty Pruitt himself. Pruitt started creating colorful glittery paintings using found images of the cute bear. Pointing to the in-process works on the studio walls, Pruitt explained that each smaller picture in the composition of panda images has a meaning to him, as it triggers various memories of when the image originally entered his panda-lexicon.
In his productive career, Pruitt has already experienced some ups and downs (currently again on the up and up!) But, he doesn't necessarily care to know how his artworks fare in the secondary art market. Pointing at a smaller picture of pandas knawing on bamboo stalks before a background of stylized bamboos within a larger composition, he noted that a larger work featuring the very same image was being auctioned off at Phillips that very night we were chatting. (For the auction result, click here…but only if you're interested!)
Interestingly enough, Pruitt does enjoy flea markets. The mounting of flea markets in rarefied art locations, including galleries and art fairs, has been a relatively constant method of experimentation for Pruitt. Pruitt mentioned that he enjoys providing a space that allows makers and buyers to connect and communicate. Just in time for the holidays, Pruitt has been bringing this concept to the on-line space through his rpsfleamarket eBay page, where he has been selling items from his collection of amassed objects (together with a very kitschy, but super fabulous photograph of the object signed by Pruitt himself).
Pruitt thinks that some of the people who follow his eBay presence are 'definitely art people', as panda-themed items typically get sold for higher prices. Objects that look like or feature images of pandas from Pruitt's collection enter this secondary market with a penumbra of having passed through Pruitt's hands, giving the object an afterglow of significance relative to other panda objects. For example, compare the stuffed pandas at left, and the stuffed panda at right, both similar in shape and size. (The one on the right--from Pruitt's page--sold for $405.) Even through the Internet, you can experience feeling connected to Pruitt, perhaps even inheriting a piece of Pruitt-history--and such an experience clearly has a market value.
What I find to be one of the most incredible aspects of Pruitt's artwork is that while it spans extremes and manages to capture zeitgeist, it is not ironic in anyway. Irony requires a cool, distanced step away from the subject of its gaze. However, Pruitt is committed to his practice and to his subject matter, and in that way, both he and the work are extremely genuine. Pruitt's ideas (and there are many) are so good that the work can be deceptively simple, glittery and fun, and yet still meaningful. Perhaps that is what continues to make his work sincere.
Thanks to Rob Pruitt for his time and generosity, and to Sayaka Toyama for some of the photos.