Earlier this fall, I had the lovely opportunity to speak at a symposium hosted by U.S.-Japan Creative Forum in Tokyo, Japan about artists and creatives "crossing borders." Attended by over 100 people from a variety of fields, the panelists included artist, Kohei Nawa; creative director and founder of PARTY, Naoki Ito; +81 Gallery New York Director, Eri Takane; and myself.
Referring to geographical, cross-disciplinary and hybrid borders, I spoke about legal support structures that exist for artists and creatives as they work in a more global and virtually connected world. Providing an introduction to areas of the law including copyright and contract, I wanted to stress the importance of understanding, and better utilizing, the legal framework in which artists and creatives work.
Thanks to Eri for her strong vision and amazing ability to bring the symposium together, and Akihito Nakanishi from the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo for his moderating skills and magnanimous support.
Do you have any questions or comments about or on the intersection between law and the arts? Please feel free to write me at my website, or ask me on twitter using the hashtag #JpUsCreative!
For those of you who are interested in hearing the symposium in Japanese, the video footage and some photos are available below:
A summary of live tweets from the symposium can be found here:
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.
While in Bhutan, back in May of this year, I also had the wonderful chance to visit Voluntary Artists' Studio, Thimphu, known as VAST. In operation since 1998, it has been run by professional artists as a space for artists to share and create, as well as to provide opportunities for Bhutanese youth to develop their artistic talents. In promoting the importance and value of contemporary art production, VAST provides vocational and mentoring opportunities for artists and artisans to share their knowledge, talent and skills to a younger generation.
When I visited the space, artwork from younger students who were taking classes at VAST was being exhibited. Works from students of all ages--some as young as junior to middle school students, all the way to those with training outside of VAST--skill sets and mediums were exhibited in one democratic, supportive space.
VAST's artistic and spiritual figurehead, Kama Wangdi, is respectfully and lovingly referred to as Asha Kama. He kindly showed us around the space, explaining to us about his studies in art and his path to becoming a professional artist, and describing the artists behind the work that was being exhibited. His paintings--powerful and extremely well-executed work that layered on textures and symbols--were also exhibited alongside others' works. Asha Kama's works often feature Buddhist iconography using a combination of modern and traditional techniques; his thickly layered three-dimensional painting of a dragon in swirling clouds was captivating. While the experimental pastiche of modern and traditional sometimes produces mixed results, Asha Kama's work manages to achieve a fine balance, in a way that directly emulates the warm strength that Asha Kama himself exudes.
In addition to serving as an incubator for creativity, VAST is also strongly committed to evidencing the power of art to effect social change. For example, Asha Kama and his colleagues are currently working on developing a park by the river bank across from VAST's spaces. Their hope is to eventually create site-specific sculptures all along the river bank.
At VAST, artists are permitted studio space for their own artistic practice. We met Maiyesh Kr Tamang, a master potter who had built his own kiln at VAST. His beautifully executed bowls appeared to look strikingly similar in texture and style to the pots created by the potter who we had visited in Langthel Gewog. Serendipitous as it may be, it turns out that Maiyesh had taught the potter in Langthel Gewog his skills.
Keep up with VAST's activities here.
Thank you to Asha Kama and to Kesang Chuki Dorjee for so warmly inviting us to visit VAST.
Images courtesy of Ibba Rasul Bernardo, Tania Hyde, Dhruv Kazi, Helen Zhai, and Tania Hyde.
Kara Walker is not a subtle artist. Perhaps best known for her cut-paper silhouettes, she often uses violent images that brazenly call forth issues of race, gender and sexuality to the fore.
Creative Time has commissioned Walker to create Subtlety: Or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. While intricate sugar confections used as centerpieces for feasts are apparently called subtleties, Walker's work is anything but.
Walker has created a magnificent sphinx-like sculpture that is more than 35 feet high and 75 feet long, and installed it in the derelict remains of the old Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg. After years of community protest, the site has been recently approved by the City Council for developer, Two Trees, to demolish the factory and build a high-rise residential development. Using this site for her temporary installation at this juncture in its history, Walker and her team used white sugar, donated by Domino, to cover the sphinx which is sculpted with styrofoam blocks. She also created smaller boy figures made of molasses--and currently in various stages of melting--and installed them surrounding their snow-white mother figure.
The factory site reeks of its history, a raw syrupy smell of hardened molasses. Entering the vacant cavernous space, Walker's sphinx lounges at the far end, bathed in the sunlight and surrounded by her dissolving attendants. Her majestic presence evokes issues of the past and the present: the plantation economy of the antebellum south; relations between masters and slaves (particularly those between male plantation owners and female slaves); Brooklyn in the late 1880s when the Domino plant was said to have been the largest sugar refinery in the world; and gentrified "Wiliamsburg" (complete with scare quotes). In Walker's first three-dimensional artwork, she manages to hit the sweet spot (pun somewhat intended) to achieve powerfully evocative imagery through contemplative serenity.
ART21 documents the installation in-process here:
Walker's work is on view at the Domino Sugar Refinery until July 6, 2014. Catch it before her work and the refinery are removed.