Monday, April 25, 2011

trademarks and grey clouds

I have been spending the evenings half watching television and looking through museum digital databases for Fuji-san images. This is a 1949 calender published by Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Company and is in the British Museum. The upward-looking composition with a solitary grey cloud in a large field of pink sky creates a striking image. This feeling is given an uncanny twist with the unusually placed heads of the two female "Americans" right along the base of the image, as though they were humpty-dumpty on the edge of a wall, or body-less phantoms.

I was wondering whether it had been mislabeled as a Fuji image till I enlarged the image and saw the companies logo.

The woodcut print is titled Ginza no tasogare-doki - Dusk in Ginza and is by the artist Onchi Koshiro. On the back there is printed a haunting melancohic text written by the artist, each line rich in poetic imagery.

A suit and one grey painting brush are sufficient. The neon of the PX is still like a dream. The new culture of Japan comes flashing from those sharp words. When one walks here, there comes a feeling that the days when we were struck to the ground are already from a distant world. Probably everybody would like quickly to wash away their hateful memories. The narrow pavements make our shoulders rub together. Through this congestion tall Americans stride. Already there is a sort of magnificence here, but the truth is that Japan is under Occupation. It is not necessary to wait for dusk. People have already lost sight of themselves.

There are 445 Onchi pieces in the Museum's collection, unfortunately most of it is not digitally archived but there are a few more Fuji pieces to save for a another post.

The store in the image is the Tokyo PX, the post office and stores for American servicemen, then located in the Wako Store in Ginza. Ginza was the fashionable going out district in post -war Tokyo

I don't know how I missed this detail before in the notes but the use of Mt Fuji in the logo above is a pun, as the character used for Fujisawa Pharmaceutical has nothing to do with the mountain. The writer of the object notes also comments that the Fugaku Publishing company, which published the calender and other works by Onchi and other post war print artists also uses Fuji in the logo- Unfortunately I couldn't find a scan on the interweb of their logo- only expensive rare books...

Update #2:
Lawrence Smith speculates that Onchi poetic text was for a Japanese audience as it was printed in Japanese only, which was unusual during the period of American occupation.

Friday, April 22, 2011

in all seasons

After I made the decision to start a project about Mt Fuji, February started and it was one cloudy or grey day after another. The above photo is taken from my kitchen in Shibuya. I had been thinking mostly about seeing Fuji was different locations, not particularly seeing different weather phenomena, although that certainly becomes a theme when you start obsessively trying to see it daily and looking at artistic representations of the mountain.

One of the artist projects that has particularly resonated with the desire to observe and record is a scroll by Minamoto Sadayoshi. Started in the early spring of 1818, after a heavy snow fall, he records Mt Fuji's receding snow line and other weather phenomena twice a month, at the beginning and the middle. Apart from this scroll there is not much know about the artist. I found the reference to it in Timothy Clarke's catalogue 100 Views of Mount Fuji, held at the British Museum in 2001. The inscription on the front panel of the scroll is:
Thirty-one views of summit of Mt Fuji, seen from the west in all seasons
The west side is opposite side to Tokyo and Mt Hoei is visible on the right hand side. The mountain's silhouette is almost the same as the view from the shinkansen.

The above panel is one of seven additional panels included in the scroll, of unusual weather phenomena and is of a cloud formation known as a 'travelling hat' formation. I am wondering whether the cloud on the diamond Fuji postcard is a travelling hat. The cloud depicted here looks really solid with a definite cone shape, rather than the misty halo on the postcard.

I didn't trim the photo above as I particularly like the museum archiving around the painting: the ruler, accession number, and colour chart; and the teasing edges of the next drawing. Unfortunately this is the only image from the scroll on the digital database.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The decision- taken more a year ago

If you can't see the mountain very well, there is a a high res image on my flickr.

A little more than a year ago I was faced with having to make a decision about a whether to start a new artwork somehow dealing with my Fuji obsession, with only 8 weeks to the exhibition deadline. 

With all decisions that take a bit of thinking, I like to go and sit on a train or bus and watch the landscape go past. I think this is a by-product of the all the commuting I did during my 20's to the city to hang out with friends and to go to work and uni.

While it Tokyo, the place where I felt there was space for my brain to work was the edges of the city- especially Kamakura. So I headed off to Kenchoji temple hoping to get a view of Fuji. I had started the day a little late and on the train line I could see that it was pretty misty with only the slightest outline of Fuji. By the time I got out at Kita Kamakura I wasn't sure of my chances of seeing it at all. The photo above is taken from higher up the hill than the lookout at the temple. At the lookout itself you could hardly see the outline of the mountain.

The central question that has been on my mind in the last couple of years, partly due to my PhD but also from the dialogue in visual arts at the moment about relational aesthetics and the challange to the art object from critics engaging with environmental sustainability, anti-art market and the dematerialisation of the art object. I am never sure where my work sits in all this dialogue. On the one hand I think the content of my work is connected strongly to post-conceptual practice (and by extension relational aesthetics??) but I remain resolutely interested in the art object as a thing, which has the potential to contain and gather meaning. And besides which, I enjoy making, doing, drawing, and I think in images. It would be cutting of a large part of myself to just ignore that and deny myself the pleasure of a studio practice.

So the two questions I turned over in my mind while I watched the veils of clouds drift down slowly obscuring Fuji were:
  • Would there be many good viewing days left? How likely was it that I was going to see the mountain very much from that late January day till early April?
  • In what way could the act of searching and viewing become an artwork that made itself complete through audience interaction? How could this interaction speak of the daily action of some of the people who lived within view of Fuji, or came into contact with Fuji, that would speak of the action of collecting - experiences and vistas, and memorialising such experiences. By concentrating on the act of collecting would it be possible to avoid overly nationalistic, or touristic, sentiments in a work which, no matter how carefully avoided, would nevertheless garner?
I decide to abandon a project I was thinking about and focus myself of finding a way of working with these question if I hoped to have some work by the exhibition deadline of early April. In retrospect I think it was a good idea to change course, as it also refocused my "bird projects" resulting in the films which I was invited to show in the Aichi Triennale.

I don't think these questions are answered yet (for me the work is ongoing). I thought this blog was a way of opening up myself and my practice to some kind of discussion- something I have avoided for 5 or so years. (long story!)

More than one year on I am enjoying writing the blog and the contact it bring me with other bloggers and readers.