Friday, 31 July 2015

Indefinable Cities → Japan : Day 13

After the install and opening of Emily Speed's "Groviglio/Tangle" at Komyoji-Kaikan, and that Gallery's Only Connect group exhibition, "Dogs in a Room", came the artists' talk on Sunday evening.

The Only Connect residency strand is committed to attracting, and opening out via engaged discussion, artists and ideas from beyond its immediate region - with a particular emphasis on international artists.

So my job, along with Koh Yoshida, on the evening was to represent the works of Emily Speed, and talk about Indefinable cities. Additionally, they asked me to give a presentation on AirSpace Gallery.

It was a good turnout - a mix of gallery directors and associates, and students, along with some members of the public. Tamaki, from Komyoji-Kaikan and Yutaka from Only Connect (both of whom teach art at Onomichi City University) told me that there is a real commitment to these talks. The art course at the university is a very traditional one - run conservatively by the course developer, the emphasis is on classical training - life drawing etc - and so the works at this gallery, and first hand discussions around them, offers the students an alternative view of the contemporary artworld.

On a hot and steamy evening, I was surprised to learn that 4 hours was put aside for the talk - much much longer than we would allot in the most cases in the UK, but I was assured by the hosts that this was normal for them - they enjoyed the chance to really delve into the issues. The evening started with a talk about the group show, as Mourhitori duo Kiyohito Mikami and Tamaki Uno and Only Connect director Yutaka Inagawa set out the thinking behind their show "Dogs in a Room". Four of the shows artists, talked briefly about their works and involvement.

Following this, there were some set questions for Koh and I, about what brought us to Onomichi, what we found interesting about the city, our inspirations as artists and future plans etc. After this, Koh explained the background to Tsukiyo to Syonen and how the Indefinable Cities project came about.

And finally, while dinner was being served and eaten, I told the group about Airspace Gallery from inception to present day - with the interpretive help of Yutaka. There was interest in the shortness of our residency offers, which in comparison to the two years offered by Only Connect, seemed a little brief to them - and there was also surprise when I told them that the artists received a fee for their residencies. The group also found some common interest in our commitment to working in the community, for the well-being of the city. As the talk moved in to its fifth hour, due in part to the need for regular translations, and beyond midnight - there wasn't too much time to find out how Komyoji supports itself and its programme, though I did get the sense that they have a little funding from the City and they get involved with an annual country-wide arts festival.


From Onomichi, we head back to base in Ashiya City ,for a short hiatus - a few days to regroup, created by the absence in the programme of soon-to-be father Daiki Murakami, from where it's on to the Alpine valley city of Kofu, and the final exhibition - Ayaka Nishi's "Measuring Memory" at South Patagonia Cafe.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Indefinable Cities → Japan : Day 12

Today was largely a free day after the late night exertions of the night before to finish install ahead of today's opening of both Only Connect's "Dogs in a Room" and the fourth installation in Indefinable Cities Japanese odyssey - "Grovglio/Tangle" by Emily Speed.


The free day was welcome, as the next impending typhoon here in typhoon season in Japan, is due to hit sometime tomorrow, and prior to that, the equatorial warm air picked up by the typhoon on its journey north has settled over Onomichi, lifting the temperature outside to about 39 degrees - and with the humidity levels, it makes for difficult working conditions for someone used to Stoke-on-Trent's altogether cooler climate. It's interesting to watch how those local to this climate manage to work through the conditions, while still aware of just how hot it is - and there are a variety of coping techniques and aids. 

But time to slowly document the works of both Emily and the group show next door to her. 

Emily Speed's interests lies in the relationship between people and buildings and her work explores the body and its relationship to architecture. The idea of shelter and the inhabitant is at the core of much of the work; how a person is shaped by the buildings they have occupied and how a person occupies their own psychological space.

In 'Garbuglio/Tangle' Speed presents a curtain comprised of diamond projections which form an outer wall; inside these soft rustications, a collection of fragments of film are projected; a tangle of flesh, stone and cloth. The work began during a residency in Rome ( the curtain's repeated pyramidical outer form responds to a particular building witnessed during that residency)  and questions the relationship of the senses to the architecture of the city.

Koh Yoshida has chosen this temple-rich city, with its distinct architecture, as the location for this work - and the site too, with Komyoji-kaikan's close proximity to both temple and graveyard, and this groups largely site-specific-focussed output playing a prominent role.

Meanwhile in the room next door, and some leaking outside, the group show presents an altered landscape, a post-apocalyptic playground and an anthropomorphical taxonomy of alien furniture sculptures re-seen as four-legged/wheeled creatures roaming through. More to come abbout the chaos of Dogs in a Room. 


The day finished with a spectacular 2 hour firework display in honour of the importance of the port, and its workers to the continued prosperity of Onomichi. I guess there will always be some reservations about the ethics of such grandiose displays and the money involved, despite the awe and wonder of a great fireworks display - and this one was amazing -  especially in today's economic global climate and, here, considering the amount of abandoned, unusable residential house, suggestive of a failing economy.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Indefinable Cities → Japan : Day 11

Komyoji-kaikan - the venue for the fourth instalment of Indefinable Cities → Japan. Literally translates as Bright Temple Meeting Place - the temple bit refers to the Komyo-ji which the gallery building sits right next to. To the left and behind the two storey building are archaic graveyards, which only serve to highlight the energy and collective spirit that is evident in the atmosphere in Komyoji-kaikan.

This artist-run space, which offers several exhibition, open studio and residency strands, is presenting OC: Dogs in a Room, part of its continuing residency programme Only Connect - directors Yutaka Inagawa, Mouhitori (Tamaki Ono & Kiyohito Mikami), Hitomi Kanemoto.

Their press release for the 9-artist group show reads:

OC: Dogs in a Room, the inaugural exhibition of an exhibition series taking place in cities around the globe over the course of the next five years. Each exhibition is a survey of artistic cultural differences and potential conflict and integration within the era of multiculturalism. The shows will explore how pluralism can be expressed in contemporary art practice and how this may be read in a variety of contexts.
The central focus of OC:Dogs in a Room is to examine the boundaries between individual art works, artists and spatial or architectural elements within the form of an exhibition. In OC: Dogs in a Room, the relationship between each artist and the control they have over their art’s experience by the viewer will be on the brink of collapse.
The exhibition will aim to create a situation in which turmoil rules and to undermine traditional concepts of individual or communal displays of artwork. Among the artworks, the viewer will encounter quadruped objects created from abandoned furniture and construction materials excavated from the derelict houses on the hillsides of Onomichi. Large wheels will give these creatures the mobility to patrol the space, resembling the wild dogs which prowl the surrounding countryside. Nine artists have been invited to interact with this four-legged furniture and the venue’s history and structure.
The magnified disharmony of the environment is designed to both perplex and challenge viewers and artists, leading to new possibilities in the reading and experience of the work. The overall effect should be mysterious and chaotic; drawing visitors on a disorientating journey which leads them to question how they should interact with the artwork and to what extent creation relies on individualism to enforce its identity.


It was a full-on install and watching, there was a palpable sense of collective endeavour - it's a hard thing to collaborate to an extent that, with several of the pieces on display, individual artworks appear to be shared, changed and added to by one or more artists - for the benefit of the exhibition as a whole -  it requires a level of trust and openness that comes from knowing each other really well. The collective characteristic of this exhibition, which also shows singular pieces from artists outside the group - is mirrored in the way the group seems to operate throughout the organisation - a shared set of responsibilities and commitments.

By the end of a long hot day - signs of the day's toil were beginning to show.

Of the three "traditional" gallery spaces we've visited so far, (Atelier Sangatsu, Art Takahashi and K-k, each has committed to showing works by the gallery owners/directors - a sort of studio-as-gallery - something which AirSpace intentionally avoids - we have a certain separation between our studio group and gallery activity which is designed to encourage a constant revolving of new artists and ideas into the space which hopefully broadens the experience for both public and studio group. However, it seems that the balance achieved by Komyoji-kaikan and its outward looking AIR and Only Connect exhibition and residency strands is the closest of the three to the artist-led activity in the UK.
For more info on Komyoji-kaikan visit their blog

In a separate adjoining room upstairs, Emily Speed's Groviglio/Tangle was installed largely without fuss  - we needed to iron out a few creases from its vacuum packed journey over here and sort some positioning issues - and the personal and intimate architectural themes in her work resonate and contrast simultaneously with the chaotic architecture in the group show next door. By the end of the day both rooms works were 99% installed - with just a few tweaks left for today ahead of opening on Saturday.


Tomorrow there will be fireworks - Sponsored every summer by the Sumiyoshi Shrine, the Onomichi Sumiyoshi Fireworks Festival - a popular festival, drawing a crowd of up to 350,000 people - features the fireworks of the Hamadonya Group, which was established during the late Edo Era (early 19th century.) In 1741, the recently appointed magistrate of Onomichi, Hirayama Kakuzaemon Naozumi, moved Sumiyoshi Shrine from the Jodoji Temple to Sumiyoshihama on the waterfront protect the port from misfortune. The festival is held in order to wish for the prosperity of business and the safety of sea traffic. There is a colorful parade of boats and the air over the Onomichi Channel is filled with thousands of fireworks.