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no one said it would be pretty
superdeluxe turned out to be a bit of a washout as few people turned up, we had planned to promote the evening at the Pecha Kucha night but that was cancelled at the last minute. The whole thing reminded me of playing in aband, hanging around, playing to a small audience, getting heckled by the audience that we did nt know and getting pissed off. The whole thing ended in a big danceothon as everyone let of steam. Actually all the performances were pretty good and a few of the audience got very into it. Still a bit of a disapointment for everyone, it would have been a bit more energising to have played to a few more people.
Seems from the communal blog entries we were all a bit tired and emotional on leaving Toge. On the way here in the car with Jamie, Aiko and Tim I commented on how grey weather usually makes me feel homesick, but here in Japan I have found something strangely familiar and comforting about it. Once after traveling in Brazil for two weeks, it began to rain for the first time as I was sat in a coach station waiting to make a long journey. I was so over whelmed with homesickness at the sight of rain that I began to sob irrationally. Everyone else in the Toge car thought this was mad, as I’m sure my fellow Brazilian travelers did at the time.
I haven’t to date been homesick here (unusually) but I am quite daunted at the thought of the next two weeks, when Karen and I will return to the village without the rest of the Samurai for company.
More generally on this trip for the first time in my life I have felt a little sad at growing older. Usually I can never understand people who get up tight about birthdays or ‘getting on’, as to date I have enjoyed life more and more as I’ve grown older. Being around Ben, Barney, Jamie and Aiko though I felt a little envious of the 10 years they have on me. Karen and I have only recently ‘found’ ourselves as documentary film makers (of a kind) and whilst I wouldn’t wish away the 10 years we’ve had working as artists I feel quite scared that approaching 40 I might have only just found the thing I could be good at. Being a late-developer is fine but actually not having enough physical energy to carry through what you want to do is not!
Sitting painting with them in Toge, I felt rather envious of their apparent easy conviction with their work, and being with the Juneaus here in Tokyo has made me a little nostalgic for Karen and I’s early collaborative art days … sometimes I wish I could still get worked up about making art in the way I now do about making films.
Lots of our past work has been made during or about journeys and despite being a reluctant traveler I have to acknowledge there is no better way to think about work/life - ideally whilst being driven through an unfamiliar landscape and on a grey day.
Went to Bic Camera to by a cheap golf club for SuperDeluxe performance. Took a while and almost spent £300 on an expensive one by mistake. One of the best leccy goods shops I've ever been too. Very hot outside so I spent 10 minutes in the fan section before exiting. I was meeting one of the students at 2pm so I took a hot leisurely walk to the old skool. On the way I stopped in a series of strange smelling shops. The first where I bought a Grape Soda (pronounced 'Group Show' ) smelt like bovril and the second where I bought an amazing bag with the statement 'It is great and I want you who are the bag which is easy to use to surely use'. I put my group show in the bag with some prawn cracker and went to the school. The janitor, who'd cut him self shaving, got my xxl slippers from his office when I arrived and. I met Kaori and we sorted out and rehearsed the script for the performance we struggled with the Japanese for flight socks but it was all sorted in the end. I left for the hotel with a small spring in my step. On the way to the hotel I stopped in an Antique shop the smelled so strange I have nothing to compare it to outside of a dream.
Regency Bee - a critical eye
The actors in Bedwyr's costumes
More men in hats
My last scythe was made out of a curtain pole and part of a for sale sign. Some students from Dundee said it looked shit so it has been in the boot of my Volvo ever since.
I thought making a new one in Tokyo might be difficult. A visit to ‘Tokyu hands’ solved everything. Using to jumbo length postage tubes and some wood, blue foam and wood and metal effect parcel tapes I managed to make a scythe in a morning using my bed and bedside safe as a make do workstation. The scythe is collapsible and should safely make it through reception without attracting any undue attention. My only worry is that the chamber maid may have seen my messing around with it in my white wig as she passed the door.
We’re all sitting under the Snow Centre waiting for our ‘performance’ in about an hour – which, it seems, will be the launch of the actual Triennial. Kumagai (from Art Front who are running it) is sitting next to me testing his mic for the ‘eurovision song contest’ style simultaneous translation he’s meant to be doing. It’s hard to tell what he thinks about our line up, despite our definite weirdness he’s maybe getting into the idea in a very low key Japanese way …
No matter how you organize these affairs there always seems to be a lot of sitting about and cable twiddling before hand, interspersed with ear-splitting sounds from the PA. The last hour sends everyone into their own particular ‘auto-performance-paranoia’ behavior pattern. As I blog (!) Tim and Jamie are still tweaking the ultimate audio/visual arrangements; Barney is strumming an impromptu acoustic set, resplendent in Hawaiian shirt and balloon pants, he might be the male rival for Karen in her pre-performance grooming routine. Ben is relaxing after rocking out during rehearsal and Marcus seems to at last be giving us a break from ‘checking the levels’ on his radio mic animal noises, maybe he’s brushing his wig.
Having dreaded the communal living conditions at the house I have been surprised on two counts – one that they were ‘worse’ than I could have imagined (4 rooms, 9 people, sliding thin walls) – but two, that it’s been OK. More than that I’ve actually really enjoyed hanging out with the 7 Samurai, and despite being totally on top of each other it’s been great - and I’m now slightly sad that we’ll all be splitting up for solo rooms in our Tokyo hotel week.
The other surprise has been tonight’s performance. When Karen and I arrived at the start of this week – jet lagged and ‘Tudor tired’ from our recent month long stay in 1578 – Adam’s suggestion that we’d all be performing on stage in one week, all singing, all dancing - filled me with horror. My singing is erratic at best and if you’d told me before I’d got on the plane we’d be doing harmonized backing vocals I’d have probably just lay on the floor at Heathrow. Now with an hour to go & the dress rehearsal under our belts, I find myself suggesting that Karen and I join Ben on stage to form a Tudor backing group for the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ freak out – we’ll all have white face make-up on after all …
Before we came back to Tokyo, the Toge villagers chose a new rice label from a selection all the artists had produced for them- the new label will go on the 300 bags of elite rice that Grizedale has agreed to sell on their behalf - starting here in Tokyo at the weekend's Ikebukero Festival. I'm genuinely excited that they chose a hybrid of Aiko's (a graphic of a single rice grain with some snazzy Japanese text) and mine (a cutesy painting of an idealised, almost Swiss stylee local house). What now remains to be done is to somehow fuse the two together and get a run of them printed in time for the big sell at the weekend
We're in Tokyo now and I'm looking forward to a visit to 'Cat World' at the top of Tokyo's craft mega-mall ... back in Toge though, when we first arrived & under the thin disguise of some project research I joined the group trip to the Tokamatchi Mega Mall in search of a pet shop. The Japanese evidently have a different attitude to the UK in relation to live pet sales … in the middle of Mushasi (the massive hardware/in fact ‘anything you really might want’ emporium) are live pets for sale. Their large price tags are somewhat at odds with their casual distribution amongst the aisles of make-up And bar-b-que equipment.
The brown dog was in a small open pen, literally in amongst the rows of pet food, behind him sat rows of cats, rabbits, ferrets, stag beetles, mice etc etc.
Behind all of these sat a glass-fronted salon where the local pet elite were being washed and blow-dried!
What I really liked was the above aisle pictorial signage - where you’d normally expect to see DIY, food, toiletries & gardening pictures here you could also see pets.
After four days of non-stop rain, there seems to be a hiatus in the downpour. Nina and I wander up and down the steep roads which connect the few houses of Toge – no pun intended – together. Still suspicious of the weather, we wear oversized rubber boots and waterproof jackets, and take with us a transparent plastic envelope in which we carry an A4 of translated sentences like “This is a typical English house”. In my jacket pocket I carry a Lilliput Lane model house which I periodically pull out and hold up against the backdrop of the traditional houses to explain what we’re trying to do. It’s a bit like that scene from Father Ted with the cows faraway and near.
The 7 Samurai boys have photographed themselves – from behind – in the onsen (hot baths). Perhaps Nina, Aiko and I need to do the partner picture.
The ‘open house’ afternoon we hold in the village clashes with a local celebration, or perhaps we haven’t exactly marketed the event brilliantly. On the other hand, holding the event in my own village – Coniston – wouldn’t exactly over-excite the locals either.
Despite Barnaby’s projector dying, the cleared-out house looks rather good with our little installations scattered throughout. A cluster of us remain for some time in the back bedroom among the packed away furniture, designing and printing labels, tripping over shared power leads, chatting in cod-Japanese and generally having a laugh. I have enjoyed the communal domesticity in the house much more than I had expected to - the superior-quality running jokes more than compensate for the lack of a clean towel when you want one.
Anyway, a few villagers appear and seem to appreciate what we have done. The air is full of the aroma of Adam’s cooking for the evening: rabbit ravioli (actually hare, which seems to be called rabbit here – what we call rabbit is an animal that doesn’t exist here), moussaka, a new biscuit called the Toge frog is being baked in a brand new mini-oven.
Other artists from the Triennale make up most of our audience, and they seem surprisingly appreciative, considering how different our approach has been to theirs. One Australian artist working here has recommended a local craftswoman who teaches at the university, who might have the model-making skills we need to start our ‘Toge home’ collectable project.
Later we attend the communal dinner in the village hall with our European foods – I help make cucumber sandwiches and tzatziki (cucumber dip – unpopular I think due to incompatibility with chopsticks). Apart from Adam’s ravioli it’s totally vegetarian, which is incredible considering there are probably over 40 different dishes on the low tables. I think of the English equivalent – a nightmarish spread of shop-bought flans, cheese sandwiches and sodden salads.
The village women are warm but clearly feel more comfortable apart from the menfolk and us. They cluster near the kitchen, even during the evening entertainment (Marcus Coates’ shaman routine) and I wonder how we will be able to engage with them when we return to the village the week after next, without the familiar faces of the 5 male samurai.
All around the house the tempo increases in time with the rain, it's an almost seamless garment of torrential downpour. All around us half drowned students slave in the mud planting a kind of pseudo English garden look, a mundane collection of bedding plants, it’s reminiscent of the Seven Samurai battle scenes. At the scratch house (a traditional building that is being arted up) 20 students lie on their sides tap taping away making tiny directional cuts into the interior surfaces. It creates an effect that I am sure is available on photoshop. These students have been working at this for 2 years, they work a 12 hour day and sleep on the village hall floor - despite the fact that the house they are working on is equipped with a luxury German kitchen and 2 bathrooms.
Down in the old school Junko and the village up the tempo on the flower making and upstairs (above us) the newly finished luxury apartments wait vacantly for their decorative screens. The artist then clumping around half the night, sanding and listening to the radio (the carpenter was far quieter) as she trys to decide what blob should go where in her Ikea styled installation that I have a very strong suspicion can be bought of the shelf direct from Ikea.
Our own tempo has changed as we prepare to perform at the weekend. Barnaby paints like a sixth former who has just discovered the 'joy of art', Jamie maintains his grueling routine to the point where we all feel the need to physically tear him of his machine. Everyone else works pretty much all the time unless I arrange a ‘time out’ Onsen or 'dinner out' break. And still we all feel guilty that we are not doing enough. The Tokyo hotel is looking more and more appealing despite the packed schedule of performances ahead.
Due to arriving rather later than the other Samurai in Toge, we were able to move straight into some rather high-scoring pertinent networking on our first day of work here … riding on the back of Adam and Aiko’s extensive local research!
My casual enquiry as to who owned the rather cute looking houses just over the valley, landed us with an invitation to visit the owners.
Karl Bengs and his wife (an interesting German/Argentinian couple that all the locals think are Swiss?) it turns out not only own these houses but have lovingly re-built them beam by beam. Karl is an architect with a passion for Japanese vernacular architecture to match that of David Tait for the UK’s finest cottages (see previous). http://www.k-bengs.com He has built up a business here, restoring some of the remaining examples of traditional Japanese houses, at the same time modernizing the interiors with a euro-focus and making them more ‘comfortable’ for contemporary living.
Apparently in addition to the mini-collection he’s already built on the hillside here, he currently has 4 others flat packed in storage ready to regenerate as a client requires. Some are remade as homes but others have been transformed into successful city-centre stores.
He and his wife generously braved the downpour to move from office-house to home-house & show us round the amazing interior – this building is one of the few left here with a thatched roof, that can survive the 5ft of winter snow. The ‘inside’ of the thatch is actually more beautiful than the exterior.
Never ones to shy away from a utopian vision (!) we hope to pay a return visit and interview him about his vision for the development of the region
Saturday the Nina/Karen/Anetos meeting/pick up all goes horribly wrong, there is a major time confusion (my fault) so while I am driving to Tokyo Karen and Nina are struggling to find their way to Matsudai - which they achieve, finally following a black person who the assume to be part of the Triennale on account of the ‘differentness’ - meeting Kumagai, one of the Triennale managers, the same Kumagai who has failed to attend 3 consecutive meetings that he scheduled. Kumagai then calls me to tell me what had happened but refuses to run Karen and Nina the 10mins up to Toge. He also won’t call a taxi as he is too busy and wont delegate to anyone else to do it, he acknowledged that K&N look tiered but suggested they should wait at the centre till I returned from Tokyo at 8pm in 6 hours time. I will find this ‘help’ difficult to forgive.
As it is Karen calls me and I explain how to get a taxi, Kumagai had told them it would be too expensive as Toge was 40 minutes drive. Jamie and I race back from Tokyo foregoing the worlds’ best sushi resturant. Karen and Nina had made it back to the house, all is well bar the slight problem of 2 more people to squeeze into our 4 rudimentary rooms.
As we progress the pressure to make things that the village like is immense and Barnaby’s hyper real portraits provide a 6th form sensibility that will deliver - and it does, he is soon acclaimed as a genius by the locals. Ben also is affected producing a highly polished stall, finely finished, sanded and everything.
On Sunday we are all due to work on the footpaths project, it rains like a horse pissing on a pansy but still we gather and head of to clear many thousands of pounds worth of Acaias, Camellias and rarities beyond my humble gardening knowledge from the footpaths of the region. This very wet ordeal is followed by a mass village bar-b-que where it s all great fun and lots of interesting stuff comes out. We arrange to go and meet Karl Bengs a Dutch/Swiss/German (no one is sure which) architect. He has been living in the area for 10 years and buys old traditional buildings, which he converts into contemporary interpretations of a Japanese/European vernacular architectural fusion.
We have an evening meeting with Kumagai in the squalid office to go over the performance event. He suggests that we have been tardy producing the detailed event schedule (it has been waiting on him for a week). I am pretty much white with anger and make the meeting as uncomfortable as possible. This does seem to energize Kumagai but he looks so ill and tired that I don't really have the heart to go for him. I really feel very sorry for him and his predicament however self-inflicted it maybe. Of course he makes sympathy hard by still trying to chisel money out of every possible orifice, including suggesting that they will sell the booze being supplied to them by the Australian Embassy. The party they are trying to make us pay for is to thank the artists and volunteers who have slaved to make all this possible and from whom Art Front will be then have worked to near death. I am kind of imagining a popular riot and public hanging of the art front staff with me trying to calm the winds of fury. It really seems like an abuse of people, both locals, artists and anyone else that comes within range of the Art Front black hole/negative space. Perhaps what is most unpleasant is the hierarchy whereby some artists get support and funding, luxury hotels and chauffer driven cars, mostly artists that Art Front mistakenly thinks are important, like Richard Deacon (who? You know, 80’s guy, the one that was slightly more credible than Tony Cragg (he comes on a progress through Toge with his retinue, nodding and waving and comparing things to 80’s world)). Art Front really are the rudest people on earth and there seems to be no honor in word or action. Maybe this is just an art thing, there is little honor or honesty in art, the art world or in many cases artists, maybe that is surprising, it seems the opposite of what you would expect - much like Japan. The western perception being that Japanese people are honorable and keep to their word, but then a popular perception of art it that it is about truth. As you might be able to tell I am getting increasingly pissed of with the way we are being treated. Not by the village, but by just about everyone else. Maybe I am just dissapointed again.
Art Front are expecting us to manage and present the opening party/art event, which is fine but there seems to be no budget and no one to help. They are insistent that we give them a complete plan of what we are doing only no one turns up for the meeting to hear about it. They also want to bill us for the cost of the event which I laughingly dismiss, however it comes back. This is confusing, how does this work again, we pay to do a n opening for them, it’s like doing a project for Folly gallery in Lancaster ie they have no skills, no money but many demands and you end up paying for thier dinner and they don't say thank you. Additionally we are informed that we are going to be billed for the cost of the car and there is some discussion about billing us for the use of the house. It is becoming clear that the bandits in this piece are Art Front, the programme invades the countryside and ravages man and beast, local and artist, raping and pillaging like the bandits of yore.
Marcus and Barnaby start to discuss giving the Triennale serious art product, what the triennale want, again the scene from the film comes to mind, just walk away, don't challenge. Jamie, Ben and I talk against this capitulation, Marcus and Barnaby want to make a good impression on the art world in attendance at the event, Barbnaby is worried about looking cool and thinks that performing the theme from Ghostbusters (‘there’s something weird in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call’) is not going to do it.
Jamie and I spend the day in an office in Matsudai putting up website and blog. It’s a communal office for the volunteers and artists working on the Triennale. It is an abject lesson in what happens to a space if no one gives a fuck. Remarkably few people come in during the day, in fact only 3 - each of them making what sound to be diabolical projects. I am getting into this, each successive project is worse than its predecessor, so in the order they arrived:
1. A bright orange string laid on the ground round the whole Tsumari area. Each day the artist will drive out to where she has got to and continue laying the string, the project will take 3 months of time well spent.
2. A 5 metre high metal window frame with curtains. I think this idea has been done so many times there could be a great coffee table book of all the versions. Old Grizedale has 3, Forest of Dean a couple, there’s at least one at Hebden Bridge - although this one is a picture frame, but I think maybe the book could have a part 2 for the picture frame variation, and a sub section for the view point bastard child – the portholes, Claude glasses, binoculars, giant car mirrors and other related - look through big version stuff.
3. Placing Merino wool on a rice drying frame to raise awareness of the amount of Australian wool imported into Japan (Australian artist). Local people and volunteers have been working on this for months presumably because they are passionate about getting this criminally hidden history to public attention.
I am also starting to feel a bit guilty about dropping the artists into this heap of shit, but I really did nt know it would be this bad (I did know it would be bad though). Now I am starting to get scared and I am thinking about running for it.
The villagers have a day out, they all go of in a bus together to a hot spring, the village is silent all day. On their return no one comes round to see us and we’ve got used to seeing people. I sense something is up. Junko later tells us that we must get up at 6am with the village, they think we are lazy because we don't. (I had said that instead of an 8am breakfast we should have a 9am one, mainly because everyone was working with the villagers after 6pm and then working all evening). We are all a bit hurt but communally agree to do it. So next day we are all up at 6am the village is as quiet as a graveyard. I decide to go shopping in Tokamachi before our 9.30am meeting with Kumagai about the opening performance the Triennale want us to do. In Tokamachi the shops are closed, nothing opens till 9am and most shops open at 10am. This is a blow, I hang around to get the shopping and then head back asap. Kumagai doesn't show, it’s weird but I am getting used to it.
In the evening things got better, Kujo-san came over and we talked about making the bread oven, in the evening we had an Italian meal for a change, although the kitchen was not happy, the gas burners only have hot and hotter setting and there is of course no oven, anyway it all came out pretty ok even with Kraft grated parmesan in a tub, not seen since the 80’s in the UK. The Japanese for some reason love Italian food, and now the oven is underway there is a que forming for pizza. The problem with Toge climate is that nothing ever dries and it rains a lot. Everyone is having problems with their backs from being crouched over tiny tables. Jamie has a special throne for his 16 hour days on the website. Today the Japanese site goes up!
The strumming starts, get a couple of electric guitars in a house and any thoughts of social living go out the window, the rock and roll individual is born, Wednesday night everyone goes to bed at different times, and Friday morning I have breakfast alone as the crew get up over a 3 hour period. In the village the loud speaker system keeps everyone in sync, not just the individual houses but the whole village gets up and goes to bed as one. In a small village and in houses with paper walls this makes a lot of sense. In fact it makes a lot of sense for any society. The dysfunctional Romantic artist model that the west so aspires too, really makes no sense unless you want a dysfunctional fractured society filled with ‘individuals’ all actually doing the same ‘individual’ thing but at slightly different times. Or maybe I am just a dictatorial old bastard.
Another surprise today, we learn that the garden is an art project and that 25 volanteers from Toyko will arrive at the weekend to work with an artist to make a garden, looking at what’s already been done I assume it's a kind of ‘look at me an artist being interested in gardens’ the works to date is a disaster and the layout seems mental. The bits and bobs they have installed look almost intentionally rubbish I mean really ludicrous, maybe the project is more like ‘hey crazy city folk being rubbish at alien irrelevant medieval activity’. Again the instant thought for this kind of project is who is it for, without continual maintenance in this extreme climate (currently everything is growing inches a day) there will be nothing left in a year. The village is filled with highly productive gardens and some flower gardens, people are very busy maintaining what they already have. It seems like another pointless project, Art Front - who cant even answer an email - are sure as hell not going to maintain it.
We have several impromptu visits from the village, it is a bit of a pain in a way - delighted though I am that they are interested, but we have a lot to do and everyone is working hard. The visits stop everything dead while we all nod and ask questions show off our impoverished skills – Marcus imitates a cuckoo, Barnaby says ‘watashi ha Barnarby Desu’ repeatedly and makes comments under his breath about where the hell the chicks are at. Barnaby also shows of the ironic tea bowls I made. Ben has already mastered a rather impressive mastery of the language, it all goes down well. In the evening a number of the Toge artists invite themselves to dinner, which is fine only they don't tell us when they are coming and we all have stuff to do, it all works out fine and we eat at different times. The gardener artist turns up with a friend and is evasive, but I get the impression it's a serious garden endeavor – oh yes and everyone gets an arrogant self important vibe of him, we’ll see.
There is no dog shit anywhere. There is only one dog. He is very clean. He belongs to a man with incredible teeth and a computer. The man reminds me of a chemistry teacher or possibly a minister. I imagine sometimes he is saying ‘…and that’s a bit like a God really…’ but in Japanese.
The cucumbers have stopped. I miss them now. I don’t know how to get them back. Aubergines just don’t have the same comfortable vibe to them.
Eating out is impossible on Sundays after 8.30 pm (or possibly earlier). Like Mid-West American teenagers we eat from plastic on the kerb of a 7/11. Maybe we look like a band somehow. I can’t imagine what our album would be like. We’re fronted by Elvis though so that’s a start.
I weigh exactly zero kilograms apparently. It feels heavy for nothing. One exact revolution of the dial on the changing room’s scales. I feel for a moment like the largest man in this country. Later I see two Sumo wrestlers on television, which makes me feel better. More importantly I also see a programme that pits a chimp and a baboon against each other in a competition to see who can pluck the most starfish from a rock pool. Both apes wear shirts and trousers. The baboon looks a little like a boy, in my class at primary school, whose dog ate my A-Team action figure set in a few swift bites.
I almost cry when I see a Kit-Kat. It would be too much to actually taste it.
I worry that I might shit myself in the night. It’s a strange fear. The toilet has a very particular smell. It’s made by a company called Toto. Privately I have named this john Oz.
In the dark of our bachelor pad the screen of my powerbook draws mosquitoes like flies to manure. I feel somehow seedy, like I’m reading a fifth-hand copy of Razzle with trembling hands. The whiff of incense completes the scene.
The rain is relentless. A faint moulding dampness seeps into and out of everything. Tomorrow I will put myself in the dryer for an hour or two. “You can’t wash that kind of darkness out”: the showerhead will not stretch that far.
Morning comes with the clumsy slide of panels, an intricate game of puzzle and chance. Words flow like treacle. I have never eaten salad for breakfast before being here. Now I embrace it, although my dreams turn more and more to East End cafes.
I sing Endless Love with a karaoke snack bar hostess. For one brief moment I think we might just pull it off. We don’t. I crash on the second verse, warbling like a prepubescent choirboy.
Social politeness is a game of chess played against many opponents. I forget which moves I can make.
Tongue griddled on a metal sheet and wrapped in lettuce. It’s kind of a sandwich.
We are joined at dinner by what I thought was one of the workmen from the building site but turns out to be Siaoko the painter doing the screen upstairs. I am disappointed - for one I liked the idea of a cross gender workforce and I liked the idea of one of the builders inviting themselves for dinner. Barnaby and Marcus are transfixed, but everyone else (without amourous intent) immediately thinks she is a self-centred control freak. Bear in mind she spoke no English, how do we make judgments so easily about people? I guess we will see who is right as time goes by.
Another trip to Tokamachi for shopping and email, produced a 7 Samurai film moment when Ben and Barnaby delightedly told me they had bought guitars and amps – like the moment when Mifume shows off the Samurai armour – to be greeted with disgust. I got over it but I was worried about how much time might evaporate into strumming not to mention the irritation of endless guitar noise. We can anyway perform for the village on the 22nd when we will do an open day. The village want to have a food exchange and a party. Everyone is hard at it getting people involved.
An old guy in a great tartan hat comes by the house and makes a great grass hopper out of grass. It’s dumb conceptualism only this time it’s great, what a fantastic party trick for young children, although Marcus thinks it takes to long to make and woul’nt hold a young persons attention.
We all walk up the hill and sit looking out over this remarkable landscape, the 100’s of years of human endeavour that created it. For some reason we start talking about art and more specifically bad art we have known and loved, some of the old classics get rolled out, Brain Catlin, Franko B, the dumb conceptualist movement of rural Britain, some of our favorite works from college. The bronze cast baby on board sign above with a board with a baby doll nailed to it. Peter Weible sticking tongue into wet cement and losing tip of tongue when the cement set, the upshot being that he has spoken with a pronounced lisp for the past 40 years. Holding a dead lamb and pouring ink into the eye, in a homage to Brain Catlin but knowing that Brian used child friendly ink and being blinded for 2 weeks. Finally young carefree and happy Barnaby interjects ‘Why do we always end up talking about bad art?’ Ben responds ‘because it’s fun, and good comes from the bad’. Which I am sure he doesn't mean as we all know there is no good and bad anymore, that was always where problem lay, making judgments, constructing fictional and spurious hierarchies.
So we sit around and make up some - as shit as possible land art projects that we fear may well in fact have been done for this beautiful place and kinda moving place.
Different coloured water in each of the rice fields
The words wacked, bastered, bar, having a, etc in giant letters
Pickett fences round the fields
Hundreds of wind socks in different colours
Cross hatched paddies – rods in different directions
The big eye paddy
Leaping salmon etc ..
A brief visit to the Snow centre trying to sort out Barnaby’s web project brings on another discussion, again about the point of making art of this nature as a part of regeneration, but this is a little more about what we are trying to do. The questions are over who it is this really for, what value does it have. The nature of the apparent altruism of making art and the altruism of socially engaged practice. In the end are these strategies for the person with the impulse to be an artist to find a way to do that - in basically a traditional way, i.e. I am the artist, I am important, look at me, that I am working with you just underlines how much an artist I am able to offer the creative input to you because I am utterly confident in my ‘I am an artist’ world. The problems of this area - Tsumari - are so complex that in a way the only thing an outside influence can offer is a demonstration of an alternative, the opportunity to suggest that the community can take control of it’s own future, rather than letting random factions (like art triennales or economic initiatives) haphazardly influence the future. Really just a simple and old art message that has motivated artists since way back and the principle message of the Seven Samurai film.
I visit Junko’s studio/school house (the plastic bag flower maker) and come away angry that she is in this position - albeit self generated, but in many ways the product of the harsh climate of the art world. She is putting herself through hell, she seems near to collapse, she doubts what she is doing. I have to say I doubt it to, I am sure she could be doing something more useful and fulfilling, the art formulae of making an installation drawn from the community but requiring a massive work load from them to realize it. It’s a bit like the Anthony Gormley version of engaged art, getting ‘local’ people to undertake some slavish labour which ultimately only reflects the very narrow interest of the artist.. If the project is about waste it is effective I feel angry about the waste of valuable resources – peoples time and energy - Junko’s time and energy. But mainly I am angry about the ludicrous and unconscious art construct that promotes this kind of approach, trapping people in absurd activity and ambition - waste.
How many cucumbers might it take to kill yourself? We may soon find out. The croaking of frogs is our book at bedtime, sounding more and more like Richard Clayderman each night. Somewhere along the line perhaps ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ got mistranslated and then forgotten about. The road here is near-perfect for tin bath karting.
Enthusiasm is the key that unlocks the sliding door. Watch your slippers boy, your heels are dragging like a dog with worms.
A man appears and turns a blade of grass into a grasshopper. With a flash of embossed business cards he is gone. In awe we talk quietly of David Carradine, forgetting where we are. Minutes or hours later you may wonder if somehow he origamied your brain also, folding it tighter and tighter until all it can do is flap like a crane with a broken wing.
The cucumbers return in new costumes of vinegar and mayonnaise, their subtle poison bears a salty garb. Our new friends keep bringing them for us. What began as a gesture of kindness now turns sinister: the keener eye notices the spikes of the skin.
My feet work backwards. The hole in my arm proves it. I dream of flies sucking off the scab. Thank Buddha for Savlon.
Messages filter back that we are lazy. Tomorrow we must become the house of the rising sun. We misjudge it and wake the village with our morning salutations. A policeman arrives and sticks up two fingers. “Fuck you smiley man”.
Golden liquid flows like water from a mountainside, turning your mind to a blank pit of inanities and misjudged sentiment. There is only one way out for it. I wake with a vague memory of vomiting on my face.
D.I.Y. is a balm. The struggle for a right angle takes the mind to other places.
Tokamachi offers the best hardware shop ever and everyone gets excited about bloke’s stuff. It’s interesting to see how cheap tools are, materials too, an electric jigsaw is £4. Maybe manual labour is not so highly valued if these symbols of the art are so cheap. Where are the gold chains and monster cars of the practicioners, the monster bills and equipment bling. The builders seem hard working and polite. Barnaby and Marcus buy some builders clothes, big flares and cloven shoes, a least the shoes make reference to the true nature of the builder.
We are having a meeting in the evening with the Toge village leader and get back to the house to prepare and explain in detail to Aiko (so she can translate) what in the hell we are all doing. It’s a good discussion and I regret not recording it. All the best conversations happen when recording is not possible or appropriate. We do record the discussion with the Village leader but it is stilted and difficult, translation breaking up the train of thought. The meeting seems to go well and we are encouraged to get on with it. The evening continues into drinking and food and lots of people turn up and start cooking, Junko, the artist from upstairs – Saiako - and a documentary photographer, it’s a fun evening although conversation is a bit difficult and there is a bad moment when we all laugh hysterically at Barnarby, difficult for the Japanese as the joke is untranslatable (basically just laughing at Barnaby), and I sense and I worry they think we are laughing about them, which I guess if we were cruel we might be.
Monday arrives with the builders early start, but of course they are really quiet, a gentle shuffling, still, enough to get everyone up. Actually I had been awake for some time. The village public address system plays music at key points in the day, I guess to remind people of the time, so I was awake for the 6am call, an electronic rendition of Iaki Tombo a traditional Japanes folk song (or so Baranaby says). Junko – a Japanese artists also working in the village – comes by and helps get breakfast underway, she speaks good English having studied at Hunter College in NYC. She has been working in the village for some time ( I met her on my previous trip 3 months earlier). She has got to know everyone. She lives in the closed down school and has no shower or loo - quiet hard! She has been asked by Art Front to help us. I think we should help her too, she is planning to make thousands of flowers out of plastic waste from the village and to fill the school with an installation. There are a number of projects of this nature happening in the villages.
We all head out in the car to see the famous view that the photographers come for, it’s misty and we can’t see so much but everyone is impressed. There is a photographer there during our visit, we try to talk to him but he’s on his mobile. Later on we head into Matsudai to do some email in the car park of the Town hall - there is a wireless connection – and then on to the Snow centre and a brief drive round some of the sculptures. This provokes a discussion about the value of this traditional kind of land art and the artist in regeneration - how embarrassing it is to be associated with art and whether the Triennale programme is ruining the place it is supposed to be regenerating. We stop for lunch at a famous soba resturant and sit outside enjoying the food and the sight of ancient farmers going by. I feel a bit guilty seeing such old people working while we sit and watch.
The Seven Samurai project starts, Marcus Coates, Ben Sadler (half of juneau/projects, Barnaby Hosking, Jamie Goodenough, Adam Sutherland are the first wave flying out of Heathrow for a month in the village of Toge deep in the Tsumari Highlands of Japan and within the scope of the Echigo-Tsumari Triennale – a regeneration led art invasion.
Japan arrival from a packed BA flight, not too bad, some shit movies, but as with most things Japan related very quiet
Met on arrival rather surprisingly by Kumagai (an Art Front employee – Art Front organize the Triennale) in a mini bus, and driven to Matsudai, the Triennale central base and then on to Toge. The house we will be staying in for a month looked pretty bleak and as always with Japan there was the usual surprise - the builders would be working around us for the full duration of our stay. I was pretty pissed off. All the work seemed to be to house one artist installation while downstairs 7 people try to squeeze into 4 small rooms. Of course the upstairs artist is adamant that we cant use the upstairs at all, we look at her work and wonder what the stress is about, some decorative screens. It makes you wonder, how seriously can you take all this nonsense. In this context who is it actually for? Maybe just the artist. Art Front seem so stressed out that they cant deal with anything, they seem to be trying to run an international Triennale with no staff and no money - confusion reigns. Kondo the international artists project manager apparently has just lost it all together, just massively overworked I would think - he has to manage 150 international projects, none of them that easy, everyone would be needing reassurance, like us. It makes me think about what it’s like for an artist to arrive at Grizedale, about the feeling that someone actually wants you to be there. I imagine we don't do a good job of giving people that reassurence, however I suspect we do a rather better job than Art Front. We get a very strong feeling that we are not wanted or valued, no one knows anything about us or what we are doing. I am sure that is all because they are too overworked, every person just becomes another potential demand monkey that they will be unable to satisfy however hard they try. The end result of all this is that they have become a demoralized group, who seem utterly joyless about what they are doing, leaving you wondering again what in the hell the point of it all is.
The Grizedale group are jet lagged but in good spirit, Marcus being particularly positive and we get on with cleaning up and getting ourselves organized. Jamie, Aiko and I go off to Tokamachi to pick up a car, which seems to have been pre booked and that Art Front seem to be paying for, which is a nice surprise (it was another thing I had asked about several times and just thought would have been forgotten about along with all the other questions). We then go by Jusco - the massive and fantastic supermarket to pick up some food and an instant dinner, by the time we get back Marcus, Baranby and Ben have finished sorting out the rooms and are all asleep. Everyone is delighted with dinner despite the fact that it’s just ready pre-prepared supermarket fodder, but it is good, sushi and tempura, pickles, yakatori, a steady stream of Sapporo.
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