(I move from Korea to Japan to work with artists Fernando Garcia Dory on his farming and food project in Maebashi – it is kind of meant to be a holiday)
As with Seoul, Maebashi is a city of almost completely renewed buildings, both flatten by war and the drive to modernity - looking out over these places I feel a sense of tragedy, grief really, the odd tear has fallen on several occasions (quite incomprehensible really, always when I am on the 23rd floor or so) over the ‘sublime’ in the extreme urbanscape, a kind of combination of wonder and horror, a ‘what have we done’ feeling – the extraordinary human endeavour, the sense of what is underneath – not only the landscape but a former built environment, in effect the place. The character the cities have is now more of a geographical position than a visible history or culture – they could almost be any place, any person’s home. The few ‘natural’ elements are hardly there, in Maebashi the river can perhaps offer a little solace – not really sure why a river would do that but somehow it does – all that flowing on and on stuff it’s always getting up to.
I noticed that Seoul has been voted 3rd worst city in the world, that does seem somewhat upside down – it is surely one of the best cities in the world, very efficient, energising, interesting, varied, law abiding, big. I guess the downsides are the phenomenally built up quality, but even that is majestic, awe-inspiring.
5 days in a window less, equipment free, ex pizza kitchen in a mental health day centre is one experience of Japan that I might not repeat in a hurry. The last day – a holiday - was however a delight and flowed smoothly from dawn to dusk starting with a visit to an exquisite house and garden in the Maebashi suburbs. The key feature and centres piece to the stroll garden being the large open expanse of dry stream bed acting as a stone garden in the dryer months and a shallow pond in the wetter ones – really inspiring. All the usual elements of the stroll and water, rock and inner gardens including the usual buildings, tea house, viewing platform – the no nails building design certainly inspired me again - Lawson park get ready to get your freak on and this time it’s going to be sharp.
This visit was quickly followed by a work-wear shopping trip in the utterly vast agricultural store – a place where you can by a bridge large enough to drive over. Picked up a set of working clothes all pockets and padding to add to the LP work wear of the world collection. We then headed out to Airko sacred mountain but while stopping for petrol noticed an abundance of pots outside a house – turned out to be an absolute treasure trove of amazing folk art and other antiques run be a lovely old couple who made us coffee and gave us rather good deals on our somewhat paltry buys. I bought a tight collection of red lacquer wares Fernando somewhat randomly bought a child’s kimono and a paper mache fox – I think this may say something about our respective characters, and why the previous 5 days had been such a struggle. He’s a freewheeling charmer and I am an uptight delivery freak.
From there our artist friend and guide Hiro Masuda drove us to the top of the sacred mountain and as we climbed the leaves of the - incredibly diverse range of trees - changed – autumn was about half way down the mountain and blow me if it wasn’t the E word again and this time in spades, or rather maple, acer, sycamour, birch and very many others.
Next stop was a pig farm and sausage producer followed by tea with a teacher of the tea ceremony providing me with a close look at her superb collection of tea bowls and their exquisite multiple boxes, each more E than the last. The extraordinary attention to detail involved in the ceremony is kind of nuts – like a really OCD obsession, the angle of the light, the crawl of the raku glaze, the bump in the foot of the bowl, the finger marks left by the potter – all have names and are to be paid attention to. It was a fascinating insight into a disturbing obsessive world – Fernando was transfixed – so alien for him, for me, I would be there if I took off the restrainers – so more like fear in my case.
Seoul’s Hermes store is a thing of extreme and slightly sickening perfection, from the white leather upholstered stair rail to the exquisite window mastic. The function of the building is unfathomable – 5 floors of taste and quality, populated only by staff, selling saddle soap, bridles, saddle blankets and of course their incomprehensibly expensive scarves – but whatever these cost it does not add up to this kind of operation.
Again this curious notion of authenticity – that is the nebulous currency that compels people to buy directly from Hermes. I was told many years ago about a retail experiment in a Tokyo department store (I was told this in a pub so almost certainly fiction). 2 lots of exact same Vuitton bags were laid out in the store one lot were priced at half the real cost – the full-price bags sold quickly, not one half-priced bag sold.
This trip took in the hyper rich quarter of Seoul, the Samsung art museum with its 3 – so famous you think they must be dead – architects. The auction house where the ‘experts’ verify the authenticity of objects and one of the most exquisite galleries, the Horim Museum, the result of one man’s obsession with Korean folk art. There is a curious schism in the galleries – the objects are mostly simple functional items, components of normal life – albeit a normality that is now hard to imagine in terms of aesthetic quality – this is set against the most luxurious of galleries, I suspect if I was an archivist I would be off the ground in transcendent ecstasy at the ‘conditions’. Conditions very far removed from ‘normal’ life – it seems an odd choice. However the objects are inspiring, a kind of Korean version of the Mengei museum and all the ideas behind that.
I arrived with an idea of what we could do with the project, that has inevitably shifted a fair bit – partly due to the wonders, partly the unexpected and not least the scale of Liam’s structure and the nigh on impossibility of moving it.
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