(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.
A ceramics biennale
Toya, Toya, Toya, (pottery, pottery, pottery) sing the chipmunk choir – the soundtrack to your visit to the Incheon Ceramics biennale, a place where everything is made of pottery – some might say a dream come true but even as a devoted lover of clay it was too much for me – too expanding the form, too much art, too many people declaring pottery is art – mainly ‘here’s something that looks like contemporary art that I made in clay’. In a way the joy of pottery is it’s building block quality, it’s integration in the ordinary – not it’s desire to fly. Of course clay is possibly the most versatile of any medium, from high performance engine, cladding for a space rocket and the always sharp knife, to the coprophilic splogs and splats of self expression.
The pottery biennale along with many other things has made me think again about the perception of authenticity – a long historical and contemporary exchange between east and west, from the pottery of the 16th century to the prints of the 19th century and the commerce of the contemporary. Everywhere I see copies of contemporary design, in itself retro design – copies of things that are themselves copies of other things – but somewhere in this endless exchange someone claims authorship and copy right (usually a photographer). Perhaps the most perplexing copy is the copy of the up-cycled look, the faking of recycled materials.
There is an interesting alternative in Korean pottery, there are master potters that make pots in the traditional style, 15th century style, these pots sell for £40,000 as much if not more than the ‘originals’. They are perfect versions, they are made with the same materials the same technology and the same craft skill and by people who are part of a living link - no changes, no stepping outside of the form.
When the western potter then copies this style – slavishly reproducing all the authentic details the result is of a high value but nowhere near as high as the Korean potters, the western potter adopts their own kind of other authenticity, when that is then reproduced it again drops in value. I suppose the issue is when the production techniques change and the same items become factory produced of less individual resonance, but probably better technical quality. Differences that the majority of people will not notice, and arguably why should anyone care. The difference between a good and great bottle of wine – largely symbolic for the majority of people. The symbolic and votive significance become paramount.
You can tie yourself quickly into a tight knot thinking about this stuff.
When Bernard Leach was heavily forged by the pottery class inmates of Wormwood Scrubs prison the bottom dropped out of the Leach market – the prisoners work was terrible all they really copied was the stamp.
In the north of Seoul is a small village area of winding streets and exquisite crafts. I visited the Folk art museum guided by Jina from APAP who translated and guided me through the complexities of the travel and food and all the rest – amazing to be so well hosted, so much more productive and you get the sense that you are perhaps actually valued, that something worthwhile is actually expected of you – so many residencies give the impression they just wish you weren’t there even though you are only there because they invited you. Anyway Jina (middle name Patience – no really) answered my millions of disparate questions tirelessly including the translation of 5 moral tales illustrated in a screen at the museum – it seemed to be telling stories similar to ones my uncle used to tell of his adventures - two brothers, one went to fight in a war, he died, the other brother had a sandwich – the end – it was quite hard to work out the moral messages.
The whole area is full of craft and making at all levels – it is also full of large groups of Chinese tourists who do somewhat destroy the bucolic calm of a solo visit to the chicken museum or the knot making school – other than that - what a place to live.
The evening we visit a retro music cellar, all 70’s design and music – it is founded and run by an artist/dj and is becoming increasingly popular for a mainstream audience. On a random note Jin tells me that until quite recently all album releases were legally obliged to have a health song on them, a positive educational message – that could be a great compilation series – from the west the plethora of positive songs in the James Brown catalogue spring to mind – well they would would’nt they that’s the sort of nonsense my mind is filled with. Trying to find out a bit more on K-pop and the musical heritage - although American influenced from the war period music seems to be largely Korean, albeit fusion. Korean pysch soul is well known in the esoteric circles of muso land but what did it mean? I found a film based on a group called the Devils that seems to suggested the Korean president blamed the loss of the Vietnam war on pych soul!! and the group were imprisoned and tortured before making a post-military comeback – the music seems largely to be pretty pedestrian soul cover versions – a Korean Blues Brothers albeit the blues brothers were sadly never tortured before after or during the film - although Beluchi did do himself some damage by all accounts.
Second hand Seoul (ok that will be the only soul pun) and Pottery biennale - bet you cant wait
All the usual fun of the long flight – 10 hours + the children exploring the rhythmic stylings of Stomp using the clack of the seatbelt, the crash of the table and the sickening guillotine jolt of the arm rest, while dad texts. My seat enemy seemed to have to urgently leave her seat minutes after the meal has been laid out – really extremely awkward to pick all that stuff up and move, and the most unpleasant of all flight phenomena the toe massage – from my rear seat enemy – a girl absolutely determined to explore the full potential of her seat’s capacity for alternative function and the back of my chair for some complex foot work.
The film selection was a bit of a struggle, I was delight to note the Fast and Furious has reach 6 – actually might watch that on the way back, heard it was so beyond reason it had started to get good and Vim Diesel is always a jaw dropping watch – what’s with the ‘I’ve got a blocked nose’ diction. Did watch ‘The Intern’ a rom-com with the Vaughn/Wilson jerk-a-thon formulae - those guys really have got the portrait of unutterable tossers off to perfection. The Wilson seduction scene always a must watch for shear wincing agony.
Incheon airport is a groovy super breeze, and the relaxed coach ride into Anyang a pleasant sojourn through the combination of high rise, flyovers and spectacular landscape that is a familiar style in Asia – made more comfortable by not having the burden of a suitcase – erroneously left on some tarmac somewhere.
Met by Jin and Jina from APAP - and taken on a tour of the art works of the public art programme – a series of YBa period works in the new city, Gillick, Gary Webb et al. All looking a bit down in the ears, and kind of irrelevant in what is a kind of difficult context – the other part of the programme is closer to a sculpture park in a rural setting, much like a contemporary version of old Grizedale – mostly large scale sculptures in the landscape.
Both programmes driven by slightly different visions coming from the city government – the principle ambition being to do with status and city brand – to raise the ‘cosmopolitan’ factor. Also to attract tourists – despite that seemingly absurd notion.
The programme has to make decisions about various works in need of conservation or re sighting, difficult things to agree to spend money on and big money at that – big sculpture, big money.
It would seem a good idea to try to make some of these art works, actually work, take on some kind of function other than mildly pissing off the local population. Some are conceived as ‘social spaces’ particularly the architectural ones. However most have some ‘reason’ they cannot be used, often something like power or water supply, or impractical materials – which ends up meaning that they are all in effect symbolic. We are looking at moving Liam Gillick’s sculpture, ‘a scale model for a social sructure’ it seems logical to make it function for a community in some form.
And that’s where the problems start - this is a big thing, built to stay put, although looking structural it isn’t in many ways. So using it as structure for a further components is a bit problematic. The cost of moving it and re construction really means that you are principally trying to preserve a Gillick art work - that becomes the financially dominant aspect. It kind of becomes some sort of post-apocalyptic scenario where once extremely valuable things are used as components in mundane activities, kind of like cutting up the tyres of a lorry to make cheap shoes or using a Durer drawing as a men’s room pin up or some impressionist paintings as a floor covering (all real examples). So Liam’s million pound sculpture can be a sign-post and a support for an honest shop.
Director Adam Sutherland is on a project development trip to Anyang, South Korea and Maebashi, Japan.
Expect regular blogs throughout the next 2 weeks - focused on public art, 2nd hand stuff, home and professional crafts, agriculture, fear of flying and a hatred of travel.
Ray Davies managed to make it to the Coniston Institute for the performance of his 'Child's Play' last night!
A deathly hush permeates the art world as every organisation struggles with their obituaries - I mean applications/roundup of achievements
I hate it when our projects are successful - The Coniston and Torver Farmers Market and Art Fair was so. A blend of art aesthetic and farm produce and a bunch of stuff between. Over 400 people enjoyed the collision and just over £700 was raised for the village hall restoration fund from a turnover of just over £2,000 - which is pretty good for a small village at a very quiet time of year.
There were a few complaints that it wasn't a proper Farmers Market, but then no one seemed to sure what a proper farmers market was - although there was a consensus that it should involve burgers rather than scallop and saffron mousse.
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