“Play with Nature, Played by Nature” Curated by James Jack.
Works by Ringo Bunoan, Maika‘i Tubbs, Jackie Brookner and Fumio Aono (left to right).
I have been working in Setouchi on the garden for Sunset House over the past three months for the Setouchi Triennial. Although this project has been about the relationship of the house with its surroundings over the past three years, the local stones utilized in the garden now make this relationship more clear. After discovering remaining basalt stones nearby the site of the former stone quarry in the town where this artwork is, I worked with the elderly population to reclaim these stones and create a walkway through the garden that leads in a meandering path to the entrance of Sunset House. These stones embody the wealth of the town as it was the first location for Osaka Stone Company starting in 1934 and continuing until 1989 when their operations in Kounoura town were put on hold.
When I first started work on Shodo Island one of my strongest impressions were the currently operating stone quarries in Fukuda, the north area of the island, where the landscape is being carved by dump trucks, dynamite and cranes to mine granite stone. But contrary to earlier precedents where nature and industry are presented as clashing forces such as the film Koyaanisqatsi (1982) I saw these as sites composed of layers of distress, prosperity and emotions. While the most famous uses for stones from Shodo Island include the walls around Osaka Castle and the Tokaido Shinkansen tracks, far greater quantities of stone have been sent to dam construction sites than any other single use in the past century. Upon leaving the island yesterday I was reminded of the shifting landscape as I left on the ferry from Fukuda, observing once again the “squaring” of the landscape as a site where desire and trauma intersect. This is one of the reasons why I chose to construct the garden with granite from this area of Shodo Island: the contradictory nature of these stones and their shifting meaning in the surrounding habitat.
This year I felt the need to include not only the bright side of the community (and myself) but also to find ways to express the more difficult aspects of life in this artwork. As I thought more about the garden as I first encountered it, images of broken glass, rusty metal and other garbage held a strong presence in my memory. These waste products contain clues to our own lifestyles, to that which we do not want to pay attention to but that which we need to consider as it jeopardizes our connection to the environment. I thought about the heaviness of the stones and the sores in the land that leads to Sunset House. These characteristics also exist in the social landscape, the people who make this community, and so I asked them to record their feelings of sadness, stress, worry or discomfort onto the underside of the stones as they were arranged in the garden. This was a challenging task because many people are not familiar with vocalizing these feelings, especially in public, and now I was asking them to visualize the darker side in order to complete the garden.
But after reflecting on the lightness of the white surfaces of these granite stones the relationship of lightness anddarkness slowly became clear. In fact the light, airy, cloud-like aspect of the surrounding garden for Sunset House would only be possible if we inserted our reality of trauma, distress and troubles into the soil. I felt these negative feelings created nutrients for the garden that would sustain it for many years to come. Rather than just covering the “dirty” soil that I found three years ago when visiting this site, together with one hundred people I rejuvenated the garden with energy that comes from what was considered waste but now becomes nourishment. Just as each stone holds the potential to become one in a castle, a train track or a dam- people too hold the potential to become key participants in a system for regeneration. I discuss some of these aspects in a recent radio interview on the project with Shima Radio which can be heard here. People have responded deeply to these contradictory aspects of the place in my work as this project is presented as part of the Setouchi Triennial opening this week.
Two of my artworks are now on display in a group show at Satoshi Koyama Gallery in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. On the opening day there was an artists roundtable discussion in which we discussed our creative pathways and discovered junctures between us. At first the fluorescent light works of artist Mitsunori Kurashige felt very cold and a bit stale to me, but as our dialogue opened I realized his works are more about the viewer’s experience of space. He spoke of the view of the works from down on one’s knees and the intersections between the creases of thewall and his blue lights. Once we realized that we had a mutual friend, artist Shingo Honda, there was a natural affinity in our approaches even though our artworks couldn’t look more distinct on the surface.
I spoke about my new photographic work that is part of the “Philosophies of Dirt” series created just this month. This work is based on my deep fascination with film strips, I remember developing film as a teenager, the excitement I felt when stretching out the wet negative film strips to dry. The light that passed behind these images now in physical form captured something raw, not only in those moments when the images were taken, but in the present moment gazing through these unedited film strips. Each image recalls a story in the connection between my own life and these places, part of which is held in a small sample of dirt that enters my studio but also part of which is contained in these photographs. The windows that I create in each drawing for the series “Philosophies of Dirt” are not so different from the windows of the camera, neither one is clear, but instead they contain the cloudy traces of experiences that are still occurring now.
Please come by and enjoy this exciting new exhibition open until February 9, 2013. Also there are only a couple of catalogs from my solo exhibition still available at the gallery so inquire soon to get your copy. This 58 page full-color catalog includes an essay by poet Brandon Shimoda alongside select drawings from the series “Philosophies of Dirt.” Order here.
Solo Exhibition by James JACK
PHILOSOPHIES OF DIRT
September 29- October 27, 2012
Artist Talk with Daisuke Awata (Art Critic, Tokyo University of the Arts) Sept. 29th VIEW HERE
Artist Talk with Katsuro Anazawa (Environmental Scientist, Tokyo University) Oct. 27th VIEW HERE
A unique 58 page full-color catalog Philosophies of Dirt featuring a selection of James Jack’s work with an essay by Brandon Shimoda (in both Japanese and English) is available for purchase. Please inquire about ordering a copy of this catalog while it is still available by filling out the contact info HERE.
Philosophy of Dirt is a series of works on paper composed with natural soil pigment completed over the past seven years by James Jack. The poet Brandon Shimoda writes, “His is a process of storytelling as critical engagement, with the artworks manifest as both living testimonial and decisive artifact. With Philosophies of Dirt, contingent sites become models of deep thought, exemplifying Jack’s art as an act of generously unfolding witness and reclamation.”
This series is based on intimate relationships the artist has developed with forty-six sites ranging from one edge of the Pacific in Oregon to the other side of the Pacific in Hokkaido. In each of these sites James Jack has engaged with local stories and developed relationships with the environment relationships with the environment utilizing a place-specific approach borrowing a sample of the land. Standing in sites such as just outside the Pearl Harbor memorial on O‘ahu, Jack is deeply affected by paradoxes in the cultural, social, political, personal and geographic history of each site.
Nature is often assumed to refer to the natural environment limited to trees, mountains and soil. But Asian-American Art Center in New York City director Robert Lee states, “James Jack is the other side of the coin, not an Asian American but an American Asian story. This can be said to be an American trend of thought for whom Nature is a friend, deeply mysterious yet intimate, without impulse to exploit, conquer or fear.” Pondering the indirect surroundings for the work, such as where the artwork comes from and where it goes can initiate the process of linking artworks to a wider environment. Jack states, “I make new artworks that emerge from this gap composed of conflicting social histories, ecological trauma, rich stories and other indirect factors.” Furthermore the artist has found methods of relating to this contingent site that do not express, but actually contain these deep relationships to the environment.
Artist James JACK (b. 1979) is currently pursuing a doctorate at Tokyo University of Arts in Studio Art. While pursuing his Master’s degree at University of Hawai‘i, he was awarded the prestigious Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship to pursue artistic research in Tokyo from 2008-2010. Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at TAMA Gallery in New York City, Beppu-Wiarda Gallery in Portland Oregon and the Honolulu Museum of Art. Selected group exhibitions include The Persistence of Line at Kentler Drawing Center in New York City, Yokohama Boogie at ZAIM in Yokohama, Art & Ecology at the Portland Art Center as well as an upcoming work that will be featured in the Setouchi International Art Festival in 2013. He is also an accomplished art writer who has published interviews with Byron Kim, Shigeo Anzaï, Shingo Francis and Rei Naito as well as contributing to exhibition catalogs on Mono-ha, Yoshihiro Suda and Enokura Kōji. His numerous art awards include the Annie Wong Arts Foundation in Hong Kong, Fulbright Foundation and the Japan Foundation.
Weblink to SATOSHI KOYAMA GALLERY
A video document on the history of the town, the layers of stories in the building and my engagement with the site for SUNSET HOUSE has been completed. It was premiered in Tokyo together with a reading by poet Brandon Shimoda for the event “O Bon, Memories and the Seto Inland Sea” last month. The video engages with forgotten histories such as a stone quarry in the town of Kounoura and the Mutsumi clubhouse which was the source for the building materials used to make this structure. After making initial site visits to the island of Shodo in 2009 and beginning to work with the historic building in 2010 I literally felt stories were seeping from the walls of the building. Those stories were invisible but could be felt strongly while spending time in the community. The second stage of production at SUNSET HOUSE involved writing those stories on paper and affixing them to the mud walls. Now these memories, hopes and dreams are all inside the walls which have been closed with yakita, or burnt wood clapboards. This process is all documented in the following video document. This trailer is just a sample of the entire film which is just over 30 minutes long [Japanese/English subtitles are forthcoming]. Please contact the artist if you are interested in holding a screening of the film in a theater, cafe or gallery in your city. For more information about the artist please see the following digital portfolio from artists space.
SUNSET HOUSE Video Document (Trailer)
A Project by James Jack
32 minutes 09 seconds
On a cloudy April day, just as the first cherry blossoms were beginning to open, I met Shingo Francis at the Kawamura DIC Museum, in Japan, where his work featured in the exhibition “The Unseen Relationship: Form and Abstraction.” Born in Santa Monica, California, in 1969, Francis’ works are saturated with layers of thin oil washes that draw the eye closer to what the artist calls “the Abyss.” Despite having an oceanic aura, Shingo’s perspective is not one of looking across the sea as in traditional landscape paintings. Instead, his perspective is one of being submerged or immersed in the ocean, unable to recognize sky from saltwater.
Read the full interview I did with Shingo Francis at Art Asia Pacific online
Installation view of SHINGO FRANCIS’ Bound for Eternity (space), 2011, and SAM FRANCIS’ Untitled (Blue), 1951–52.
As an artist in residence on Shodo Island I have developed many new artworks, most notably the permanent installation work Sunset House. I began research for the work two years ago, redesigned the interior of the house last summer and have been at work on the exterior over the past four months. The site is charged with social history that became apparent to me through daily conversations with the elderly in the area. From their stories I realized that the pillars, roof tiles and other structural materials for this shed were originally part of the “Mutsumi Club” run by the Osaka Sekizai Company. After a typhoon nearly destroyed the clubhouse forty years ago it was relocated by the current owner and used as a storage shed for fishing nets, garden tools and other odd items. Since the owner has passed away over a decade ago the shed had fallen out of use and the space was becoming stale in the absence of a current use.
While listening to the local people’s memories of drinking parties, tea gatherings and many breaks from work that took place at this clubhouse I realized the significance of my work in this specific place at this particular time. No different from most of the islands in Setouchi and the Japanese countryside in general, the population on Shodo Island is decreasing. For school, work, convenience and many other reasons young people are leaving the countryside for urban lifestyles and fewer and fewer couples are having babies. Towns such as Kounoura where I am undertaking this artwork show the signs of decreasing population very clearly. In some areas there are more empty houses than those being lived in and it is easier to find a car with an elderly sticker than one without. In the midst of this complex social history of the place I had to find a way to incorporate the memories, wishes and dreams of these people directly into my art installation.
One of the first reasons I was fascinated by this particular shed of all the potential exhibition sites was its raw, cracking mud interior walls. Last year I preserved the characteristics of these walls while mixing white and black stone dust into the compound to create circular forms inside the wall surfaces. (More details of this stage from last year can be found on my website HERE.) This year I envisioned a similar form that suggested a circle for the exterior of the building, but chose to use materials that are commonly used in local architecture. Throughout the process of redesigning the exterior surface, I realized that people’s hopes, memories and wishes could all become an integral part of the walls themselves. I asked the local elderly group to each write a remembrance, dream or wish on a small piece of paper. This became a way for me to learn more about the history of the site and the people living in the community. I soon realized that these wishes were a genuine way for the local community to gain an active voice in the heart of this artwork. Therefore I chose to adhere their paper wishes directly to the mud walls of the building so it would be endowed with the hearts of all those who participate.
The first challenge I faced was the question, “But what is the point if these wishes be covered up by the new wood surface?” In conceiving this artwork I did not want to make things obvious, but rather to suggest the larger existence of what is already there. For example, in drawing two circles into the interior of the structure I chose to draw fragments of two larger circles, one opening up to the sky and another opening to the earth in order to suggest that which lies beyond the architecture of the building itself. The same concept held true for the wishes, but even stronger. Precisely because they not visible on the surface of the artwork the wishes impress an emotional message on the mind. That which is obvious, in front of one’s eyes, does not need to be remembered because it is visible; but that which is invisible must be actively remembered, told in a story or represented in media such as photographs. These layers of meaning in the work evolved naturally from the materials and history of the site. Some adults were skeptical at first, but one by one the wishes started pouring in from all types of people. Some residents were so enthusiastic they wrote 3-4 sheets overflowing with creativity, poetry and personal thoughts. I held two workshops, one for a kindergarden class and another for an elderly club in which everyone recorded their memories of sunsets, hopes for the present and dreams for the future. The affixing of countless wishes to the walls recharged the site with a new energy related to its roots as a clubhouse. But instead the space is now transforming into a place where people old and young, local and foreign, can meet to appreciate nature just as it is.
The materials for Sunset House reflect a deep connection between people and nature. For example I have been working exclusively with yakita, or burnt clapboards, for the exterior of the surface. These clapboards are used to resist the harsh ocean breezes in the Setouchi Inland Sea and have a unique aesthetic appeal. But I felt the structure would become too dark if it were entirely blackened, so I struggled to find other natural materials that would lighten the exterior to a more balanced composition. I found that raw wood could give a rough appeal to the section of the building where I chose to draw a circular form while maintaining a harmony of material with the burnt wood used for all of the other surfaces of the building. Additionally I added a mud wall section around the building near the roofline to draw a closer link between the interior mud walls and the exterior of the structure. Similar to the mixture used inside, I formulated a mix of local stone quarry dust to lighten the local mud used for composing earthen walls. Like many towns on the Island of Shodo, the history of this town is full of stories of a stone quarry that brought great abundance to the people in the area. I have also been purely fascinated with earth pigments for the past ten years and often incorporate these pigments into my artworks.
I will be presenting this work along with another site-specific installation titled Philosophy of Colors for an exhibition opening next week. There are still many components of the site I plan to work with in the future, therefore Sunset House will not be completed until 2013. Both artworks will be open to the public starting on December 10th and the exhibition details can be downloaded HERE. In addition to the new exterior of the building, each paper wish will be included in a video projection on the interior walls of the building. The project has been covered by a number of Japanese reporters so please read more about Sunset House in these articles which can be downloaded here 園児ら作家を”お手伝い” and 子供との描く夕焼けハウス as well as a radio broadcaster who wrote about my work on her blog after a recent visit to the studio which can be linked HERE. For those of you who cannot make it to see the work this month please stay tuned because this is a permanent installation work that will be on display again in the future.
While writing on the sand with a stick, I noticed a mikan lying on the line between the ocean and the land. It was being pushed back and forth by the rough waves, resting on high ground only for a moment, before the next wave pulled it back into the ocean. As I observed the mikan move across the beach I saw a story develop. This scene inspired a new video work titled “Mikan Story” that I have worked on over the past year and a half. It includes narration by Mihoko Furuya and myself as well as new footage shot on Shodo Island. This story will soon to be told in Tokyo as part of the GTS exhibition “Espirit” opening on October 23rd, 2011 from 5-8 pm. Please see the following website for more information.
I am working with natural pigments and an assortment of local materials in my new studio in the Setouchi Inland Sea as an artist in residence through the end of the year. The region has been experiencing a swelling of contemporary art projects that are revitalizing small villages by utilizing empty spaces for art installations. Naoshima was the first example of how a small island could serve as a hub for contemporary art projects and was recently the topic of this article in the New York Times. The project I have been invited to participate in is on the larger island of Shodo and sponsored by Kagawa prefecture, one of the main sponsors of the Setouchi International Art Festival held last year. I will be working at the same site where I made the permanent installation work “A House of Language/土と共に” in 2010 as well as creating new video and works on paper. Please download the residency brochure HERE for more info on the details of this residency project.
I am developing a new project for Hokkaido that has been coordinated by the organizers of the exhibition Cycles of Memory (see flyer above). This project deals with the layers of earth and human consciousness, exposing the beauty of what lies beneath us. For this project soil will be drawn from a historical site in Hokkaido and redistributed on a mound near the exhibition venue in Tarumae. This movement of soil brings human daily labor into direct contact with the layers of soil that lie deep inside the earth, changing the color of a public site and exposing the history of a volcanic site. This project is tentatively titled Storied Landscape as people’s stories will be an integral part of the installation process, and the landscape itself will reveal people’s stories of the region and its history. I will hold workshops with the local community on July 20 and July 23rd and a public lecture is scheduled for July 24th at the Tomakomai Museum.