Monday, February 22, 2010

Conversations with cats

When I visited Taoko-san I came into the shrine courtyard and heard the incessant mewing of a cat. It was a small white cat with ginger patches sitting in front a watercolour painter begging for food. I made me distressed to hear a stray in an area I had gone to visit to see birds. Later I walked past the monk’s quarters to visit a cave shrine and saw some cat food bowls in a doorway, with a photo of the cat I had seen, lying on a royal blue silk cushion. So a scab, not a stray.

Walking around Yoyogi Park late one afternoon I saw an old street dweller man open a homemade cardboard cat box and let out a large white cat.

I have been missing my Mambo quiet a bit, and have often found myself thinking about Ruben who died a little over a year ago. I am pretty crazy for ginger cats so was very excited by this homeless man’s three well cared for cats. They had really soft fur and the two stripy ones where very friendly. The man was very well organsied, like many people living in cardboard, and was setting up his bed cabin for the night. There are a lot of people living in this area around Shinjuku. It doesn’t look like they have lived long on the streets and it makes me wonder about what kind of social security Japan has and whether the government is going to build more social housing for these people who lost out went the bubble burst.

Two domesticated strays on Endoshima getting lots of attention from visitors. Second one looks like Glenn's Darryl.

Isetan department store windows: The model dressed in a super expensive designer dress has a speech bubble that says: “Lets Work” and holds out a rattrap. The mice in the hole on the far left also say “Let work” while the cats just have blank looks. The designers had quiet a sense of humour, not sure how they got away with this one though.


At the moment there are lots of plum trees coming into blossom. They are so beautiful and vary from yellow, white, bright and pale pink. Sometimes there is a beautiful tree flowering in quiet an ugly setting. The one above is on Endoshima Island.

I went there last Saturday as it was going to be a clear day and hoped to get good views of Fuji. It was a clear day in Tokyo and Endoshima but a cloudy day over Fuji- very disappointing as it is a quiet famous viewing point (the fore cast tomorrow is for a clear day so I’ll try it again).

I meet Kate, an Australian artist from Warnambool, which is sister city to the Kanagawa district, where Endoshima and Kamakura are located. She is here as an exchange cultural ambassador, teaching English in local high schools and writing for the local paper in Warnambool. We had a nice day talking about life and art, and exploring the island including going up the tower for fantastic views of the coast.

When I arrived at 8am there where only a few Black Kites about, although more than at Kamakura. I had been thinking about re-enacting my encounter with a Black Kite and though that it would be good location given their greater numbers and boldness. Around lunch time though I started to re-think that. There were really large numbers of Kites and as they don’t usually hang out in flocks there was a lot of territorial dive bombing going on- handing out free food would just be asking to be attacked. (I have had a niggling doubt about the worthiness of this as an artwork anyway- I have found better option- will blog later). There are 15 black kites in the shot above. The warnings where a little more explicit here than in Kamakura (Tsunami signs too).

There are lots of cats in Endoshima. They to be domesticated strays, although this one looks like he is a pet.

Grey week- music performances

The view out my bedroom window- grey on grey on grey- with earthquake mesh windows

After making the decision to make a work about going to all the famous Fuji viewing spots- every single day till three days ago was grey. Which means you don’t really see more than 500 metres ahead of you in the sky. i.e. fat chance of seeing Fuji. In fact the only view I have had- despite making some trips to good spots was a glimpse from a train window…

Now I have started the new blog, which is the log or catalogue of views, but have been a bit down in the dumps so it’s not very far along- i.e. not at all really. Although I have totally scared myself with the amount of work I want to get done in the next 2 and a half weeks (before I leave Tokyo Wonder site) but its good to be excited and have ideas.

Will put the link to the Fuji Blog- Magnetic Glimpses here, but perhaps check it after the weekend.

Yao performing- it took about 10 goes to get a shot with the lights on. the bright green is a senor he is playing.

In the meantime I have been going to the Experimental Music Festival and enjoying seeing the composers and musicians performances. The first night with performances by Matt, Bettina, and Yao was especially exciting. Tim M you should look at Bettina and some the groups she plays with- Wow wow wow!! Amazing contemporary and baroque flute performer, she gets an amazing range of percussive and melodic sounds from the various flutes she plays- this night it was a classical flute and a baroque traverso. I hope to see her play again before leaving Tokyo- those who have know me for a long time know this is high praise indeed. And Matt and Yao would fit with so many Australia arts centres and festivals- check them out!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

zine #1: 2 weeks with birds

This is the cover to zine #1. I have been running to keep things rolling along this week, and so I have not photographed the inside. I’ll post them soon so check back in a bit.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

2nd Open Studio- Yuri and Affice opening

I spent open day working on a new zine- I'll post images of both zines in next entry.

After open studio we all headed over to Clear Editions to the opening of a collaboration between Åbäke and Yuri Suzuki- SUZUKI ÅFFICE.

The installation plays on the difficulty of finding locations in Tokyo, especially when you first arrive and are just looking for somewhere to eat or drink- they all seem to be down a narrow flight of stairs or a shop or business is upstairs- more likely up a tiny elevator- a kind of secret city.

From the street you see a small office with a sliver of a dark bar and disco ball. When you turn the corner and enter the gallery, it’s an‘empty’ white room with a small cupboard in the corner- which is the entry to the narrow, low, dark bar- playing good music- although I can’t remember what…

Part of the work is a series of multiples- including a printed glass- more for Glenn Barkley's collection!

More photos- post booze on flickr

From the street.

The gallery starts to fill up, Kajsa wearing an apron on the left.

Going in.

Yuri and Maki man the bar.

Kajsa at pouring beers at the end of the night.

Yuri coming out of the bar at the end of the night, Miwa on the right.

Shibuya Reality Tour- Monday

At the opening of Double Vision the current show at Tokyo WS Shibuya a group of artists from one of the art schools in Tokyo made a work called Shibuya reality tour. I was pretty interested how this would compare to Squatspace's ongoing project about the Redfern/Waterloo area of Sydney called Tour of Beauty. There was some social commentary, but more at a tangent, like when we drove under the rail and road overpass and saw the cardboard city. It was 200 metre from where I walk past nearly every second day but I had no idea it was there.
At two points we were broken up into groups of six and wound our way through the small streets of Shibuya. The tour sometimes pointed out historical interest, like the buildings covers in tin- a precaution against fire and earthquake, adopted for a short period after the 1923 earthquake; found installations like a garden of pot plants in front of a garage roller door, or a broom hanging from a lamppost; and at other times inserting an event or performance. Like when we went upstairs to a Hula dancing school and watched a singer perform in the empty lot below, with the sound amplified in the school only. This was a little surreal, as we had watched Hula Girls the night before at movie night in the artists’ residences.
The highlight for me was an intervention where the students had set up a professional film crew and where filming a scene where one of the French students was asking for directions, the camera angle is quiet wide so you see the boom operator and stage lights and generator. We encounter this as we stumbled out a very small alley directly into the film scene. It was a disorienting moment till you work out its part of the performance. When we arrived back at the gallery we entered to find this “film” being played with each small group emerging, and stumbling around. It was a really nice way to see ourselves as performers and not just consumers. An extra performative level was added when Åbäke handed around, to the silent audience watching the film, beer cans covered with a scan of Mountain Dew can, the room was filled with crack-ppssst of beers opening.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Decision time

White plum blossom- Engakuji
Domestic beauty with pink plum blossom
A house that looks like it belongs in Penrith.
Monday I went to Kamakura- essentially it was to see Fuji from the top of the mountain shrine at Kenchoji, where I had only a cloudy view on my last trip. I also wanted to think about recording there or whether to stick with Yoyogi Park, even though the background of the city is overwhelming. Also I had not seen all the bigger temples, on this trip I visited Engakuji, Tsurugaoka in daylight and Kenchoji again- this time seeing the 700 year old Cyprus trees.
Kamakura is a really nice place to think. There is something about the domestic size housing with gardens, forested hills, ocean horizon and the reduced white noise that reminds me of ‘home’ and enables me to connect to the artist I am trying to be. Maybe its also the steep climbing and unexpected view/outlooks that is a metaphor for the struggle?
Anyway I climbed to the top and got a white clouded view of Fuji, which I guess is also one of the moods of the mountain. I was disappointed in as not a clear day. On the way back to Tokyo I noticed several local passangers looking around to see if there was a view of Fuji. I started to think about a work which is light and captures some of the expression of hunting and collecting views. I am going to start a new blog/artwork that is just about Fuji and will link to it in a new post soon.

Kitsuné launch- wednesday

Maki, Kajsa (one half of Åbäke) and Yuri with the flowers sent for the opening of the “pop-up store” Kitsuné Boutique at Montoak. I still don’t have a photo that captures Kajsa’s joyful energy.
Kitsuné is another one of Åbäke projects, along with two others, a DJ and a fashion designer. It was a very fancy event full of fashionistas and one we only really managed to bluff our way into because I had no idea we weren’t strictly invited.
Second photo: Nicolas, Matt and Miwa after many of the translucent red, white and blue cocktails. Nicolas caught in full emphatic French point making, Matt winding him up, and Miwa laughing AT and with them. At this point I managed to scandalize some people in the uni-sex toilet queue because I bashed on the door of someone taking too long. It turned out to be an employee- probably checking her hair- bloody bludger.
Only on leaving, when I saw one of the store attendants vacuuming the newly laid tri-colour carpet, did I realize there was a French theme going on.
Third photo: After getting chucked out of the launch we went to what has become our “local”. It's a dangerous place- there are no windows, you don’t see the dawn light slowly coming, and end up leaving when the sun is already up. I wonder why I have put on a little weight and then I remember those second dinners at 3am.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Oi Yacho Koen- third trip

Birds by Masato Degawa, Fuji-san and visitors centre by birdmonkey.
Spent windy cold Sunday at Oi Yacho Koen, a nice day including meeting new people and seeing lots of ducks, including the Common Teal and Tufted Duck (above).
Out the way out Masa told me you could see Fuji-san from the walkway bridge over the rain line. When I saw it I clapped my hands and squealed like a ten-year-old girl who has been told that she is going for a pony ride. I still don’t understand the pull it exerts over me. Even this pollution hazed view was exciting.
I have started to think about collecting views of Fuji has a work and see if I can meet any Fuji-san enthusiasts.
Sarah blogged her falling in love with the mountain from the top of the Town Hall. Does anyone have a favourite spot to view Fuji? Or a special story?
Happy Birthday Sarah!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Abiko Bird Museum

I’m not sure why anyone would want to sit in a room full of stuffed birds, although the purple leather couch is sort I would make a bee-line for in other surroundings. I’m not quiet sure what I was expecting from “Bird Museum” and I guess should have guessed there would be lots of dead birds- which usually doesn’t bother me too much- I mean I’m not the sort to cry over dead birds per se, perhaps it was that this space felt more lifeless than the other conservation/ education reserves I have visited here. Although I did learn an important piece of information (perhaps this is because it was one of the only signs translated)- the Japanese Crested Ibis, which is on the cover of the field guide I am using (and makes an appearance in my first zine here- pictures coming), is like the Kakapo in New Zealand, the last 5 where rounded up and are in a captive breeding program on the Island of Sado (there are now 10).
I was thinking about how field guides often have a really rare bird on the cover- New Zealand’s has a Kakapo and Kiwi among other birds, I wonder whether this is because it attracts the twitcher hunter or that rarities have a fame beyond the bird world so are identifiable for non-birders? (while uploading the field image to flickr I realised that the field guide to the birds of Asia also has two very rare birds- the Mandarin Duck and the Baikal Teal)
It was a really really cold day, down round zero with a nasty ice wind coming down from the north, so I didn’t see much moving in the marsh. I did see some white swans- I’m still finding it hard to de-program my Australian birder bias of filtering our ferals and ‘junk’ birds. The marsh around a large lake and it's a fairly urban area so I just assumed that the swans where introduced European Mute Swans and therefore could be ignored. After flicking through the guide at the museum I realised that there are 3 local types of white swans (as well as the Euro feral). On the walk back to the station I saw them again- Whistling Swans.

light music

I rewarded myself for solving some of the problems I found at the beginning of the week by going out to a gig on Friday night at bar that had the odd name of Jazz & Gallery Knuttel House.

Yao, one of the artists on residence, uses fluorescent light as a sound source and performance prop/instrument. He has known for sometime about a Japanese artist, Atsuhiro Ito-san, who also uses fluros and was keen to see him perform while in Tokyo. As I missed the Now, now, festival, I needed my end of January music chaos so went along for the ride.

Watching Yao and Atsuhiro meet, and watching Yao take in the performance was a really nice event. Yao's instrument is quiet different and the texture of the performance is like sound becoming, rather than the guitar-like instrument and wall of sound by Atsuhiro.
The dynamic will reverse in a couple of weeks when Atsuhiro comes to watch Yao perform at the TWS Experimental Music festival.

The Fear

The Fear got hold of me this week. It's that moment in making a new work when you start to see the end of the time you have and start to worry that you have:

a. Wasted time and not worked hard enough;

b. that you have/might have been going in the wrong direction with the work;

c. because you can see the end in sight here, you can see the work load from home piling up too;

and all of the above makes you freeze. No matter that it has also been very cold this week.

Monday, February 1, 2010


I went to the opening pf Cyber Arts Japan at MOT last night. It was a show that looked at the 30-year history of Japanese artists participating in Ars Electronica (Linz). Unfortunately the exhibition was over designed (lots of wall vinyl- including burnt orange circles) while managing not to give much information. Some of the artists names where in odd places- no translations on the wall panels. This might sound picky but their last show, a fashion show, was really well done. So in some ways this show felt dated and internal- catering to a an “in the know” crowd, which is a pity as there are some really interesting works that I would have liked to know more about.
One of the high lights of the opening was seeing Maywa Denki perform. He has made a series of odd electronic percussive instruments that he plays with others in live performances. They where interesting to see as objects but where so much more when animated. I have been fascinated with the different kinds of Japanese work uniforms, so enjoyed Denki’s use of workers outfits.
Another highlight was Yuki Suzuki- whose locked groove record is pictured 2nd from the top.
When I left the gallery it had started to snow. It was really beautiful and magical- perhaps not for those who take snowing as a given in winters but I think its only about the 6th time I have seen snow falling. It snowed for a couple of hours and in the end there was a small (10cm?) layer on the ground- I had thought it would last the night but it was melting when I woke up this morning. I had been debating whether to go down last night at midnight when it was stopping- I guess I should’ve- will know for next time. They have forecast some more snow on Thursday but I guess that could change.
more snow pictures here

Birds- Meiji shrine

Photos of birds by Masato Degawa, photos of human watching birds by birdmonkey.
I had a great Sunday. I meet Masa, who I meet at Oi Yacho Koen, for a day of bird watching in the Meiji Shrine. Masa had told me about the group of Mandarin Ducks who over winter in Tokyo but I had not been able to find them. As it turns out I was looking in the wrong place. We wandered up to the North pond and there they where a group of 9 males and 4 females. The females lack the bright colours but have a beauty of their own in the subtle changes in greys, brown and whites in their feathers. You can see one on the far right of the image 2nd from the top. I am wondering whether the Japanese sensibility for subtle details comes from their wide range of birds that are predominately brown, grey and white.
I explained to Masa that we did not have woodpeckers in Australia and that I had hoped to see several of the species they have in Japan. As is the way when you go to an area with an experience bird watcher you usually see more than you would on your own- hey presto! My second species- a Japanese (green) woodpecker.
Later at the bird reserve in Yoyogi we also saw Hawfinches. A field guide I like, 3 new birds, good company- a great day.