Meeting with Ninomiya Kinjirō at the Japanese Sea
Iwami is a small village in the prefecture Tottori by the Japanese Sea. “Iwami International Exhibition of Contemporary Art – People and Nature in Tottori” was the title of the art project to which I was invited in 2010, during my 5 year stay in Japan. Ten other artists from Japan and Korea took part. The project was funded by the Japanese Ministry of Education and was supported by companies and private persons.
For my installation “Man and Nature” I chose the relaxation room in the onsen of Iwami – a public bath house with a hot spring. On my first tour of the village I discovered the sculpture of Ninomiya Kinjirō in a small park at the edge of the forest.
This boy with a book in his hand and a pannier with branches on his back used to stand in front of every elementary school in former Japan. Ninomiya Kinjirō really existed. He was born at the end of the Edo Period (1787) as the son of poor farmers and he had a life that became a symbol of diligence and stoicism. In 1937 thousands of bronze statues were cast. Later, the sculptures were melted down for military purposes and replaced by stone sculptures. I was fascinated Komma weg because this figure seemed to be the Japanese version of a motif in my former works: the little man with the book, who would like to understand the world.
I visited a factory where hand-made paper (Washi) is produced from the bark of the mulberry tree.This paper is used to cover the windows of the traditional Japanese houses. I used it for my larg format drawings, which I installed in the relaxation room of the onsen. The light shimmered through this amterial, highlighting the black lines of the drawing. In addition, I painted three pictures in the technique of reverse glass painting (oil on acrylic glass).
Monument to a Branch(Balance):
A man looks at a branch which tries to get its balance on an oblique platform. The Japanese pattern “Fundou” stands for balance and counterbalance. It´s about the balance between man and nature and also about the inner balance of the human being.
Monument to the Air(Thought):
The shape of the golden cloud is borrowed from the speech and thought bubbles of comics. Like steam or warm breath, it rises from the ornament “Matsukawabishi”. The motif of pine stands for good fortune and long life.
Monument to a Drop(Accumulation):
The golden drop is an indication of water and also a metaphor for swelling spiritual and material energies that are compressed until they move or burst. The ornament on this picture is the motif for the mountain. The mountains behind the village of Iwami have a vast presence. Thickly forested and mostly covered by fog they look mysterious. People believe they are inhabited by spirits. I use the motif of mountain-heaps as a metaphor for inner obstacles that the man in the boat has to circumnavigate on his journey through life.
With Kleiner Spruch Nr.1 (Little Saying No.1) I completed my installation. The old German saying “Bleibe im Lande und nähre dich redlich“ (Stay in your country and live honestly) ironically refers to my own life and fits to the topic of rural exodus, which was a major reason for this project. Art is intended to arouse interest in that rural area from which the young population migrates to the big cities.
The real adventure of this project for me was the teamwork with the village craftsmen. They expertedly helped me with the installation of the large paper works. We did not understand each others language, but we talked with sketches and gestures and worked peacefully alongside each other. We drove to a hardware store to buy the material that we needed and to a restaurant for lunch. When we returned we sometimes found bathers resting, as was customary, outstretched on a tatami mat. After work we took a bath and then went to the small bar next door. Mr.Miyawaki brought home octopus that he caught himself which we ate with the sake.
Japan is the land of hot springs because of its volcanic origin. There are thousands of them. The bathhouse Iwai Onsen is the place where the villagers meet daily for grooming, relaxing and communicating. I wondered, as I dozed there between the young and old women, what it would be like in Germany to be naked while gossiping with my neighbor. In the onsen there have never been class-barriers because they mainly show themselves in clothing. Until the opening of Japan to the prudish West (1854) not only aristocrats and peasants but also women and men bathed together. It had also been so unconstrained for some decades in Germany – in the early Middle Ages.