Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Art of the Matter

I approached my first holiday in Japan like a kid in a candy shop.  There were so many places I wanted to see that I wasn't entirely sure where to start - in fact, I have a board on pinterest where - since accepting this job - I migrated all my pins of places to see in Japan entitled (oh, so wittily), "I'm moving to Japan, Bitches!"  I finally decided, however, to come south...I'm sure you'll figure out all the reasons over the next week.  I began with a ticket on the night bus to Okayama.  I briefly considered stopping in Kyoto so I could see the Kurama Fire Festival (which I missed last fall), but luckily I decided against it, since I'm not sure anyone would've been able to get the torches lit this year, given the typhoon.  It made for a pretty wet start to the week.

Instead I alighted the night bus from Shinjuku outside Okayama station in the pouring rain.  On my list of things to do in Okayama were temples and a castle...not exactly the best wet weather travel plans.  As I walked into the station, though, I noticed posters for "Japan-Eshi-World," which turned out to be an exhibition of artworks (pretty much exclusively of kawaii girls) in the anime style.  AKA, a GREAT rainy day activity.  I stopped in the Momotaro Visitor's Center - he is all over Okayama, the legend apparently comes from there - to make sure it was what I thought it was (last day, opened at 10, 800 yen admission, then headed back through the station to where I got off the bus to check it out when it opened at 10.
While I was appreciating the art, I realized some things about most of the pieces.  First, that they were jaw-droppingly gorgeous.  And secondly, that was about all.  The composition was, by and large, the same for all of them - pretty girl placed in the middle with sparkly background.  Some of them had a bit more to go on, but if art in general is all about communication, then anime particularly tells a story, even when we're only getting a glimpse of what that story is.  Most of these didn't have a story, even when the girls strongly suggested a character.

Although I don't mind the aesthetic appreciation of the human form even when it tends towards ecchi (it would be nice if more of it was targeted at female audiences, because there is definitely a market for it), I feel like art left behind the idea of just painting beautiful women (clothed or not) 150 years ago.  I wanted to see something challenging - something that made you question that beauty, or see something beneath it.  But by and large, it was lacking.

The second thing I found disappointing was that most of the artworks were digital.  Possibly the artists used a pencil at some point, maybe to get started, but there's no guarantee of that, even.  It's great - sorta - that we can do so much cool shit with graphics software, but I feel like you lose a part of the artist's soul when they never actually touch the paper.  At the end of the 100 commissioned artists was a small showing of - I believe - student artists, and although they weren't as polished as the pros, I felt like there was a lot more interesting stuff happening in these smaller works of art.
Although the Japan - Eshi - World exhibition was not originally on my itinerary for the week, art has become one of my major points of interest in any trip.  There's an island in the Inland Sea (three, actually - hell, the contagion has even spread to Uno's port, where this guy and another fish made of washed up plastic have crawled up on land - but I believe it all started with Naoshima) that has been taken over by art.  I was a bit pissed off at myself when I was looking over a booklet about all the attractions in the area Sunday night and realized that the museums on Naoshima were actually closed the following day.  Apparently I've been away from the States so long that I no longer equate Monday with museums closing.  Ooops.
I went anyways because some of the best art on the island isn't in the museums.  There are two pieces by Kusama Yayoi out in the open air, and that was what I was coming for the most (although doing legwork for a possible field trip to the next Setouchi Triennale works out as a nice bonus).  Kusama has a newly opened museum in Tokyo, but the wait for tickets is two months long, so here I was, seizing the day.
Naoshima has two of her pumpkins, one that you can walk into.  Since it's right next to the port, you literally can't miss it (unless you're blind).  The dots have showed up in other places as well - right above the waterline on the ferry, all over the bus that for 100 yen takes you to the other side of the island, and (of course) on plenty of souvenir swag you can take home with you.  The pumpkins are pretty neat, and since my favorite of her pieces aren't the outdoor sorts of installations, I suppose they'll do.  Several of my classmates in my painting course have talked about her, so it was interesting to walk inside one of her works.

I had a look around at the other sculptures in the park around the Benesse Museum, but that orange pumpkin on a pier out over the water is a hard act to follow.  I'd just started re-reading Kafka on the Shore - it takes place in Takamatsu, where I was staying that night, so it seemed fitting.  The further I get into it, the more that feeling intensifies - even though I'm not intentionally trying to follow Kafka around the island, there's an inescapable sense of place in Murakami's writing.  When I came across this sculpture, I had to laugh, thinking about Nakata and his conversations with the pivotal cats in the first part of the book.

I'm staying tonight near Awa Ikeda station, and so far things have gone pretty damn well.  No problems getting where I needed to be, or things going wrong.  The most vexing thing I've had to deal with is the fact that my trusty* ASUS transformer netbook is crapping out on me, causing me to have to finish this post today and not Monday night like I'd intended (I had caramel TimTams all ready for the blogging party...they're long gone, btw).  It's a big change from Mongolia, where getting anywhere - particularly somewhere remote - usually involved hiring someone to drive you.  Since the remotest part of my journey happens tomorrow, we'll see if it actually comes down to that.

*By "trusty" I mean - of course - that I can trust it to be a pain in my ass.  It's had issues almost since I first got it, including a dodgy battery, not staying on, running through the battery too quickly, and in Amsterdam I dropped the tablet part so the screen is cracked and no longer responds to touch.  Right now the keyboard port is the issue...I've ordered a replacement to try and prolong the need to replace it, but we'll see if it works.  Otherwise I may not be blogging much til Christmas...

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