Rethinking the Power of Art 2013
Last year, in May 2013, I took thirteen students to Japan with my colleague Melanie. This was the third time I organized this trip to Japan for University of Michigan students. The course, “Rethinking the Power of Art”, has become an annually offered Spring course, an international field studies experience, that I really hope will continue into the future. I am glad that this year Melanie will be taking on this project herself and leading yet another group of UM students to the rural countryside of Japan for three weeks of study in May.
For this last trip to Japan I took a more hands off approach. Unlike previous years, I did not take any photos but the students took a lot and made this tumblr page about their experiences.
Now and here
I have not updated this blog.
So much happened these last two years, so many things
made me think.
Thoughts spinning around
many questions to face.
Am I living to my best?
Am I contributing to society?
Am I working hard towards my dream.?
All the questions I ask my students.
Then what was my life up to now?
I haven't looked at my website for awhile. In a way this site is about my past, but I want to look forward now and dream the future.
But how about the present?! I am still living here and now and have a responsibility to that.
So I decided to look at my site again and write about the present. I will try to catch up.
Long winter, tons of snow
School of Natural Resources and the Environment
I am having a small show at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Michigan. It is really wonderful that another unit of the University values visual art. The gallery space is in the student lounge area in this older building on central campus and there are five big windows in which I set up my work. Since I have a deep concern about the environment it is the right venue, and I really appreciate the organizer for her vision. Here is the statement from the show.
"I have been concerned about the environment for a longtime, and have tried to practice conservation and sustainability in my own life as much as I can while living in Ann Arbor. Simple things like getting rid of the lawn, planting native and drought tolerant plant species, watering using the rain barrels set up around my house, growing my own vegetables in my sunny front yard, and composting –these are small steps in my own life. In the city it is hard to minimize consumption and to make the best of what we already have, but it is worth trying.
As a sculptor, I consume materials for my personal expression. This is at odds with my work that explores ecological and social issues in an honest searching way. Over the last ten years it has become harder and harder to follow this same path as I have done before, to consume in order to create. I have struggled with that and my production has slowed down significantly, until now. Recently, I am rethinking what I do and what I can do. I have this undeniable passion to make art and a need to make objects. I have decided to follow my intuition rather than putting the intellectual brakes on my creative momentum. I feel like art can take us places that improve not only our own lives but the lives of others and this world as a whole.
I have always been drawn to the beauty of materials, whether clay, stone, metal or wood. My creative energy comes from observation of nature and the impermanence of life. I can see this in the growth and decay of rusting iron. Whatever I create will be reintegrated into nature with time. In making art I want to acknowledge the moment, and to have a conversation with the materials I am fortunate enough to be given.
This work is about my appreciation for and celebration of materials and my interpretation of nature. When I think of the future I know my work will be part of nature and that makes me a little happier about what I do."
Rethinking Power of Art
In May 2012, I took fifteen students to Shiga Japan for one month of field study. This was an expansion of the program I began last year “Rethinking Power of Art: Art, Disability and Community in Japan”. This year, however, I organized the trip as part of the Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates Program. Apart from the four A&D students, all the other students came from different areas within the university. Most of the students had limited experience in art, only one student from the group had taken Japanese language studies and only one had traveled outside of the United States. This inexperience was a significant difference from last year’s group of students and in the months leading up the trip I grew increasingly anxious. Being the only one to speak Japanese and being in charge of fifteen students in rural Japan I felt the load of responsibility. I am glad to say, however, that once we got to Japan my concerns faded away. The students were very observant, quick to learn, brave and willing to try anything.
Like last year, we stayed at Shigaraki Seinenryo, a residence for about seventy people with a range of physical and cognitive disabilities. While the residents speak Japanese their cognitive disabilities impair their ability to communicate and for most visitors this is a real challenge. However, since my group of students didn’t speak Japanese anyway they were able to quickly discover alternative ways to communicate with the residents through gestures, smiles and laughter. What at first seemed like a problem – students’ lack of Japanese language skills- actually freed them to find alternative solutions.
Each morning at the residence we participated in physical exercises, rajio taiso, to begin the day.
After that we divided into two groups to participate in daily activities and craft production, such as paper making and making small products for sale. Students worked alongside the residents and even though most of the students didn’t have any art or craft experience they picked up skills very quickly. I could see the students gradually integrating into the residents’ lives and daily routines and getting to know one another. They exchanged business cards, took pictures and near the end of our stay some of the students visited the residents’ in their rooms to have tea. Another wonderful thing was when the students wore yukata –traditional Japanese summer kimono-to visit some of the bedridden residents. They were really delighted to see these young Americans in traditional dress coming for a visit.
The students this year came with a range of experiences in different fields and many were interested in social change eager to learn about social advocacy, disability and health issues and community building. One of the students in nursing was able to work alongside one of the nurses in the facility. Many students explored the town and made new friends there. They took the initiative to assist with rice planting and participate in taiko drumming practice. One night we had a karaoke party and invited locals and the students’ new friends. They were all singing like crazy and had a blast blowing off some of the intense pressure from all the hard work of this trip.
Unlike last year when we did our own cooking while at Shigaraki Seinenryo, this year we dined with the residents in the cafeteria. Since most were seniors all the food was easy to chew, easy to swallow with no flavor, texture or salt. The students did a great job managing this and did not complain though they did looked forward to the day when they could eat something different. (More flavor please!)
This year, the month long trip was designed in two parts. For the first part we worked with people with disabilities. In the second part we worked with non-profit organizations that develop and promote art in elementary school education. We visited schools and the students taught art to the children and did English language practice. It was great to see how popular the students were among the children and how much energy they had to engage with hundreds of kids. The highlight was a dodgeball game at one of the schools!
During this second half of the trip we also visited Miho Museum in Shigaraki. Adjacent to the museum is an organic farm that supplies the food for the restaurant in the museum. We spent most of the day on the farm harvesting vegetables, helped to prepare food in the kitchen and enjoyed a really great meal at the end of the day. We cooked the rice in the traditional kamado way, and the rice was delicious. A few days later we visited an elementary school with staff from the Miho Museum, including the curator. At the school we did a workshop about chojugiga and it was a great experience for our students to learn this ancient ink drawing technique along with the elementary school children.
Between the two main parts of this field study we took a side trip to Naoshima on Seto Naikai island in the inner sea. This is a special place with a world-class art museum that has revitalized a once dwindling fishing community. Since most of the students had limited exposure to contemporary art I wanted them to experience art in a new way and broaden their understanding of what art could be. We stayed on the beach in yurts and the students, after two weeks living in the Seinenryo residence, were able to just relax, swim, beachcomb and experience a different side of Japan. They even got their much looked forward to meal. At the first chance they ate at an American style restaurant that served hamburgers and BLTs and they said it was amazing! But the highlight was a visit to Chichu Museum, a museum designed below ground level by the international recognized architect Tadao Ando. What most impressed the students was the work of James Turrell, a Californian artist, who created a site-specific installation where the work is completely unified with the built environment. It is where you can fully experience the physical and conceptual quality of light and the students really got into the sense of walking through a surreal environment. Most of the students asked if this was art and it made them realize that art could be something more than what hangs on the wall. They were very curious, had many questions and I think it really changed their perception of contemporary art.
When it was time to end our month long field study in Shiga and our stay at Shigaraki Seinenryo I realized how close many of the students and residents had become. When it was time to say goodbye all the residents came out to see us off. It was wonderful.
Following this trip I asked students to write a reflection paper on their experiences. I believe this trip will be something they carry with them always, and that in maybe ten years they too might understand the extent of it. I hope they will stay in touch to let me know how this trip and their experience of it shaped their lives.
Body, a new work shown in Seattle
Some images from my recent and ongoing project Body, shown here in progress in the studio.
And as the exhibition Body shown at Pottery Northwest, Seattle March-April 2012.