This art installation was done during the 1 month artist residency at Studio Kura. The documentation was the most challenging I have ever faced so far; neither photography nor video is able to capture the artwork entirely. This site-specific installation is beyond a visual display, it creates an “environment” engaging the viewer and stimulate their sensation experience and resonate with the space. The best documentation is being in the space and interact with it firsthand.
Title: Way of Life
Medium: Paper (site-specific installation)
Year: 24 December 2017
Dimension: L565 x W280 x H380cm
Description: In Itoshima, there are many Shinto shrines around this vicinity and where traditional culture are still being practiced in this 21th century. Even though many may not understand the reasons behind these cultural practices entirely but yet it is still being carry out without fail. Shrine visit is an important element of their life; as an emotional support, a habitual practice or a comfort zone; and thus “Way of Life” was created. By climbing up the stairway, passing through layers of “gates” into an inner meditative space, these ritualistic steps resemble how one does when visiting the sacred shrine ground. Crossing the invisible boundary between the stressful reality into the tranquil world, and how does one engages with the space will depend on each individual.
Way of Life, this art installation was inspired by numerous Japanese Shrines that I have visited for this trip to Japan for the Artist Residency program at Studio Kura. Whether is the famous UNESCO listed or the homely neighbourhood ones, every single shrine has a story to tell; about their cultural anthropology influences and the way of Life in Japan.
Most of the shrines are lead by a lengthy stairways lined with Torī Gates from the entrance to the main shrine. Climbing through these steps clears up my mind and as I reach the tranquil & meditative main shrine nested among the greenery up in the mountain, it felt as though crossing through an invisible boundary into another ‘world’. The main shrine and the surrounding are decorated with numerous foreign motifs and iconic ornaments which sparks my curiosity enormously. These shrine visits are addictive and it has been a daily routine before I start work in the studio; it is an escapade from the stressful society & having quiet moments with myself. *some of the local shrines around the Studio Kura- Kamiari Shrine, Hakojima Shrine, MatsusueInari Shrine, MatsusueGoro Inari Shrine & Kotake Shrine.
Was very fortunate to participate in the Making of Shimenawa 標縄 with the locals, it’s an annual event and it happens that Studio Kura director’s mother owns the Matsusue Inari shrine around the vicinity. Clarified with the priest personally regarding some of the motifs meaning which inspire me to use incorporate some of the iconic motifs into my work.
Finding the right space was crucial for this installation, thought it might pose a challenge but I found it within an hour upon reaching Studio Kura on the very first day. It’s more like a fated encounter, instinctively knew it was the right space at first sight. Was told that the Studio Kura Gallery’s mezzanine is a work space and no one has ever used it to showcase their works there due to the accessibility and the design of the space. The mezzanine has a low slanted ceiling, windowless, space size around L565 x W280 x H380cm, with a simple rustic DIY stair connecting to it and a unusual opening on one side of the wall.
To create a tranquil space, the first task is to clear out the furniture and do a major spring cleaning. It took me 2 whole days to wipe down the walls and pillars, but the most tedious job was the floor. Many have been walking with their shoes on in this space for years, have to sweep and mop the floor for over 40 times with cleaning agent, literally “purifying” the space. And of course, shoes were forbidden thereafter. The spotless floor becomes my studio space, where I work with large sheets of white paper.
The opening at the mezzanine is unusual but I like how the light pours in although it gets overwhelming on sunny day. Decided to work it to my advantage by creating a Japanese style “window” out of it.
Usually wasn’t able to take much of the work in progress photos when I’m in working mode. But this time, my bestie, Eswari Krishnadas, was also one of the participating artist. So here’s some rare behind the scene process.
Set up a cosy corner in the studio countering the cold winter. A makeshift snack bar and utilizing the kerosene burner to the max.
Final presentation of Way of Life will be in another post.
Was very fortunate to participate in the local activity, Shimenawa Making, which takes place once annually. Studio Kura founder’s mother, Michiko san, owns the Matsusue Inari Shrine which is just around the studio vicinity. From the making, prayer, installation and cleaning up took about 6-7 hours.
Shimenawa 標縄 is a sacred rope that is hang on the torī gates or shrine entrance or around the trees/sacred item or along the street during shrine festival to mark out the boundary between the sacred and the profane. It is also use as a ward against evil and disease. Nowadays it comes in varied sizes and designs. It is also used by the local family during New Year as decoration.
After the prayer ceremony, we head up to the shrines in the mountain to install the new Shimenawa.
After the ceremony, the old shimenawa will be burn away as a form of purification as the shimenawa has collected evil for the past one year. Lastly, I was able to ask the priest a few questions regarding the iconic motifs and it’s function and compile them with my own research and use it for the my art installation, Way of Life.