Hirohisa KOIKE (b. 1979, Japan) and Becca VOELCKER (b. 1990, U.K) both explore place in terms of geopolitical resonances, associated memories, and sensory importance. In both their practices, even when the human body is not visible, an embodied sense of place is expressed through attention to traces left by people, or to textures and visual rhythms present within landscapes.
This is their first joint exhibition, and both present new work. KOIKE's photographs explore liminal spaces such as mountain borders, forests or seas, taken in Japan and Latvia this summer. These images evoke personal terrains of emotion and experience, as well as political frontiers (Latvia is a former Soviet-ruled nation, whose land and sea border five countries). Exploring a similarly complex place in terms of its history of independence and subordination, VOELCKER's photographs of Ishigaki (Okinawa) document everyday life, and explore the continuum between people and the island they inhabit.
Hitomi is from Osaka, and after she moved to Ishigaki, her parents shut up shop and joined her on the island, to open a new oden
ya. The shop's meishi (business card)
and sign read‘Oden: made by father, mother, and sometimes
daughter too.’ Oden is a dish of
various ingredients stewed in soy-flavoured dashi.
Hitomi’s parents are proud that they make their dashi (soup stock made from fish and kelp) fresh each day, and
don’t use bottled soy sauce. Diners select from a deep and compartmented tray
of dashi, which steams at the
counter. It contains hard-boiled eggs, daikon
radish, konnyaku (a solidified jelly
made from the root of devil’s tongue), and
chikuwa (a tube shaped fish-paste cake). The oden ya opens at 8 pm, gets busy after midnight, and remains so
right up until closing at 3 am. Many of the customers work in other restaurants and come for oden
after closing time. Oden is warming, easy to digest, and generally low in calories. Another late-night dish served in the oden ya is dendashi gohan, a bowl of cooked rice (gohan) with the oden's dashi, and a raw egg. Stirred up with chopsticks, the rice becomes a warm, soft porridge. This type of dish is eaten for breakfast throughout Japan. And after all, it's nearly breakfast time by the time the oden ya closes.
Employment in Ishigaki varies from local services such as the
kindergarten and tatami makers, to
diving rentals and hotels. Little English is spoken on the island, and
most of the tourists are Japanese. I cycle slowly through the town looking at
the local businesses and deciphering their signs and shop fronts. Barbershop,
key cutting shop, a samisen workshop,
sugarcane and souvenir shops, post office, architects practice, bento(lunchbox)
shop, and a tatami makers’. Pulling
up outside the tatami makers’ open
roller shutters, I ask a man in his seventies, who is working inside, if I can
watch and photograph as he uses a machine to sew a decorative tape along the
edge of the mats. Soon his wife pads towards us and shows me the huge needle
and thread once used when they sewed tapes onto the tatami by hand. She tells me about their grown-up children living
in Tokyo, and shows me the sacks of straw in the back. Then we look at the
family’s certificates – similar framed certificates line most offices. She gives me
some iced tea and the three of us sit in their back room with their little dog
– which is dressed in clothes, as most Japanese dogs are.
'Every need, say hunger for fresh air or food, is a lack that denotes at least a temporary absence of adequate adjustment with surroundings. But it is also a demand, a reaching out into the environment to make good the lack and to restore adjustment by building at least a temporary equilibrium. Life itself consists of phases in which the organism falls out of step with the march of surrounding things and then recovers unison with it – either through effort or by some happy chance. And, in a growing life, the recovery is never mere return to a prior state, for it is enriched by the state of disparity and resistance through which it has successfully passed. If the gap between organism and environment is too wide, the creature dies. If its activity is not enhanced by temporary alienation, it merely subsists.'
Dewey, J. 2005 (1934) Art As Experience. London: Penguin. [p.p.12-13]
'Memories, not necessarily conscious but retentions that have been organically incorporated into the very structure of the self, feed present observation. They are the nutriment that gives body to what is seen. As they are rewrought into the matter of the new experience, they give the newly created object expressiveness. [...]
'To the being fully alive, the future is not ominous but a promise; it surrounds the present as a halo. It consists of possibilities that are felt as a possession of what is now and here. In life that is truly life, everything overlaps and merges. But all too often we exist in apprehensions of what the future may bring, and we are divided within ourselves. Even when not overanxious, we do not enjoy the present because we subordinate it to that which is absent. Because of the frequency of this abandonment of the present to the past and future, the happy periods of an experience that is now complete because it absorbs into itself memories of the past and anticipations of the future, come to constitute an aesthetic ideal. Only when the past ceases to trouble and anticipations of the future are not perturbing is a being wholly united with his environment and therefore fully alive. Art celebrates with particular intensity the moments in which the past reenforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is'.
Dewey, J. 2005 (1934) Art As Experience. London: Penguin. [p.p. 93; 17]
I watched some dancing, and it reminded me of Japanese calligraphy. When you write a character, some strokes need to flow into a wisp, and others be finished punctually, to contrast the ink and paper. The dancer's arms and legs flowed in arcs – but these movements sometimes came to abrupt and precise stops. She would lock, for just a moment, and then curve again in another direction.
In this, as well as the music, there was a combination of absolute control and improvisatory playfulness. Everything was meticulous: when she walked, her white socked feet (the big toe separate from the other toes, like a cloven hoof) slid across the surface of the stage, and on each step, she twitched her toes upwards ever so slightly – but again, precisely and decisively – as if they had come into contact with something sharp.
old woman eats onigiri,
a ubiquitous Japanese rice ball wrapped in seaweed. She holds it in both hands
and bites downwards, her body centred on it. It is probably lunchtime in a park
in Tokyo, and she has been working all morning. A curtain billows. A child
holding his mother’s hand glances backwards at the camera. These fragments of
everyday life are captured in Issei Suda’s black and white photographs taken
from the early sixties to the present day, which are currently on display in
Tokyo’s Metropolitan Museum of Photography.
exhibition title, nagi no hira
(‘Fragments of Calm’), is the name of Suda’s most recent collection, but applies in theme to all the images on show – be they street scenes, portraits, or nocturnal
shots of carp in a pond. Curator Harumi Niwa likens the atmosphere of Suda’s images to the feeling
in the air when a breeze momentarily stills and exposes us to a fragment of
calm, before resuming its movement.
diverse ethnological and subjective viewpoints, Suda’s work does not cater for Western stereotypes of Japan with stereotypical
imageries of eroticism or Zen, and escapes any one school or style. Contemporaneous
with Suda’s early career, a group of known as the Provoke Movement were
producing photographs characterised by their grainy, blurred and out of focus quality,
known as are bure boke. They photographed in pursuit of atmosphere and energy, their style at variance with that of a second
group, known as Kompora. A composite created from ‘contemporary’ and
‘photography,’ Kompora aimed to produce a new, coolly objective and precise form
to document everyday life.
Though belonging to neither, in
intentions and aesthetics, Suda sits between Provoke and Kompora. Subtle
distortions such as over-exposure combine with precise focus in his work. Windows
simultaneously provide aperture framing and slide reflections into ambiguous
space. A sense of intrigue underlies everyday scenes. In the photograph taken at
night with a flash, the swimming carp appears like a zeppelin, and the pond
around it, a starry night sky. Elsewhere, Suda photographs the tangled halo of
a stranger as if capturing a solar eclipse. One of the most surprising
photographs in the exhibition is of a little owl. It beams up at the camera,
framed in a grid of light produced by a garden fence. The grid is like a
photographic test strip; the owl and fence, examples of unforeseen moments in
the everyday; and the overall image, a précis for Suda’s practice, working in
the still of the breeze.