INITIUM NOVUM: Humanity’s End as a New Beginning

Collaboration with Dr. Mineke Schipper, an Emeritus Professor of Intercultural Studies and Comparative Literature, Leiden University in Netherlands. www.minekeschipper.nl

The origin of Mineke’s idea of publishing the result of her research as a book stems from her desire to connect the ancient apocalyptic mythologies to today’s environmental problems and pandemic, as she convincingly explains in an essay preceding the mythical stories. I intend to use the right side of the gallery space to encompass the world-wide climate change related videos for wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, glacial melting, plastic contamination in the ocean, tornadoes, nuclear power plant explosion in Fukushima, Japan, and COVID-19. I downloaded all videos in a different order to USB-memory sticks. As a result, each projector projects a different video-scene in a loop. It is like John Cage’s chance operation. I am pleased with the unexpectedness and surprise. Although each original video comes with a narration, I turn off the sound when I operate all the projectors; however, people can hear the whir of the projectors. I like only these whirring sounds without journalistic explanation of the videos in order to make my show ambiguous instead of with a didactic overtone. If you do not know the exact content of each video, the installation almost looks like abstract light show.

Although I know the importance of public awareness, I still feel this No End piece is an elusive poetic visual entity even if I use traumatic videos. Videos are showing very serious and scary truths that we need to discuss and bring the maximum effort to minimize problems. For example, wildfire in the west coast is annual and more frequent. I hope my show can trigger a discussion on climate change in the community.

Please stay tuned for the upcoming exhibition at the Mclean Projects for the Arts, (MPA), Mclean Virginia, USA in the spring season, 2021. (April 1st to June 10th).

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“Paradox” at the American University Museum Katzen Art Center

Unfortunately the scheduled collaborative exhibit with Helen Frederick and Michael Pestel in November 2020 was cancelled due to Covid 19.

Considering Paradox

To me Paradox is life itself.  We are born without being able to choose a gender, family, race, and place.  We cannot choose how to die either.   But in the US we can choose a president who can serve all of us. Often media reports President Trump is autocratic and divides our nation.  Donald Trump did not win by the popular vote.  Many democrats feel he is not serving the country well as a  leader but only for his base or for himself.   Many historical events stem from the complex web of greed, desire, and power struggles. To discuss Paradox, I would like to describe the genesis of the four pieces:

  • Night Watch Bell
  • No End (Global Emergency)
  • Cloud Within Clouds
  • No End and No Beginning

While generating my idea for our group exhibition at the Katzen Center at the American University Museum, I had an urge to deal with Trump tweets.  He uses his twitter as a tool to communicate his ideas, policies and unfiltered thoughts.  The media discusses daily what Trump tweets and uses it as the central subject matter to communicate and debate with the public.  This is a new phenomenon in the US.  

I became determined to create a large- scale interactive work to reflect what we are now.  It is called Night Watch Bell.

Last year, I talked about my idea of using Trump tweets with a friend in the beginning stage of Night Watch Bell.  He suggested that I do not to censor but use everything as it is.  I also decided to integrate binary codes, for example, “010011….” cast in resin in pale warm colors and various sizes into his tweets in order to signify it is digital communication.  On the top of the ceiling of this dome, I scattered many small digital communication tools such as smartphone cables and computer mouses.  The cylinder -shaped dome mimics the bell of Joya no Kane (Night Watch Bell).  I was born in Japan and grew up there until adulthood.  I listened to the sound of Joya no Kane every new year at midnight.  After listening to 108 tolls of the Joya No Kane, we are able to send out the old year and meet a new year in a refreshed mind. It is believed that we have 108 kinds of sins in our lives.  Ringing the bell 108 times symbolizes the elimination of all sins we committed.  My 8 foot- diameter dome with Trump tweets also has 108 digital bell sounds of of the Joya no Kane recorded in one temple in Japan on New Year’s Eve. The work has a motion sensor with a small speaker that  triggers to operate the recorded sound of the Joya no Kane whenever a visitor approaches the dome or enters the dome.

Trump’s tweets were printed on velum paper and cut individually in various sizes.  I pasted each on a grid wire mesh by glue and wrapped cheesecloth. Next, the tweets were covered by a thin layer of Kozo paper in order to achieve a discreet look that are easy to burn.   After drying it, I partially burned the tweets by a candle flame.  This burning process is coming from the idea of ritual that is practiced in Japanese temples and shrines. Burning symbolizes cleansing and purification by breaking up with the past as well as the welcoming of whatever the future holds.

Toward the end of this work, I decided to mix Trump tweets with sutras in the same manner since I started to feel too uncomfortable to read Trump tweets everyday to continue my work.  This uneasiness resulted in using some sutras that were available at one of temples I visited during my October 2019 trip to Japan.  The juxtaposition of Trump tweets and sutra is very strange and paradoxical.  Unfortunately I am not able to show this work on November 7th right after the presidential election.  My purpose of presenting this work is to help us feel like we are putting all our agony of Trump presidency behind us and meeting a new president to begin anew.

Additionally, I have three more artworks that were supposed to be included for the Paradox exhibit.

Originally, I was scheduled to have a solo show using the front long hallway exhibit space from September to December 2019; however, I was instructed not have two shows consecutively and that   I could include an additional piece, No End, in the group show in the following year.  

No End began at the Art Space residency in Barcelona, Spain on April 2017.  I was required to show by the beginning of June what I had created in the studio of the Art Space.  Initially, I wanted to create an organic cave- like space by using stainless steel wire and gampi paper pulp.  Not particular idea existed in my mind early in the residency. On May 9th I found out that Trump had fired FBI director, James Comey via the New York Times.  This news was a big shock.  I started following the news about Trump in You Tube everyday.  Trump dealings became almost my obsession.  I realized the 2016 presidential election was not over but lingering like invisible spider web all over the space.  This impacted to fired me up to create a large installation to express the realty- 2016 election is not ended but continued. I have attached the original paper that I wrote in Barcelona for the show.

My plan to have a large- scale installation in the front hallway space at the Katzen will not  materialize this November.  I decided to extend this No End and evolve it into the next exhibition of the Mclean Projects for the Arts (MPA) space.  The space at the MPA is square and very different.  The show’s title is Global Emergency, which is a collaboration with Dr. Mineke Schipper.  I met Dr. Schipper at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio residency in Lake Como, Italy in 2009.  We found out we had common interests and decided to create a collaborative work and publish a book together.  She is an Intercultural Comparative study professor at the Leiden University in the Netherlands. My task for the collaboration was to create images for 30 mythological stories themed around “the End of the World” that she had collected from all around the world.  Her intent is to connect ancient traumatic stories with today’s environmental and social problems.  We had two exhibitions; one in the Netherlands (2019) and the second in Japan (2018). Both exhibitions only displayed 30 paintings and stories, but at the MPA we want to address today’s apocalyptic situation with climate change and the coronavirus pandemic. We want to show 30 paintings on paper and 30 mythological stories with the aid of QR codes in the left side space of the Emerson Gallery of MPA.   A viewer can point a smartphone camera on a QR code in order to pull up and read the corresponding story.  In the right side space, I am going to project video images of tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfires, floods, melting glacial ice, covid 19 etc. on suspended oval shaped disc that is hand made by cheesecloth and kozo paper on a printed pale photograph of dead tree over wire mesh within the No End space. Once you are inside of space, the work creates discomfort while showing unfathomable events.  I still call it No End as our struggles continue. We hope this exhibition signals the necessity to change our climate change policies and promote global discussion and action through a public forum.  I still think that public awareness is important even if policy makers and politicians play a bigger role in legislating change.  An artist is like a tree.  If the environment is not right for the survival of tree, it will die.  If there is suppression speech up by a government, all our trees will die eventually.

Cloud within Cloud is the third work that I have planned to include for the Paradox show.  This deals with clouds in the sky and clouds that stores digital memories that are accessible with computers.  Clouds in the sky evoke feelings of hopes and dreams for me. At the same time, clouds are metaphors for life itself. They look so beautiful from the ground or from far away; however, they are empty and there is nothing once we are inside of them.  I would like to create an artwork that carries my fantasy, hopes and dreams, yet reflects my complex emotional paradoxical feeling of nothingness through my Cloud artwork.  Hand cast resin and, stainless steel wire are used for this piece. The dimensions are 76”x96”x10”.

No End and No Beginning is the fourth work that was scheduled to be included for the Paradox show.

The snail like shape is suspended from the ceiling.  Two opposite elements form this shape: one is binary codes (1 and 0) that are used for computer language,  the second is ice. Ice melts if the temperature is above 0 degrees.  It is a delicate balance in nature to exist.  I wanted to contrast the  precariousness in nature with today’s digital technology.  I think the combined two elements create a tension.  There is no clear end and no clear beginning in those elements.  It is another paradoxical existence. 

In order to conclude this short essay, I would like to mention the following during the era of  pandemic.

I have remembered the importance of cooking for family members everyday since eating healthy is  essential for each of us.  At the same time I noticed how important it is to have something that makes us fulfill our energy and bring joy each day.  We do not know when we die; however, we do not want to live for coming death.  Our lives gain fulfillment from working on the things we are passionate about.  For me making art is a key for my survival.

August 11, 2020, Yuriko Yamaguchi

Night Watch Bell

8′ x 8′ x 7′, 2019

Trump tweets and Sutras on velum papers over grid wire meshes. They are covered by cheese cloth and Kozo paper pulp. After drying them candle flames burn them partially. Brushing liquid resin over surfaces make them rigid and preserved.