【Emily’s Report No.03 エミリーのレポート】The Tenjinyama Dispatch Ⅲ: Object By Resident Artist Emily Clements 滞在アーティスト エミリー・クレメンツ
Before visiting Kanata gallery in the city, Adam asks me if I am a ceramics hound. I pause for a moment before replying, ‘I’m a story hound’. The image brought to mind is of a dog with its nose pressed to the ground, hunting the twists and turns of a good tale. It doesn’t take much to sell me on a story: a little something unique, a little something to bind self, soul and situation. I am not a hound for the ceramic cup in its tactility, its colour, even its function. Tell me the story of how a cup is made, however, of how the earth is lovingly caressed into its new form, of this work being taught over the generations, and I am sold. There could be a hole in the bottom of the cup but if you told me that holes like this only appeared in cups from Sapporo, I would love it even more. In this way, I have been drawn into the world of Japanese objects. It seems like every day I read about crafts that are not just unique to the country, not even just to a town, but even a particular street, sometimes a single shop.
There seems to be so much at stake here, so much history dangling by a single genealogical thread. What happens when the heir to heritage possesses neither the aptitude nor the inclination to take it on? Before Japan, I was staying in Hong Kong and there was great concern about this playing out in a place that has, in the past, been ruthlessly unsentimental. Aging craftsmen sit with their backs bent over mahjong tiles, carving the characters out by hand, knowing they will be the last generation to do so. There are only a handful of these craftsmen left but they cannot begrudge their children taking up different careers, ones that are less punishing on the body, more friendly to the wallet. And after all, what difference does it make to the game, whether the tile is carved by man or machine? The difference, of course, is the story. It is the way time imbues an object with meaning. It is history, materialised.
So, a piece of Japanese denim leads me to the history of denim in American military uniforms. One umbrella directs me to the complicated practice of hogushi-ori weaving, but another points to the history of Kawada lacquerware. I pick up a bag in Tanukikoji shopping street that tells me a story of Kurashiki canvas. Through the love and labour of craft, objects become a means of visualising time and space. Mass-produced objects have their own story, of course. They can map the unmappable: measure relationships, chart our moral values, plot political movements. They can speak to our character in ways we might prefer to ignore: to pretend that news about factory conditions and exploitation is a narrative unrelated to the clothes we wear and the things we buy.
It was inevitable that a story hound with a love of objects found her way to the Hokkaido Museum. There are objects here that are hard to look at: like the pamphlets and paintings made during the time of Hokkaido’s colonisation, designed to tell a specific story about the Ainu. The story these objects want to tell is that of natural subjugation, rather than inhumane treatment. The museum seeks to interrogate this story by displaying these objects in contrast with those created by Ainu artisans. There is an exhibit that includes fabric panels that can be held in the hand. In these, the hand of the maker is so present, I can almost feel their fingertips pressing against mine from the underneath of the fabric. Weaving not just the material but the story of their craft.