part one :: art camp

so... were it not for our little earthquake this morning at 4:42am i might have actually slept the whole night through last night! ah well. maybe tonight.

thanks for the warm welcome home! so kind of you. maditi - there will be LOTS of polas - but i think i'll save them for the end.... [btw have you seen maditi's new blog? - all visuals no talking. yum]

i have been wracking my fuzzed brain for words to start to describe what i did on my trip. in many ways i think i'm still processing the whole experience [along with a bit of culture shock of "home". i was at the supermarket the other day and it struck me just how much easier it is to buy things and banter in your native tongue. duh, right? but so true. in my head i was thinking OK how do i ask for one fish cleaned and gutted - oh yeah - i don't have to try and translate.... relief].

let's see if i can start from the start. the first 2 weeks of my trip were all spent in koumi . it's a small town nestled in the hills of the nagano [think winter olympics] prefecture of japan. it's most known for skiing and hot springs [there are 5!].

lettuce fields

this is what the area was like. it was almost surreal. lots of farms. lots of old traditional style buildings with tile roofs. nestled between rice paddies and buildings were shrines - burial plots with markers, statues, offerings.... the hills looked like traditional asian ink paintings :: mountain in mist

after a very long day of travel [planes and trains] i was picked up at the train station by a van full of guys [they all arrived 2 days sooner than me]. i'd be lying if i said i wasn't a bit daunted being the only female. in the end i could take and tell a joke with the rest of them, so it all ended up good. [but really there ARE gender differences folks. of this i am now more than certain!]

our cabins

luckily, each artist had their own cabin. each cabin had a kitchen, a bathroom with one of those infamous japanese toilets [more on this later] and a big tub and a second story for sleeping. before we got there we didn't know that we'd each have our own space - so i was elated [imagine sharing a bathroom with 5 men?!]

koumi machi museum

this is the museum. 2 D photos do not do this space justice. ando really really is a genius. the way he uses scale is phenomenal. at one point we were lucky enough to go inside a really traditional home [the home in which the curator of the museum grew up - and his mother still lives]. inside it was explained that the size of the room height wise was always made in proportion to the # of tatami mats on the floor. to me ando is totally playing with what are culturally ingrained ideas of proportion. skinny hallways that take in and reflect light - ceilings that reach beyond human scale [maybe giraffe scale?] - curves that mimic traditional tiles - curves that meet and point the eye in new directions. the building is so modern [cement] but fits PERFECTLY in the serene setting. it was an honor to be involved with this structure for 2 weeks.

i also find it interesting to think about the idea of multiple use. in traditional housing in japan one room can be both the living and dining room. big closets store unneeded and alternate materials for the room. i started to think about museum and gallery spaces as multiple use rooms. the artist conforms to and simultaneously alters a space with the work that they hang. it really started to sink in that it is not only the spaces we build or create, but how we habitat them that alters our relationship to not only the space, but the objects that inhabit the space.

in the end the best way for me to describe these two weeks is art camp. similar to grad school where intense work is being done but with out the drama [read insecurities/personality conflicts] of grad school. we all got along. we laughed and joked and help each other make our works. we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. and like camp we all knew this was finite. and special and could never be recreated.

bento lunch

a sample of the food we ate. this was a fancy day [we didn't go out to eat every lunch] - but yum. i love the little sampling of different types of food. sweet and savory - crisp and soft.

koumi onsen

between working really really hard we went out an about. we were asked to give workshops at local schools and at the museum itself, but we also got the star treatment. an onsen [hot spring bathhouse] was just being completed next door to the museum and we got to go on a private preview day. above is a photo of the cafe at the onsen. the water was warm and the view from the baths [indoor and out] were stunning. see for yourself.

the best part of the onsen, though, was the hot rock room. you lay on a bamboo pillow on a very very warm rock - the whole room smelled like lavender. you could literally feel the knots melt from your body and the toxins flow out your sweat. better than a sauna - at least for me!

currently west -workshop

here's me in the paper - funny huh? this was one of the workshops we did at the museum. andrew and i helped the kids and adults in our group build a giant circle out of bamboo trimmings. i felt a bit like andy goldsworthy. what was so rewarding, though, was the excitement, the interest, the questions of the participants. what really stuck with me? every time i handed a kid a pile of bamboo they would turn, smile and say "thank you" - in english - with so much sincerity. we broke into 3 groups and each group completed a task. at the end a japanese member from each group spoke about the experience. it was so heartwarming to hear them say they'd never done anything like this - that they wouldn't have thought of art in a landscape, or art on this scale or that they could make art themselves. heartwarming, no?


going to the local schools was also really fun. one of the guys - bill - was over 6 feet tall. many of the kids in the town had no interactions with any foreigners except for their irish english teacher and TV. so bill - he was an oddity. they came up to his thigh. in the end, though, we all stood out like sore thumbs there.

walk the line

the students were so much more well behaved and engaged than those that i've met here in the states. part of it, i think, is that their lives are much more regimented [for which i can see good and bad points], more is expected of them and socially there is more pressure to succeed and do well in school. there is also pressure to conform - [another +/-]. for example, while drawing with them if they were told to draw a circle they wanted to know what color and what size - they didn't want to do it incorrectly. and they would all look at one another's papers to make sure they were all doing the same thing. i couldn't help but think that art isn't usually about conformity. especially contemporary art. foreign X 2.

above is the red line on the floor of the school - you march on one side of the line so that traffic flows smoothly. this principle is repeated in adulthood in all the subway and train stations. there are yellow lines all over - you are supposed to walk on the left or right side of them depending. i guess if you are groomed for that from age 5 - it all makes sense.

below are some of my favorite images from the schools.

home ec



if you want to see all the school photos they are here

the first set of photos from koumi are here

all photos are living together in the koumi set

next i'll talk/show more about the installations we did, the trip to nagano we took and some other local sites/events.

before i go - ash started talking about our new book - the year of magical thinking - on ship. i'm so excited to talk about this book. reading it was really a profound thing for me.....

hope you all have nice weekends planned!



i can't say enough great things about this post- i am anxious for the next one!

the photos all look like they are straight from a design magazine. i bet that was such a rewarding environment to be a part of!
julie said…
OH OH Lisa, your trip sounds AMAZING and beautiful. Loved reading about Ando's Architecture. It reminded me of my thesis that i wrote about modern and traditional Japanese architecture - brought back lots of memories.

Also hearing about the cultural differences and how the kids think about art and the interesting.

Well done you for surviving the group of men! Cant wait to hear more!! So glad youre back xxxxx
eshu said…
oh Lisa, i can't wait to read more! i now want to go to Japan more than ever. i love that you said you felt like Andy Goldsworthy (a personal favorite). hope you slept well last night!
life in yonder said…
What an amazing experience you have been part of! I envy you in the best possible way. Just reading about it is wonderful. Thank so much for sharing this journey and your thoughts about it with us. I can't wait to continue reading, seeing and learning. Anne Marie
shari said…
so many amazing things in this post. i love how you not only document your trip but you share insights, thoughts, questions. i'm really looking forward to hearing more too. love all of your photos. happy weekend. xoxo ps: i've never been in an earthquake. i wonder how i'd react. glad it was small and you are safe.
Kathleen said…
wow lisa. the photos look amazing. i love the ones of the school. sounds like an incredible experience so far. can't wait to hear/see more.
(that eel looks pretty yummy too!)
wendy said…
oh your time looks many good things I don't even know what to say!
just this first piece of your time there. beautifully described and photographed.
meg said…
thanks for sharing all these amazing pictures. looks like it was a great trip!
deerseason87 said…
You have to love a culture that values form AND function so much. Good to have you back!

maditi said…
looks like the most amazing time .. the stories ... the people .. the photos!!!
and thanks for linking to my new blog, I hope to post some of your japan pics :)
cruststation said…
The camp is so tranquil and beautiful, WOW in every picture and the food Yum! Interesting insights into the culture and school life, the school is pristine, thank you so much for sharing, can't wait to hear more.
Abigail said…
Can't tell you how much I am enjoying hearing about this trip - it looks A-mazing Lisa!

What fabulous things/ places/ sights/ experiences/ foods

Can't wait for part deux!
Hope you got your full nights sleep! xox
stats said…
I totally would've have tried to knick one of those pink irons and then been shipped back so fast.
glad you're back!
risa said…
wow. what an amazing trip! that food, those cabins, the irons!!!! i've heard about those japanese toilets...i can't wait to hear what you have to say about them. :)
louise said…
Hi there Lisa,

Your trip sounds just fantastic! What a beautiful museum, what surprisingly wonderful accommodation, what delicious food, what a stunning part of the world.

It sounds like you had a brilliant time and enjoyed every facet of the experience. You're probably now missing the intense creativity such a residency can provide... lovely to have you back though.

xo lj
gracia said…
Oh, wow! So much to say... and I was blown away by those fantastical cabins, one apiece! By the time I reached the end, my mind was all a-whirl with thoughts of your travels and I'm keen to see more. Best head to your flickr site and explore further.
take care, g xo
(So glad you're back!)
Claire said…
Wow, what an interesting trip! Thank you for sharing about it. Your photos are wonderful.
true nature said…

you're back! so nice to have you "here" again...i'm reading your culture shock with home with eagerness...kinda bracing myself for that one day. feels strange to think we've been gone for almost a year...

i have a (little!) something to drop you in the mail, could you send me your address again? ;) xo
bugheart said…
i love the new
so perfect.
it sounds
truly amazing...
did all the artists
speak japanese?
i love the
photos so much.
so glad you
are back
of course
i can't wait
to see more!
ladylinoleum said…
What a wonderful experience! Glad you're back!
poppy said…
looks like such an amazing experience! and a great post about it!
mary said…
thanks so much for sharing this with us, Lisa. it sounds incredible.
Tiffany said…
It sounds so amazing; the sights, the sounds, the cultural differences. Oh, I can't wait to see more pictures and here more about your experience!
deerseason87 said…
Tag, you're it!

Here's how it works: Players list 8 facts/habits about themselves. At the end of the post, players then tag 8 people by posting their names and making sure they know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment at the tagee’s blog... or else you will be cursed! (Just kidding.)

jen said…
sounds like a great trip! and so educational. it is great to hear your take on things. i would love to hear more about the food;)
lisa s said…
thanks so much for all your kind comments. i'm thrilled that my trip interests you guys!!
simple me said…
I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you to "digest" all this information.

this place looks very tranquil and super organised, maybe a tiny weeny too much organised and regimented :).
the scenery is gorgeous but so much "perfection" is almost surreal.
I really enjoyed reading that about the sizes of the rooms and the tatamis and your reflection on Tadao's work (one of my favourite architects by the way). I would have loved to see this for myself ... did I tell you before I'm so envious of you and this trip :) ...
this experience must have enriched you so much. can you already feel the difference at the way you look and think about things? I imagine that it will happen.
I love the idea of the hot rock room and that image of you in the paper. it made me smile.
the colours and "lines", rows of everything in the images are amazing. it is like a prepared set. it is like nobody "lives" there.
thanks for sharing these ... I'm having fun ... moving to the next one ...
Di said…
Wow it sounds like an amazing experience!! I am looking forward to reading the rest of the posts about your trip now!
amisha said…
what a fantastic post!! i loved reading your insights about this space, the culture, the interactions you had with your fellow artists and the community. the schools sound really fascinating and the gallery space... wow. and of course i heart these photos!! my favorite is the irons, i think :)

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