Japan Italy: Takahiro Iwasaki

Takahiro Iwasaki

Photo credits: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra flickr.com

This week we will talk about the artist who just this year represented the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale: Takahiro Iwasaki.
Takahiro Iwasaki was born and grew up in Hiroshima, where he attended University obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in 1998. He later obtained a Master of Arts in 2001 and a Doctorate of Philosophy in 2003.
We are talking about an artist renowned internationally for his uniqueness and recognizability at a glance. His works have been exhibited all over the world, including: the Museum of Modern Art in Seoul, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in Moscow and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Trento and Rovereto.
In 2005 he also obtained a Master of Fine Arts from the Edinburgh College of Art in the UK.

Poetics and Works

Photo credits: Jean Bosco SIBOMANA flickr.com

Takahiro Iwasaki mainly focuses on "material changes" and "context changes". In fact, he is known for his works in which he transforms seemingly banal materials and waste products into stunning sculptures realised with great precision and meticulousness. By transforming common objects and materials that we all use every day, and reinterpreting them by giving them a second life, he allows us to look at them in a different light.
The deep and indissoluble relation with his own city prompted him to create an introspective and reflective poetics. Hiroshima, first destroyed by the atomic bomb during the Second World War, and subsequently rebuilt, inspired the artist in the choices of his own communicative and artistic style. But not only this, for Iwasaki the relation with nature is also very important, and together with his city it is one of the greatest sources of inspiration.
 Having spent his childhood in Hiroshima, Iwasaki grew up with the reflection of its memory inscribed in his mind. This reminds us that the moment of reflection could also be interpreted as his awareness of "the passing time".

Iwasaki’s most popular series is Out of Disorder, which reproduces architectural structures using unusual materials such as hair, dust, wires, towels, and toothbrushes.
Among the reconstructed structures there are the panoramic wheel of Coney Island, the Cosmoworld of Yokohama and also port areas and oil refineries.
The series also includes maps carved on rolls of duct tape, including a reproduction of the Victoria Peak in Hong Kong.
These works were exhibited at the Cornerhouse gallery in Manchester in 2011, during the Asian Art Biennale at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in 2013 and at the Kawasaki City Museum in 2014.
Another series of Iwasaki is represented by temples carved in Japanese cypress wood. A specular version of the temple is attached underneath as if it is reflected on water, and the whole sculpture is suspended in mid air.

Photo credits: Gerard Lemos flickr.com

The first work of this kind, Reflection Model, was exhibited at the Tokyo Natsuka Gallery in 2001.
 Of the aforementioned work, in 2012, Iwasaki completed a new and more complex model, which faithfully represents the Byōdō-in near Kyoto. The latter was exhibited at the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art organized by the Queensland Art Gallery in Australia.
In September of the same year, in the exhibition space of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Iwasaki arranged numerous microscopic sculptures including an incomplete Eiffel Tower.
In 2014 Iwasaki created two site-specific works for the exhibition Perduti nel paesaggio (Lost in Landscape) of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Trento. The two works, built with hair and dust, represent the cupola of the museum and a tower, and they are visible through the use of a telescope.

Japan Pavilion - Venice Biennale of Arts 2017

For the 57th Venice Biennale in Venice, the Japanese Pavilion hosts his exhibition called Turned Upside Down, It's a Forest, and whose title is inspired by Venice itself.
As a whole, this work is characterized by the inclusion of elements that, although not physically present, represent the main part of the work's identity. For example water in the Reflection Model series, for the constant contrast between order and disorder and for a profound interest in ecological and social issues.
Therefore the exhibition presents seven works among sculptures and installations, some of which were specifically designed by Iwasaki for the 2017 Bienniale.

Photo credits: Gerard Lemos flickr.com

The series Reflection Models consists of large architectural models of existing Japanese temples realised as if they were reflecting on the water pond on which the original buildings were actually located. This recalls the fascinating dualism that unites reality and ambiguity.
To further emphasize this concept the models are made with the same wood, Japanese cypress, used for the real life buildings.

Finally, the work Flow, which is part of the series Tectonic Models, alludes to the instability of the earth's crust, and more generally, of our social systems. The work is made up of a stack of scientific books precariously resting on an small, old table that the artist found in Venice, arranged so as to refer to the idea of a building under construction.

Photo credits: Annette Dubois flickr.com


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Japan Tradition: Hadaka Matsuri

The Hadaka Matsuri

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Even though nowadays nudity is not a shame anymore, in this part of the world, and not only here, it still is one of those topics usually considered tingly.
Nudity intrigues us, sometimes it upsets us, and it surely arouses our curiosity.

The Land of the rising sun is a place rich of costumes and traditions often in contrast with each other. Let's consider for example their obsession with good manners or the extreme attention to their privacy. But also their strong sense of decency and the districts dedicated to night pleasures and endless fun.
What better chance to 'bare ourselves', if not during the Hadaka Matsuri.

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Before we focus on this particular celebration I would like to take a step back. In Japanese language the word matsuri indicates a traditional festival. These festivals usually coincide with an event that attracts thousands of people in streets and parks.

The Origin

A great number of festivals took their origin in Chinese traditional festivals. However these festivity tended to disappear as time passed by, mixing with, or even being replaced by typical Japanese costumes. In fact, in Japan, the idea of festival or celebration derives from the deep bond that this community has with nature. This bond can be traced in the traditional religion of the country, the Shintoism.

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'Hadaka Matsuri' literally means 'Festival of the naked man'. During this celebration the approximately 9.000 participants, all men, wear nothing but the traditional Japanese loincloth, the fundoshi. for those who want to, they can wear a kimono too. But among all participants there are also men that decide to wear nothing at all.
This festival takes place in many different parts of Japan. The most important is the one that takes place in Okayama (city where this festival originated from), on the island of Honshu. It takes place in the Saidai-ji shrine, and in fact the full name of this festival would be "Saidaiji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri". As it a religious celebration it is absolutely forbidden to bring or drink alcohol. Also, men with tattoos can take part in it, but only if they cover them with a band.

The Hadaka Matsuri has ancient origins. It is said that it can traced back in 767 d.C, when worshipers competed to receive protection charms made of paper, the go-o, thrown to them by a priests.

Hadaka Matsuri and Nudity

According to some evidences, it is believed that those who were able to obtain one of these protection charms would be blessed with good fortune for one year.
Moreover, the collective belief saw in nudity something able to absorb evil forces and misfortune. In fact, the ones that caught the charm were also proclaimed 'Naked man' or 'Naked Spirit' (shin-otoko). All those that wished to get rid of their misfortune tried to touch him.
But still today it is not easy to 'touch' the fortunate man because of the many participants in this festival. Even for frequent participants it might take many years before they are able to touch him.

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As time passed by, priests realized that the go-o made in paper did not last for long. In fact, they ended up being destroyed right because of the crowd that tried to catch them. Later, they were replaced by wooden sticks still used now and prepared by priests themselves through manual instruments.
And this is how nudity became a sacred tradition.

The Tradition

After a few days of isolation to keep vigil and pray, young participants move toward the shrine wearing only the fundoshi. They run while being hit by ice-cold jet of water. Reached the shrine, they have to catch one of the wooden sticks, the shingi. Priests throw these sticks to the crowd from the upper part of the Shrine. At 22:00, these charms are throw at them with almost all lights off to make it even more challenging. After catching the sticks, the first one that is able to put it in vertical position into a case filled with rice is proclaimed shin-otoko. The winner is blessed with one year of happiness and good fortune, and they will also receive a monetary prize.

Together with the shingi, priests throw 100 willow branches, and all those that are able to catch one will be granted with good fortune for the next year.

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Less fortunate are the incidents that may happen due to the crowd. In the best case scenario they are 'only' bruises, broken noses or lips. For this reason that priests always ask participants to write down on their fundoshi (or on a piece of paper inside it) all useful information like: name, surname, address and blood type.

Fotografo : Kurt Gledhill