On this trip to see this exhibition, I took with me three items and got on a Shinkansen bullet train bound for Morioka, Iwate Prefecture. They were a verse from the book Morioka Note, written by the early-Showa-era poet/architect Michizo Tachihara (1914-1939); his poem Adagio that is inscribed on a monument; and Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 5, ‘Emperor,’ Second Movement: Adagio,” which Tachihara referred to in the said book. I headed toward Morioka to the former residence of Shoichiro Ishii, who was the governor of Iwate in the late 19th century. Along the way, I imagined the clear sunlight and air of the remote, retro town in northern Japan that Tachihara wrote about.
When I entered through the reception area of this exhibition, I began to hear sounds falling from above. The dry, pleasant tones told me that they came from Akinori Matsumoto’s sound objects, but I was to realize later that those sounds served a significant role in the exhibition. On the ceiling near reception, Onohana’s animated film Tokyo was subtly projected in a position where one had to look up at. In the film, the hiragana characters in “Tokyo” (that is, “と・う・き・ょ・う”), which were each repeatedly traced over through being passed on from person to person, had transformed to the point where they were beyond recognition. The extent of their deviation from the original characters seemed to be revealing the remote distance that lay between Morioka and Tokyo. I arrived in Morioka in a little over two hours from Tokyo, but in September 1938, it took several days for Tachihara to travel that same distance via Yamagata, Sendai and Ishinomaki. This got me thinking about how far removed Morioka must have been to Tachihara―not only the physical distance but also in a psychological sense.
There were two rooms on the first floor of the building. Exhibited in the first room were the works of all the participating artists: Onohana, Tomoko Hashimoto, Akinori Matsumoto, and Mitsuhito Wada. At the far end of the room, Matsumoto’s airplanes leisurely flew in midair, as if they were commuting between the distant land of Tokyo and here, in Morioka. Displayed in the shop in the second room were small works by Takako Azami, Fumie Hiratai and Megumi Honda, all of whom had participated in the first exhibition of this series. Hence, this exhibition was constructed so that the viewers could understand this project as a whole just by viewing the works shown on the first floor.
Mitsuhito Wada’s slide images were projected on the entire wall along the staircase leading to the second floor. The projected still images were cut out from everyday scenes in Tokyo and Morioka. Partly due to the slow transitions between slides, the images appeared as if they were a series of connected scenes, for the colors and compositions of the slides showed similarities with the next ones. The scenes that I saw over the handrail on the landing at the top of the stairs make it seem rather like I was gazing at landscapes from an observation deck. Viewing those images took my mind to an unexpected place.
Exhibited in that room were the works of Tomoko Hashimoto. A pair of paintings, each depicting a cluster of grapes, was displayed in a high position of the wall. The size of both canvases was determined so that it harmonized with the two windows on either side. While the cluster in the painting on the left was heavy with grapes, the grapes in the one on the right were scarce, aside from a few scant remaining ones. Circular panels were arranged on the floor, each representing a grape that seemed to have fallen off from above. The sight of those panels as seen from the entrance emphasized the sense of perspective, for the ones closer to the entrance were larger, while the rest became smaller and smaller toward the further end of the room. The hanging clusters of grapes were somewhat reminiscent of suspended bodies, which reminded one of the crucifixion figure (and come to think of it, the grapes may make one think of wine representing the blood of Christ). The way her works conformed to the architectural space was also similar to a religious painting. The sunlight that shone through the windows manifested the transparent sense of radiance in the paint, while also revealing a spiritual space where her works resonated with the architecture.
The adjacent room was pervaded with orange light. The yellow that Wada typically uses is an eccentric and metaphysical color. In comparison, the orange he utilized in this work conveyed a sense of warmth and intimacy. Above the fireplace was Hashimoto’s painting of a camellia that looked as if the flower had just plopped off of a branch. Viewing the single camellia inside the empty room devoid of any other object likely reminded many knowledgeable viewers of the episode when Toyotomi Hideyoshi visited Sen no Rikyu, wanting to see morning glories. But while Hideyoshi looked forward to viewing the morning glories that bloomed profusely in Rikyu’s garden, Rikyu clipped off all of those flowers so that he could welcome Hideyoshi with a single morning glory arranged in the tokonoma (alcove) of his tearoom. This episode made me realize that this exhibition room represented a Japanese tearoom. Thus, the slides projected on the wall at the staircase, and perhaps Hashimoto’s room, all served to create the scenery of a roji (tea house garden) leading to a teahouse/Wada’s room.
From this point of the exhibition, the works became more dynamic. A number of Akinori Matsumoto’s light-weight airplanes, which were suspended from the ceiling, gently turned and flapped their wings. Each plane was composed of an airframe made from bamboo sticks, a small motor, a propellor, and wings made from a porous type of washi paper. His bamboo-tube work with wooden pieces was placed above the fireplace. The wooden pieces occasionally revolved and tapped the tube, creating sounds similar to those of a wooden xylophone. A revolving movement is one of the key elements in Matsumoto’s works. Needless to say, in his objects, a revolving action becomes the motivating power to generate humorous movements and resonate sounds. The whole course of movements performed by his sound objects suggests not only the circulation of time and the seasons but also the cycle of life; thus, his works share perceptions familiar to our views of the world.
The last room on the second floor was a vault room. At the center of the small room, two sets of steel-pipe desks and chairs, similar to those found in a school, were placed facing one another. On each desk was an iPad and a headset for the visitor to view Onohana’s animated film Ouch, Chou Chou. It was a story about a character named Cabbage reuniting with her friend Pea, who she had not seen for some time, and then slipping into Pea’s inner feelings. Pea, who had been bullied and attempted suicide, suffered from a loss of memory. This animation keenly conveys Cabbage trying to empathize with her friend’s feelings as well as her own sense of helplessness. In stark contrast, Onohana’s other work of animation, such a good place to die, develops through showing dynamic movements, from the creation of Earth to its constant evolution. The last scene shows a vision from the viewpoint of gazing upon land from inside the ocean; the film then abruptly comes to an end. Because of the lively and fluid nature of this film up until that final scene, that place in the sea seems more like a spot where life began rather than where it ended. The great range of completely difference approaches she adopted in those two films revealed the magnitude of this artist’s talent.
I then walked up the stairs and arrived at the attic. Installed stealthily in the dim corners were Akinori Matsumoto’s works/sound objects. Because the objects were timer-controlled, they suddenly began to play their respective sounds, as if they had come back to life and claimed their own existence. Those were the same sounds that I had heard upon entering this building.
Matsumoto’s sounds from the attic continued to follow me as I toured around from room to room and engaged myself with each individual work on exhibit. Hence, the secret of this exhibition was unfolded in the last room. The act of appreciating art requires facing an individual work and personally viewing the details of the form and the materials that produced that phenomenon/work. However, what took place inside this exhibition venue was a rare experience in which I perceived sound-based works I was unable to see, while also connecting with another work that existed before my eyes. This can be described as an individual visual experience that was enveloped within sounds. In addition, the resonance of the sounds allowed me to always be conscious of the whole building where the works were housed. That is, I walked inside the former residence of Governor Ishii, which I saw as an instrument, and viewed the works, while also feeling as if the venue was the size of a human body. I am certain that those sounds were what created the sense of oneness among the exhibited works. They escorted us through the venue, as we also perceived the imperceptible mystery that existed beyond the exhibited works.