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I thought I would just sort of read through Morgan Pitelka’s new book, Spectacular Accumulation (U Hawaii Press, 2016) on the side. There was spring break, and then flights to and from BYU, and to and from Seattle, plus hotel stays in each of those places. Sure I can finish this thin book – in English – in just a few weeks of here-and-there, on planes and so forth. Nope. Who did I think I was kidding?

But, in any case, I have now finally finished it – in between lots of other stuff, which is a large part of why it took so long. For anyone reading this as a review, in order to see whether or not to pick it up, please don’t think it’s a slow or tiresome read. It’s certainly not. I just got busy, is all. I’m really glad I took time out and read it.

Discussing the political power and importance of gift-giving, collecting, and social rituals (such as tea ceremony), Pitelka makes a most valuable contribution to a growing discourse on the political significance of architecture, and of art. Drawing connections between Sengoku daimyô practices of hostage-taking, gift-giving, tea ceremony, falconry, and the “spectacular accumulation” of famous or otherwise precious objects (incl. tea implements and swords), Pitelka argues for the political significance of all of these things, writing

“I do not see practices such as tea, art display, gift giving, and falconry as symbolic arts that point in the direction of real politics – rather, I understand these forms of sociability as the political process by which the warrior society was made. Rulers placed limits on the cultural and social practices that other warriors could engage in, and thus empowered selected retainers through gifts and the extension of special cultural privileges. These acts created a kind of consensus regarding the distribution of power among those with different positions within the developing political structure. … We should take seriously the role played by cultural practices and social rituals in the establishment and maintenance of early modernity in Japan. … Cultural practice and social rituals such as … gift giving as tools for the reification of hierarchy and the replication of social distinction.” (14)

While Pitelka is certainly not the first to raise such issues, I still could not help to cheer (Yes! This!) as I read these lines. While Spectacular Accumulation did not, in the end, answer some of the more particular questions I was hoping it would, for my particular research needs – such as, describing in any detail the rituals of how precisely someone swore their fealty, or renewed their oaths of fealty, to a lord; or what special meanings a gift of a sword, or a horse, specifically, might convey as compared to any other kind of gift – still, the book provides some inspirational notions, and concrete historical description, for the intersection of art, social ritual, and politics.

And! Pitelka has also maintained a beautiful website/blog in conjunction with the book – go check out http://spectacularaccumulation.com/ for even more on Tokugawa Ieyasu, blog posts on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his death, and, god, just tons of information and beautiful images.

A display of Chinese ceramics at the British Museum. Not quite what the shoguns would have had on display, I imagine, but perhaps in a related realm. Photo my own.

In the Introduction, right from the get-go, Pitelka introduces a number of intriguing and inspirational concepts, pointing too to other scholarship on gift-giving, collecting, and social ritual as political. He explains quite early on the titular concept of “spectacular accumulation.” Pointing to a Simon Schama essay on Dutch still-life paintings, he explains that spectacular accumulation is “the practice of hoarding symbolically significant things and aggressively displaying them for cultural and political gain,” (6) and then goes on to discuss the collection and display of Chinese paintings & ceramics by the Ashikaga shoguns, and the amassing of many of these same objects, along with swords and other treasures, by Sengoku daimyô. The fact that in 1615-1616 Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered a significant number of men to invest a considerable amount of time and effort to search through the ruins of Osaka castle for ceramics, swords, and other things which could be recovered from Hideyoshi’s collection, and added to his own, shows just how powerful and important this was at the time. Pitelka does later provide one of the most thorough descriptions of the Siege of Osaka I have ever read (because I am not a military historian or samurai fanboy and don’t generally seek out such content), but also talks about how Ieyasu’s ability to recover Hideyoshi’s collection – including many objects which previously belonged to Nobunaga, and to the Ashikaga – as an important part of building up his own image of power and legitimacy.

In Chapter One, Pitelka discusses the Ashikaga practices of collection and display, and its interconnection with tea ceremony – the objects used in the tea ceremony are treasures of the host’s collection, and their “display” through their use is a central part of the social event – as well as conceptual links between these and other samurai practices of cultivating an image of power/legitimacy. For a samurai lord to possess certain objects (or people, in the case of the Sengoku practice of hostage-taking), and to give them out as gifts to allies or retainers, were key elements in marking his power, and in establishing or maintaining hierarchies. Pitelka links these two by writing that

The most powerful members of warrior society, warlords (daimyo), exchanged entities over which they had some hegemony – a famous tea bowl in one instance, a vassal’s son or daughter in another instance – as part of a political calculation. Such acts of exchange created value for both the exchanged objects and people and transferred some of this value to the actors conducting the exchange. Even when the value was not commoditized or monetized, as in the case of gift exchanges of tea utensils or hostage exchanges of family members, a system of social and cultural hierarchy was inscribed through the act of exchange and accumulation (18),

and that these exchanges, of gifts and of hostages, “helped to define the grammar of politics” (18).

This connects in closely with what I am trying to do in my own project – to discuss costume, music, movement in space, and other culturally performative elements of Ryukyuan embassies to Edo as having had real political meaning, and real political impacts. Further, beyond that, to argue that these are not peripheral to some other, more fully real, set of political acts, but that these “cultural” or “performance” elements were, themselves, the core of the political interaction & event, that they were fundamental to the meaning-making.

However, perhaps because of the era he is focusing on – before the end of Sengoku, when Unification is still in-process – or perhaps because of his focus on the social/political conceptual argument he is making, much of Pitelka’s discussion of gift-giving speaks only in vague generalities about the role of gift-giving in forging personal/social relationships, where I might have been hoping for something more concrete, e.g. explanation of precisely which gifts symbolized entering into the gift-receiver’s service, as a vassal. Was it the case that when someone presented a daimyô with a sword, it was a symbol of their fealty, and that they would only do so in that particular circumstance, and that whenever they did not present the daimyô with a sword, they were not at that time swearing or renewing oaths of fealty?

The 13th century blade Fukuoka Ichimonji Sukezane, given by Katô Kiyomasa as a gift to Tokugawa Ieyasu, and today held at Nikkô Tôshôgû. National Treasure.

In Chapter Two, Pitelka continues along similar lines, describing the collecting practices of Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, writing that they saw the “spectacular accumulation” of tea implements, swords, and the like “not as a static investment to be hoarded or protected from the ravages of time, but as an instrument in the politics and social maneuverings of unification” (44, emphasis my own), and discussing the ways they continued, and emulated, the collecting practices of the Ashikaga.

He also defends his focus on the cultural/collecting/tea practices of these warlords, writing that earlier scholarship often

“create[s] excessive delineation between an idealized ‘spiritual world’ of tea and the politics of a society at war, presuming that the tea practice of commoners like Imai Sōkyū and Sen no Rikyū, who were less directly involved in the wars of unification, somehow trumped the tea practice of Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and others” (45).

This clearly ties into a much larger argument, a jab at academic attitudes more generally, which seek to divorce not only art from politics, but also the study of each apart from one another. Jumping ahead for a moment to the Epilogue, Pitelka builds upon this argument further, noting that “on the whole exhibitions of Japanese art inside and outside of Japan continue to fetishize the quality and originality of works as art over their social, political, and cultural contexts, or their meaning as historical sources” (174). Regular readers of my blog will know that this remains one of my chief sticking points, one of my pet peeves. I eagerly look forward to the day that we can see the Metropolitan, or other major art museums in this country, organize a Japanese art exhibit that thoroughly explores a historical development, event, or period, whether it be Kabuki theater, the bombing of Hiroshima, the urban development of Kyoto over the centuries, or Japan’s pre-modern maritime trade interactions, through beautiful art objects. These things are beautiful, yes. They are intricately and expertly-made, yes. They are inspiring, yes. But they are also historically significant and informative. I want to see tea caddies exhibited with a gallery label that explains how they were used politically by samurai warlords. I want to see paintings of Dejima, of Ryukyuan street processions, of gold mines, or agricultural techniques, or paintings of kofun burial mounds, coupled with labels that tell us not only about the painter, and the style, and the making of the thing, but that tell us about what is being depicted, and what this means for Japanese history.

Sankin kôtai procession of the Nagoya daimyô, as seen in a handscroll painting by Odagiri Shunkô (detail). My photo of a replica at the Edo-Tokyo Museum, of an original housed at the Tokugawa Art Museum.

Chapter Three expands yet again on this idea of gift-giving and ritual performance as political maneuvers with real political significance and impact. Pitelka moves us forward in time, past Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, focusing now on the reign of Tokugawa Ieyasu as shogun (and the years immediately preceding and following), but the themes remain closely similar. While this chapter, like all the rest, is wonderfully informative on details we might never discover elsewhere, one thing I particularly took away from this chapter was the notion of the Sengoku & Tokugawa feudal orders as being particularly concerned with the movement of objects, and of bodies. Here, Pitelka reiterates an argument that hostages are not entirely unlike collections, or gifts, and that keeping one, or giving it away, is a gesture of power, of authority, and in the case of giving it away, of the forging or strengthening of personal bonds. When one gives one’s son as a hostage to one’s lord, one is showing one’s loyalty. And, when the lord eventually returns the hostage, he is showing his graciousness and generosity, a gesture of his faith in the retainer’s loyalty. Political marriages functioned quite similarly, in what I imagine are fairly obvious ways, tying one family to another. Sankin kōtai, or alternate attendance, should also be seen as being of a type, Pitelka reminds us – it is not only about each daimyō being forced to keep his family “hostage” to the shogun in Edo, but also about the daimyō himself being, essentially, hostage to his obligations to travel back and forth, and to expend a great deal of time and money doing so. It is a show of shogunal power that the shogun is able to command (control) the daimyō’s movement and physical location in this way, and a show of the daimyō’s loyalty that he obliges.

One more thing that comes up in this chapter, as elsewhere in the book, that I find particularly valuable is Pitelka’s reminders that nothing in history is guaranteed or predetermined. With these so-called “Three Unifiers” in particular, we have a tendency to think they were somehow destined to fail, fail, and succeed, respectively – and that the success and stability of the Tokugawa order, once established in 1603, was here to stay. This seems sort of a given as we look at it retrospectively. But, this was by no means guaranteed at the time. As of 1600, Ieyasu had merely claimed authority through martial victory – he was not shogun yet. And as of 1603, though he was shogun, there were still notable opponents to his rule – namely, especially, Toyotomi Hideyori and his numerous followers. But for a roll of the dice, history could have gone quite differently – Ieyasu might have lasted no longer than Nobunaga or Hideyoshi. What exactly might have happened instead I won’t venture to guess – there are likely some over at the Samurai-Archives Forums who would know far better than me just how feasible it was that Hideyori might have ever become hegemon, or whether the whole archipelago might have broken down into all-out war all over again, or whether this or that other outcome was at all likely. We should remember, too, that all the way up until the 1630s, there were still considerable foreign (read: Christian) influences within the realm, with a mission to Rome being dispatched even as late as the 1620s. Who knows what might have happened differently had the Christian daimyō acted differently, forming a faction against the Tokugawa, or simply breaking away as a separate “state.” Even though in the actual course of events they did not do so, it is still for this reason (among others) that I think it keen to put quotes around “Japan” as a “nation” or “country” during this era, and to speak of the Tokugawa state(s), even if there are those who cry “feh” at academia’s constant pluralizing of things like feminisms, globalizations, and so forth.

For some reason I can’t get the gif to work, so here’s a still from a brilliant animated gif by Segawa Atsuki 瀬川三十七.

Pitelka discusses falconry in Chapter Four, and as interesting as this is, I decided to skip it, in the interest of time. This was the one chapter that – on the surface, at least – seemed particularly less relevant to my own research interests, and so I moved on to Chapter Five, where Pitelka discusses the rituals of war. First, he disavows the reader of the notion that war is “a dramatic encounter between heroic individuals” (118). The lionization, mythological warrior narratives out of the way, he then turns to the subject of battlefield ritual, arguing that it’s not all about just pure violence (and strategy and tactics and so on), but that “struggles over political authority were as likely to occur in the realm of ritual practices as in martial conflicts” and that rituals such as formalities in letter-writing, and the seating order at meetings among lords & retainers (as in the image above), were intimately interconnected into “the hierarchy that defined warrior status distinctions and that allowed warrior bands to function both as units that waged war and as organizations that engaged in governance” (118). Further, not only that, but the idea that it was these rituals which “activated” that hierarchy, allowing people to feel/sense/know their place, and to perform or enact that hierarchical position or role appropriately, bringing the hierarchy as a whole into existence, and into force. This chapter, incidentally, also touches upon the practice of counting heads, as a means of marking battlefield accomplishment.

The Yômeimon at Nikkô Tôshôgû. Photo my own.

Chapter Six then focuses on Tokugawa Ieyasu’s deification, as Tôshô Daigongen, the Avatar that Illumines the East. This was a very interesting and informative chapter as to the details of this process, complicating what in a more general survey might be simply brushed over. We learn that Ieyasu was not immediately interred and deified at Nikkô, which remains the chief (or at least the most famous) Tôshô Shrine, but rather that he was at first interred and enshrined at Sunpu – which had been his chief base of operations for a time both before and after Sekigahara – and that it was only as a result of some in-fighting between the Buddhist monks Tenkai and Bonshun that the original Tôshôgû at Kunôzan (in Sunpu) declined in prominence and was replaced by Nikkô.

Sign outside the Tokyo National Museum for the “Great Tokugawa Exhibition” (Dai Tokugawa ten), Nov 2007. Photo my own.

Finally, in his Epilogue, Pitelka addresses the way Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Tokugawa clan & shogunate, and many of the famous objects (chiefly tea implements and swords) discussed in the book, tend to be exhibited in museums. As a museum studies guy, I found this particularly intriguing. Museum politics is something that can be really touchy – because you don’t want to endanger future relationships, with institutions where you might want to do research, or from whom you might want to borrow objects, as well as for any number of other reasons related to professional networks, trying to avoid factionalism or backbiting, etc etc. But, not only is politics terribly intriguing in a backdoor “inside story” gossip sort of way, but it is also terribly important, actually, for pushing the field to do better.

Two points in particular emerge from Pitelka’s critique: one, that as I mention above, all too often we see objects displayed only as art objects, for their aesthetic qualities, with insufficient attention paid to their value or importance as tools for understanding broader historical contexts. And, two, that because of the particular politics of which institutions control which objects, and the because of the role of the Agency for Cultural Affairs (Bunkachô) in loans and exhibits of certain types of objects (esp. Important Cultural Properties and National Treasures), certain “mythohistory” narratives get emphasized or perpetuated, while critical, revisionist, or simply different (other) narratives get sidelined, or suppressed. The Nation has strong political motives to have its history represented in particular ways, reinforcing the greatness of Japan’s past, the great beauty of its culture, and so forth, for any number of purposes relating to tourism, foreign investment, diplomacy, general international prestige – and government – not only in Japan, but perhaps nearly everywhere in the world – is more interested in those things than in nuanced, complex, historical truth simply for the sake of truth.

Tokugawa clan crest at Zôjôji, Tokyo. Photo my own.

To conclude (this review), I *loved* Spectacular Accumulation, I really did. I learned a ton, I got lots of good inspiration on how to think about ritual, and I also really enjoyed Pitelka’s modeling of how to write a work that incorporates material culture so closely, so deeply.

But, if you’ll permit me to go on a tangential rant for just a moment – and this is by no means a criticism of Pitelka, but rather a thought about the field more broadly – it continues to really frustrate me that we can have so many books in Japanese that just lay out thorough, detailed, explanations of a topic, and yet this just doesn’t seem like it can be done (or, at least, it isn’t done) in English-language scholarship. I have at least four books on my shelf right now, all of them in Japanese, that explain in categorized detail the various kinds of rituals of Tokugawa period samurai interactions. One section on New Year’s rituals, and one on other annual ceremonies. One on births and one on marriages and one on deaths. One chapter on shogunal journeys, and one on sankin kôtai. And somewhere, in one of these books, I found that gifts of mackerel, in particular, more so than any other fish, were a traditional gift for New Year’s, because… well, I forget what the reason was, but it’s in there. And that while vassals would regularly present their lord with a horse on certain occasions, on certain others they presented an amount of silver as badai 馬代 – literally, “in place of a horse.” Yet, where does one see such information in English-language books? It might show up, if you’re lucky, in the course of describing some more thematic or conceptual argument, but almost never in a systematic discussion of, for example, in this case, a listing out of the various gifts typically given, and the occasion or the meaning. We constantly give specialists in other fields (e.g. scholars of European History, or World History) trouble, we criticize them, for not knowing Japan better, and for their uninformed statements about how things worked in pre-modern or early modern Japan. And there is, to be sure, a whole lot of nuanced complexity, and a great deal of validity, to that. But, I wonder, maybe if we started actually writing more informative works (and not only analytical, interpretive, ones), if that might be a big help towards having better-informed colleagues.

Anyway, returning from that digression, I loved both Pitelka’s approach in bringing material culture and cultural practice into the conversation on daimyô relations, and his good informative detail on the histories of individual tea implements, individual swords, and individual people and events, such as one might not find elsewhere. The next time I should be so fortunate to see the tea caddy Hatsuhana or the sword Ebina Kokaiji on display – maybe if they do another Shogun Age Exhibition or Dai-Tokugawa-ten – or the next time I read something about Sekigahara or the Grand Kitano Tea Ceremony – I’ll have so much more context. I’ll be able to draw the connections in my mind, and get so much more out of the experience.

And, when I return to my own research & writing efforts, I’ll have so much more to draw upon in terms of thinking about, and articulating, just how material culture and cultural practices connected into political outcomes. I do hope that I can rightfully include in my Introduction something quite similar to Pitelka’s statement that

“This book avoids the artificial distinction between cultural history and political history, between narratives of beautiful things and … a history of politics. The famed cultural efflorescence of these years was not subsidiary to the landscape of political conflict … but constitutive of it.” (p6)

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The annual University of Hawaii Art department “grad show” exhibition opened a few weeks ago, displaying work by MFA students in glass, ceramics, textiles, painting, photography, and sculpture (am I missing anyone?). I was truly stunned, and blown away, by the skill and talent and sheer artistic creativity of my friends. … It is one thing to note that a work is skilled, masterfully made, impressive, but furthermore, a big part of what makes these works amazing is that they are not purely conceptual, but rather actually speak to their concepts – the ideas and concepts are evident in the works, or can be read into the works. They are not inscrutable, too abstract, nor too obscure, leaving the visitor genuinely capable of getting meaning out of the works, and having an emotional reaction as well.

I had seen some of the pieces, or at least the concepts, over the course of last term, as they began to germinate and develop, but in many cases the final project was honestly levels beyond what I’d imagined it to be.

The atmosphere, that is, the space, was great too. In a show like this, where each artist has one or two pieces, and you’re trying to show everyone equally, it can be really tempting (or just the most obvious option) to sort of section it off and make the whole gallery into corners and alcoves and tiny rooms, so that each artist can have their own space. But here, this year, they left much of the gallery wide open, allowing pieces to interact, creating a dialogue between the pieces, and also a more open, airy environment (a less claustrophobic one) in which the visitor can feel freer and lighter, and thus in a better frame of mind to enjoy the art.

Now, I’m only going to talk about a few of the artworks. I hope no one is offended if I leave them out; I love you, too, guys, and I love your work, I do.

Jessica Orfe is one of the few artists who did take/get her own alcove, and it was brilliant – absolutely necessary for the effect I assume she was seeking to achieve. A white rabbit painted directly onto the wall greets you as you approach her section of the gallery. Following the white rabbit, you are pulled into her world, her dream sequences. They melt and blend into one another, to create a dreamscape that still feels quite fresh and original, no matter what anyone may say about the core idea being tired or cliché. Jessica pulls it off in such a way that it doesn’t feel tired or cliché at all, but rather a nod to the classic amidst a very fresh, new work.

Ghostly figures, described only roughly, walk into a building that is itself not quite there. Shadows melt and flow, like puddles of ink on the ground.

A rectangular form serve, Escher-like, as both window and fridge.

And one sole burst of color, in sky blue, highlights a rope just about break. Is the unseen figure being dropped helplessly into dream? Or is she desperately trying to pull herself up and stay in this fantasy world, to avoid returning to the banal?

Against this monochrome background, it takes the eye a moment to realize that a string, a thread, connected to a sewing needle painted on the wall is itself three-dimension, emerging from the wall, an actual piece of black string that is not painted on.

This is work is just filled with the kinds of hidden touches and little things to find, each with their own meanings or clever tricks or amusing gimmicks to them, that I love. It means you’re not just taking in the work in one go, but you’re really examining it, really exploring it, venturing through the depicted environment along with the travelers depicted in it, like in a Chinese landscape painting, walking up the paths and into the mountains, towards the temple, with your eyes and in your mind.

—-

Gideon Gerlt has constructed a deer or antelope of some sort out of metal, rope, and other materials, which is meant to recall ideas of totems and animal spirits. He called it a “boli,” which I assumed was a reference to an African native traditional practice, a concept akin to the totem of the Pacific Northwest Native American tribes; but Googling it now, I am having trouble finding any such term.

The creature itself is cute, its form really kind of amazing in how well done it is – a form fully recognizable as an antelope, out of scrap metal, rope, and whatever else – and cute in how small it is: maybe, what?, one foot off the floor, two at most. Cute, yet dangerous, its sharp, pointy antlers of wrought iron twisting all around. It’s easy to imagine emotions or expressions on its face, as it gazes up in awe or amusement at Gideon’s other work in the show, entitled “A Classic Example of Self-Defeat.”

I really appreciate his gallery text for the work, which reads:

“Eagles may soar, but this thing would never get sucked into a jet engine.”
“It looks like something da Vinci would have invented… if he were a dolt.”
“It’s just sad, really…”

There’s something wonderfully amusing in the idea of an artist intentionally creating a failure, intentionally creating something he might consider “sad” or “made by a dolt.”

It’s an intentional failure, with a wonderful sense of whimsy. Does it have deeper meaning? Perhaps.



The simplicity and naturalness of the wood and rope combines with the clean and manmade but still very pre-industrial, for a nostalgic, romantic sort of aesthetic. Knowing that Gideon is from Alaska, and likes to draw upon the aesthetics or environment of that part of the world, we can sense the dense woods of the Pacific Northwest in this work, alongside the Renaissance Italian workshop. It is held down to the ground by a very raw section of tree, more tree really than “lumber” or “wood” as material, as media.

I hadn’t realized that it spins. I don’t tend to touch artworks, especially if I’m nervous about breaking it or something. I need a sign that says “please touch me,” or even better, someone present in the gallery verbally telling me, encouraging me.

Gideon’s work plays well off of that of Chad Steve.

Chad has explicitly spoken of these ceramic constructions as reminiscent of Polynesian voyaging canoes. He fills them with unpainted, unglazed pieces in the form of Greek or Phoenician urns or amphorae or the like, calling to mind maritime trade and commerce, shipping these jars from the center of ceramics production to another city or another island, where they are to be painted. And in doing so, he evokes the voyaging aspect inherent in all our histories, connecting peoples and cultures across time and space.

The wooden scaffolds and ropes, like a drydock for the boats, somewhat plain, simple, and straightforward, play off of Gideon’s work quite nicely, reflecting some of the same aesthetics, and implying again a romantic pre-industrial past. The sentimentality for the homemade and artisanal nature of trade and life, society, back “then”, whenever and whereever that might be.

And then there was a piece by my good friend Katie Small.

Katie’s work (almost?) always deals with themes she encountered doing volunteer work in Kosovo. Her works can be kind of abstract sometimes, though the tar paper ground and other aspects do an excellent job of evoking the right emotions or atmosphere. The more you examine her works and really think about them, they can be quite dark and serious. They’re certainly not what one would expect from a smiling, bubbly, sunny girl like her… but then, these are very important messages and themes, and it’s obviously very meaningful and important to her to address them.

Here, she uses many of the same elements as other works of hers that I’ve seen – heavy black tar paper, torn and burned, recalling the damage and horrors of war and of genocide. But where her previous works portray somewhat abstract scenes of burnt-out cityscapes, here she reproduces something more concrete and lifesize, which one can easily imagine having actually existed, almost exactly as it is portrayed.

Coats, nearly all of them small enough to belong to children, hang on a wall, covered in orange, which drips like rust onto the wall below. Orange and black as though the coats have been chemically altered and merged into the wall by the extreme heat and flame of a dramatic bomb blast, or just by unnamed ravages of war, weathering, over time exposed to the elements after being abandoned, the shop window long ago smashed.

I gasped when I first saw this work, and was immediately reminded of the piles of shoes and suitcases at the Holocaust Museum in DC, and of photos of the storefronts of German cities after Kristallnacht.

The gallery label describes a storefront, but this could just as easily be a schoolroom. Where have the children gone? Are they safe, having fled? Or are they truly gone, these coats an eerie and terribly upsetting reminder of their lives, their existence, their great potential, so innocent, cut short by violence and evil?

….

I do apologize to end on such a note. I would like to congratulate and applaud all my friends in the show – Megan Bent, Abi Good, Shiori Abe, Kumi Nakajima, Mark Enfield, Gideon Gerlt, Jacob Guerin, Michael Hengler, Sheri Lyles, Noah Matteucci, Jessica Orfe, Katie Small, Chad Steve, and Jonathan Swanz – for their amazing technical skills and astonishing creativity and insights.

The Graduate Exhibition will continue to be up at the Art Building, here at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, through.. whoa. Only February 4? I’m sorry. I really thought it was going to be open longer. I guess it takes a full 3 weeks to install The Reformer’s Brush, the modern Chinese calligraphy exhibit that opens on Feb 27 (and which I am super excited about!). Well. Come and see the Graduate Exhibition while you can!! Last days!!

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I have only been to Kyushu once, and my destination was Hakata (Fukuoka), the end of the line for the shinkansen, or “bullet train”. I have seen on the map that there is an extension to Kagoshima, which hits Kumamoto as well, but that section of the line has not been connected to Hakata yet. The New York Times reports in a brief article today that this extension will open in March. So, the next time I’m in Japan (whenever that may turn out to be), I’ll be able to go all the way down to Kagoshima on the shinkansen!

Shame it’s not connected to Nagasaki as well. According to this map from WikiCommons, there do not appear to be plans to connect Nagasaki to the rest of the Shinkansen any time soon. On a separate note, I wonder when Kanazawa will be connected in (see blue lines).


Meanwhile, in London, a new record has been set for the most ever paid for a Chinese antiquity. A vase bearing an imperial seal associated with the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735 – 1796), famous for his patronage of the arts, was sold for US$69.5 million, or $85.9 million once VAT and the auction house’s fees are included.

The New York Times reports that the buyer was someone in mainland China, who bid by phone, and that the sellers were a brother and sister from a small English town who just happened to find it in their attic when they were doing some cleaning, and who had no idea of its value. Now, I hate to be a cynic. The idea that it did indeed happen just that way is romantic, and certainly quite plausible. But, given the way the art world works, if the vase did have a somewhat less pristine provenance, they certainly would not reveal that, and would instead make up a story such as this. Or at least that is my impression; I don’t have any genuine experience with auction houses or the art market, really.

The vase is about 16 inches tall, brightly decorated in blue and yellow and a number of other colors in elaborate, almost gaudy designs which, if this were a Japanese work of art, would lead me to believe it to be export art, for the non-Japanese market. It was produced at the famous porcelain center Jingdezhen, whose kilns operated for 1,000 years, and is believed to have been made for the imperial palaces.

The auction began at $800,000, but the price quickly rose. The Antiques Trade Gazette says that this final price (the $69.5m or £43, excluding VAT & auctioneer’s fees) places it 11th on the list of record amounts paid for antiquities and art objects. Though the article does not explicitly state that this makes it the number one top record amount ever paid for a ceramic/porcelain object, and the most ever paid for a non-Western object, it does point out that “only paintings or sculpture by a handful of major Western artists have sold for more at auction.”

The BBC has a video up on its website about it.

Train photo taken myself, at Hiroshima Station, in August 2003. Vase photo from Antiques Trade Gazette website; no claims of copyright or other rights over this image are made.

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Potter and linguist Dennis Krueger explains the origins and meaning of many pottery words, from slip to clay to throwing to glaze, in a page entitled “Why On Earth Do They Call It Throwing?” on Ceramics Today.com.

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