Time is a peculiar thing. Its passing and one’s perception of time shifts constantly. When spending time in Kameoka, there is for me personally a sense of time passing immensely quick but very slow at the same time.
Time passes quick because there are so many connections, impressions and experiences. There is certainly a sensation of it passing too quick, since I would like to stay longer. To gain more, but also to ‘produce’ more. It is a strange feeling to realize there are ‘only’ a few days left here. 'Where did time go?', I sometimes wonder.
On the other hand, time is passing slowly. And this is mainly because of a shift in attitude towards time.
My project here in Kameoka includes interviewing residents of Kameoka city to paint their portrait and write down their stories and share them with the world. Thinking people might be busy I kept saying before every interview how long it would take. ‘About 30 minutes, is that possible?’. Every interview ends up running longer, with also effort spend to get to know each other without a notepad or recorder. With coffee, cake, making a true connection going both ways.
The conscious choice, every day, to connect, to reflect, to be attentive and appreciative. Not only in a professional sense, but in a maybe more private sense as well.
I notice things that usually go by unnoticed for me. The dew on my window in the morning when I wake up and the sun shining through it. I take the time to save the moment, capture the image.
Thinking of what I have been learning so far, I think this might be one of the bigger points for me personally. Taking time, making time, has consequences for everything you do. I feel it in my paintings: stopping and reflecting, I suddenly see what does not work and needs to be changed. Focusing and taking time to paint for hours uninterrupted, I get in an artistic flow that I usually deny myself being ‘busy’ or unfocused.
It is not only this program that allows this change, but also Kameoka. Here there seems to be time. People make time. I’ve noticed, moving back from Leiden to Amsterdam, that in bigger cities time tends to pass by differently. Everyone is hurrying, rushing, the standard reply to ‘how are you’ would often be, ‘good, busy’.
Kameoka for me is also a reminder about time, priorities and being ‘busy’. Because what does busy mean? Doing much, too much for the hours in one day? Or does it also have to do with an attitude and a way of living?
Looking back I’ve seen there has been so much and then there’s been emptiness. I encounter this as a point during all my interviews. Anna Namikawa’s favorite place in Kameoka is an empty field. ‘There is nothing, there is no one’. But maybe, these moments and places of silence, of ‘nothingness’ actually contain very essential things.
Sitting alone in my room painting is my pause in a stream of impressions, emotions and experiences. But it is also what enlarges, activates, encompasses and connects it all. For a few days I do not go outside and live quite 'secluded'. In the supermarket I quickly buy my groceries, returning afterwards to my place of silence. My place of nothingness? After this period and stepping back outside, showing my face again at some social gatherings I am warmly greeted by partipants: 'Where were you? I didn't see you for a few days!'
I think of joining two teaceremonies, the empty fields, the abandoned houses. The mountains laying in the thick but also transparent thin mistclouds. But also of the lively talk during our ‘Osanpou tour’ through Kameoka. The strange and bizarre connections: how likely that you find a common friend and suddenly someone who starts speaking your language? I think of the cooking parties, enjoying food and sake together. Of meeting my friend, the only friend I have an extensive digital letter writing tradition with since I left Kyoto, and spending some hours appreciating moss together. I think of all the encounters, memories, experiences.
How wonderful to be here. What a great opportunity. During my interview with Anna Namikawa her energy and positive outlook is a lovely experience. One of the questions I ask during my interviews is ‘What is something you are proud of?’. It is quite a difficult question in many ways I believe, but also one that allows for a more deep connection and understanding.
During this question and many topics that come up, Anna says with a face beaming with joy: ‘I think I am really a lucky girl. To be able to do what I want to do.’ I feel the same being here, in Japan, painting, connecting and reflecting.
Even though I can count the days that have passed since my arrival in Kameoka on the fingers of my hands, the impressions and adventures so far are numerous. Some big, others smaller.
My solo adventure of biking alongst the riverside could be seen as a small adventure, but its impact to me quite significant. In one day this trip allowed me to get a feeling of Kameoka and its surroundings and several ideas for my project. Last but not least I enjoyed it immensely.
The weather was particularly nice that day. When I stepped on my bike there were almost no clouds grazing the sky above Kameoka. A blue and sunny sky seemed to encourage me to bike a lot, and so I did. A bizarre change occurred when I went from the quiet riverside to the citycenter of Kameoka. From quiet paths where I almost encountered no one and only had birds, grasses and mountains all around me, the landscape gradually shifted. Abandoned buildings on the side of the road, overgrown with ivy and in bad general condition, made way for quiet streets with cosy houses. My legs started to hurt and my thirsty throat urged me to take a much needed rest. The transformation was complete when I decided to have a warm lunch in Kameoka's center at Family Mart.
While I sit down in the small supermarket, the white squeaky clean floors welcome new customers every minute. Beeps of the till, little noises uttered by the copymachine right next to the resting area where I plumped myself down, hyperactive voices blaring from the radio. Light and noise are omnipresent but I feel detached. At this point I am still at the riverside. It's not long before I return to this hectic world and start connecting and consuming, looking at my wristwatch and worrying about things such as the notion of time.
During this bikingtour, I notice the abandoned buildings in varying stages of deterioration. A problem which is not unique to Kameoka, but one that many suburbs in Japan face. With an aging population and youth moving to the bigger cities, the amount of vacant houses in the suburbs grow. Buildings slowly get taken over by plants and other forces and elements of nature.
Why this is happening is a question with many possible answers. The same evening I enter a random eating place -exhausted and hungry I am not particularly picky-. Luck is on my side: it is a cosy teppanyaki place (grilling food on an iron plate) with friendly customers and staff. A casual young woman with big round earrings and puffy hair - transporting me back to the 80s- serves us at the till. We are accompanied by three roudy middle-aged men.
Shortly after entering we find ourselves exchanging short dialogues in both English and Japanese, that become more frequent as time passes. One of them seems to take a liking to us and starts to explain the dishes. He calls out the ingredients in both English and Japanese, while holding a phone in his hand to look up what he does not know. Smiles and laughter.
Showing a photo of one of the abandoned buildings, I ask them why suburbs in Japan are facing this problem. 'No money!'
What a contrast when we visit the Oomoto religious center in Kameoka the next day. This new religious movement is a branch from Shintoism and believes divinity is best transmitted through the arts. Thus, there is a lot of attention for noh, ikebana and the tea ceremony. By sheer luck we receive the privilege to participate in a tea ceremony. The community seems wealthy: beautiful natsume and mizusashi accompany the ceremony: objects I usually view as art objects to be sold at the art gallery I work at.
We are thankful to Nabika-san for providing us this unique experience. Meeting her by accident a few days earlier, here we are at this beautiful richt spiritual center, accompanied by her son in law who is so kind to provide translations and guidance.
After the ceremony ends, a circle of people form around her. They are all talking, sometimes slightly bowing to each other and she is just glowing. Seeing her walk in traditional Japanese clothing and footwear, over slopy paths with small white pebbles, I would have never guessed her age. After the ceremony with all the new protocol that we try to follow as best as we can - turn this way now, lay the fan upwards now bow - I am simply drained. She however seems to be filled with energy and I can't help but be deeply impressed. While her son in law gently helps her along the pebbles, we make our way home.
Arriving a mere two days ago, this place already feels like a home. The illustrator and artist I am sharing my new home with, Ksenia, would like to revolve her artist project around the concept of ‘home’. Another artist, Rina, due to living in the L.A. for eight years, became interested in notions of identity.
The house I share with Ksenia becomes my new home from the moment I set foot in it. Regrettably, among some of my first thoughts is also a negative, very primal one. ‘It’s so cold, how am I going to survive this?’ runs through my head, when we enter the cosy house in our thick winter coats. While I listen to the explanations by the staff all whilst donning our thick outdoor clothing , I can see their warm breaths forming little clouds in the air. A new thought pops into my head: maybe I can take a picture of this at a later time.
These kind of ideas re-occur over the following days. Having a break from my regular work and focusing on this artist in residence feels like giving both my mind and body a break. I also feel as if some motor has being set into motion and I hope to get inspired. It is a wonderful dream coming true, being here and having three weeks to create. No other obligations. It also feels great to be back in Japan again.
The house to me seems like a bit of a fairy-tale. It is cosy, small and very tastefully crafted by Eikoh Tanaka and his friends. The house Ksenia and I are spending our time in used to be the house Eikoh grew up in. It is clear that it has been renovated with passion. Small details and elegant designs make the feel warmth from the beginning: even if in reality it is freezing cold.
Negative thoughts about the cold quickly make place for great first impressions. The heaters, kotatsu (low table with built-in heater) and my warm clothes make the cold bearable.
The reality of the program differs from my expectations. The program does not ‘only’ revolve around staying in Kameoka. The staff is very helpful and many social gatherings are organized. As sentimental as it may sound, it feels like I entered a new world, a new bubble, maybe even a little new family.
There are coffee meetings, dinner parties and hiking’s scheduled. Several surprises already. Yesterday we were given a disposable camera. After the program a photobook will be compiled. It is great fun to carry the camera around, being more attentive of interesting sights to capture. This morning I tried to capture the dew on my bedroom window and the sunshine shining through it.
Yesterday I was walking around the older part of Kameoka with two other artists. It was a peaceful sight, the old Japanese houses and little streets. Laundry hanging outside in the cold to dry. Suddenly we reached a dead-end and were standing in a field, with a beautiful scenery of the mountains in the backdrop. We all got out our cameras to capture this sight, laughing that we would maybe have identical photographs after this small walk. We ended up stopping at similar sceneries capturing little details, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Taking the time to enjoy beauty and simple things and trying to somehow try to grasp these moments visually.
A thought I have been playing with earlier is resurfacing. I would like to capture these details and atmospheric sceneries not only in photography, but also include them in my paintings. My project is taking shape while I walk, sleep, eat. It is a wonderful feeling, but also a bit scary: I don’t know yet how to approach nor the outcome.
But, as cliché as that sounds, that is also what life and drawing should be about. The unforeseen, spontaneous, sudden things.
Yesterday we ended up in an older lady’s traditional house. It was like stepping into a time capsule. As the lady was proudly showing her home and we made our way over the cold tatami mats, the richness kept surprising me. A large black lacquer table was shown proudly, but also as if it was nothing special in a modest way, decorated with inlaid mother-of pearl cranes. ‘Oh, and those are folding screens’. I noticed two beautiful gobans and asked if the lady played go. ‘Oh my son does’ she said almost nonchalantly, sliding open another door and showing us her kimono collection.
The lady, she shortly later told us she was already 88years old, opened two heavy sliding doors to show us the beautiful view of the garden. The house was beautiful, but seemed un-inhabited. Everything was neatly arranged, no personal belongings in sight. While it was like visiting a beautiful museum, it lacked the warmth of our own little house. I thought of Ksenia’s question of what a ‘home’ is. It seems like Nabika-san had consciously chosen to show us this part of the house, which while being of a great splendour, also seemed empty and impersonal. Maybe there are parts of her house that seem more like a ‘home’ we wondered together afterwards.
After this tour we sat down in what would be best described as the genkan (the entryway area to the house). I have never seen a genkan like this before though. In the small space somehow there was a coffee table, couch, heater and chairs. We sat down and promptly the stories began to flow. Meanwhile, we were given fruit and candy from abroad. From her storage she also dug out part of a collection of 17 large size artbooks. She thought it might be inspiring to us. After enquiring about our interests, we looked at a large book filled with beatiful folding screens and one with pictures of birds and flowers (kachō-ga) .
It turned out Nabika-san had travelled quite a lot. Kindly smiling she told us about trips to Italy, Germany, and France. How she would like to visit the Netherlands one day.
Meanwhile a small conflicting emotional scenario was playing out in my head. I felt embarrassed, frustrated and sad because I could not follow all the lady was saying. But then I would get drawn into the present moment again, when the lady kindly moved her body in my direction, slightly hunched over and smiled at me. A genuine, warm and very happy smile. Her eyes, when talking to us, had a special spark in them. Nabika-san, seemed in this relatively short time span we were in her company, content and happy. She clearly enjoyed our company, which made me happy and helped me focus on the conversation. It is not only about what is being said, but also about the moment that is shared. Conversing in a language that is not your mother language, it is inevitable that not all that is being said will be understood.
In a moment of confusion, we realised we are being invited to join Nabika-san in a tea ceremony. Kindly she offers to bring chairs, as we might not be able to sit in the seiza position: on the knees with the legs underneath one’s thighs, resting your buttocks on the heels. She added: ‘I also can’t sit this way anymore. But even though I am of old age, I will wear a kimono. As long as you wear white socks, it is all right.’
During the time we spent with Nabika-san, it had gotten dark. When we left and walked home, lots of thoughts were running in my head. Nabika-san left a deep impression, with her youth, energy and vigour which became clear from the moment she greeted and invited us in.
I fell asleep at the kotatsu table in our house. Feeling jetlagged and exhausted I took a long rest.
Today a clear blue sky in Kameoka. The sun is shining.
Sharing the exciting news that I will participate in a Micro Residency Program in Kameoka, Japan this year from January 15th – February 4th, 2019. The program is an iniative by Eikoh Tanaka. For more information on the program, click here.
Stories from Kameoka City will combine a series of portraits, personal stories told by Kameoka residents and landscape paintings. The project features paintings done in mixed media on paper and text.
After a careful selection, eleven artists were invited to participate in this year's program. For more information about the participants, click here.