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.