In January, 2017 we had the incredible opportunity to be in residence at Kura Studio in Japan (Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture.). We lived in “House Three”—a chilly traditional Japanese house that became the container for so much creative activity. Our installation was heavily influenced by the constant presence of Shinto shrines as casual sacred space in our neighborhood. The shrines were decorated with folded white paper chains and hanging rice turf for New Year’s. Our piece, “Thresh/hold” was installed in the actual “kura”–an ancient square grain silo with metal door and interior wood paneling. It was composed of hanging pieces of suminagashi and knit pieces. The text, done as video projection, was a set of poetic questions, aimed at trying to understand a new environment.
Here they are the ten questions in bilingual format. They were written collaboratively.
New Year in Japan, the paper store is closed—who owns these clouds? 日本での新年、紙専門店は閉まっていた。ー 雲は誰のもの？
My mother sings at the Ikisan station—will I be a good mother? 一 貴山駅で私の母は歌う。ー 私は良い母親だろうか？
New house slippers—purple with polka dots—what is the name of the three-headed Buddha? 新しい家のスリッパ、紫色の水玉。ー ３つの頭を持つ仏の名は？
Is the blue tiled roof dragon scales or the waves of the sea? 青タイルの屋根は龍の鱗？それとも海の波？
Thunder clap awakens me—will my cold go away? 雷鳴（らいめい）が私を目覚めさせる。ー 私が感じる寒さは消えるだろうか？
Dark, light, dark, light from the train window—how long can I go only eating noodles? 電車の窓からの影、光、影、光。ー どのくらいの間、ラーメンだけで暮らしていける？
What is the relationship between language and reality? A steamed pork bun, red tea kettle. 言語と現実の関係とは何だろう？肉まん、赤いやかん。
Cranes out on the river bed. Or— boys in soccer shorts? 川のベッドから起き上がる鶴（*サギor 鷺）。ー サッカーショーツを着た男の子？
If the weather clears will I understand…everything? もし天気が晴れたら、私は・・・全てを理解できるだろうか？
Was I here before, and if so, why am I still lost? 前にここに来ただろうか、もしそうなら私は何故まだ迷っているの？
To come to Japan, we had to cross many thresholds, physical, emotional, and spiritual. A threshold is not just a boundary, but a way of collecting, gathering, and storing. This also refers to the ties between us as mother and daughter, and references local shrine and temple decorations. We used traditional craft materials–knitting and suminagashi–along with poetry that derives from the linked Japanese form of renga. The poetry asks a series of questions about our experience—maybe without answers—but worth asking.
At Kura Studio, we also did a Teapot Haiku geocache along with our silo installation. Each visitor was handed a colorful piece of suminagashi with GPS coordinates on it. This led to a lovely garden in the back of the complex. We were very grateful to the owner for permission to use it.
There were five tiny teapots placed on the site. Why five? Because the 100 Yen store, a few train stations away, only had five. In each teapot was a “hot drink” haiku written by Miriam and transcribed by Isabel on to a small scroll of suminagashi.
Coming of Age Day
bright rented kimonos
after the storm— revising my poem— kettle steam
coins in shrine box coins in vending machine hot latte
green tea— for a moment I’m only here
just a tiny spoon, still take more than my sugar lump share
The piece was very simple. We really liked using a mass produced container, hand made scrolls, original text, and a beautiful traditional setting. The pathway was site specific in so many ways. It also combined low and high views of art in a way that interested us. Working together in Japan was a transformative experience, and one that continues to influence us in ways we can’t even yet fully understand. We were engaging in three- dimensional space more profoundly—everything from walking at night through rice fields following our flashlight beams to transforming the interior space of the silo with video. We came off our “page” of paper, ink and poetry while taking all those elements along with us.