MADE IN JAPAN

A text commissioned by Jeremy Isao-Spier

 

How many doors can one open and close in one day. I was referred to him by a poet friend, Erik, who ‘’specializes in invisible solutions to invisible problems, and intellectual attacks from the rear, while offering to reinvent your individual aesthetic free of charge, in exchange for shares in redemption, for the reduced rate of half pound of flesh’’. Erik Rzepka. A German Jew. ‘’German Jews are the best kinds’’ he once said. It was mid-day. Jeremy served me tea in a Suzu pottery cup, handcrafted by his mother. Suzu ceramics were big under the Muromachi Era but soon went out of style by the time of the Sengoku Period, to completely vanish for centuries until very recent times, where production along those traditional lines has resumed. Japanese monarchy is the oldest continuous hereditary line in the world. Currently, the Emperor of Japan is the only remaining monarch in the world, reigning under the title of Emperor. The role of the Emperor of Japan has been largely ceremonial and symbolic, controlled by external forces such as military shonugate he was asked to appoint, until the Meiji restoration in the 19th century, based on the Prusso-German model, when a constitutional monarchy gave the Emperor more political power. This ended with

the forced dissolution of the Empire of Japan in 1947 to be replaced with "western-style liberal democracy". The Empire of Japan does not exist anymore, yet, there is an Emperor who insists on his title and his function as a symbol of unity. A symbol. The fiction of the real. I took a sip; the tea was green and nutty. The entire live-work space was filled with shrines of all kinds. Of all kinds. Miniature monkeys hanging on stacks of pennies for tree stumps, having casual picnics by mirror ponds.  Wooden laughing Buddha. Brass laughing Buddha. Ivory laughing Buddha. Jade laughing Buddha. Two thirds of the population of Japan is affiliated with Buddhism and most of them are also tied to Shinto. The current Emperor is the highest authority of Shintoism. He and his family are said to be direct descendants of Amarterasu, a major Shinto deity, goddess of the sun, but also of the entire universe. White plastic ducks standing on metal bolts, contemplating the state of things over a wooden creek. A mouse trap sitting in status quo, on an empty Chinese box. More Buddha. A horse key- chain sitting on a rock watching over the vertigo of Indian prayers. Indian monks came to Japan to spread Buddhism. Japan and India are friends. Mounts of teddy bears amalgamated to other various sizes stuffed animals, acquired from vague Olympiads and fast-food bonus treats, all dreaming of a vanished childhood covered with stardust. A Chinese prosperity cat guarding the top of the fridge. An entire Chinese empire contained in a Japanese sliver. Half a Russian doll filled with coins. Japan andRussia are not friends. They have been fighting over islands lost in WW2; Russia still milking punishing treaties. Japanese patterns are all about ocean waves and fish scales. The current Japanese Emperor is a published ichthyologist; the branch of biology devoted to the study of fishes. There is no Japanese garden without water. Russian patterns are about internal affairs, family politics, happening in forests. Wood fighting for water. Where is the head part of the Russian doll? It might have fallen behind the glaciers of the freezer. The air is stuffy. So much junk here. A Canon Pocketronic calculator; a Japanese telephone directory; lined up metal bottle openers; a copy of the Seven Samurai; a transistor radio; lots of red and quite a bit of yellow; the 70's were on fire. We could describe eras by colours, by mood and most certainly by herbs and fashion.Object-Witnesses under glass. Museology of economical enthusiasm. An entire decade when unlimited growth was the limit and Made inJapanactually meant something. We are all taxidermized; miniature captives of our personal narrative, rolled into space and time, wrapped in political axes, dipped in hope and loss, fixated; transfixed. Humans are walking museums threatened to crumbled into oblivion; an artist's main neurosis.

 

 

 

Toyota Celica Coupé; a floppy disk; VCRtapes; Sony Walkman; a Seiko Quartz wristwatch; a pocket television; a Business Guide to Japan…I open it randomly: "In some forty years of living in Japan, faulted a hundred times for trying to conduct myself in a logical manner, assuming, that 2 + 2 = 4…in Japan it does not. The Japanese are made very uncomfortable by logical ways of thinking. In Japanese context, feeling is more important than logical reasoning. They believe that an enterprise based on logic cannot work, given the fact that humans are illogical creatures’’. Yes. Underneath, a book on sex, Venus Examined. A physiological novel. Randomly : "much of mental illness is of sexual origin". Cool. Good to know. Jeremy puts on an album from Deep Purple…"I want you. I need you. A strange kind of woman. The kind that gets written down in history’’. Above, Rauschenbergesque 90's grunge assemblages, hung from the ceiling, blocking all the natural light, made of scraps found in the surroundings. Jeremy tells me he is interested in loss of space around his studio, collecting bits and parts which he says mark the ever-changing psychographics of this place. Psychographics. His works are shrines to a time-space passed down to the new impetus of gentrification (I do not trust anyone who pronounces the word gentrification) (especially twice in the same conversation) (a third time and you are dead) (I mean, this is the Wild West) (the Wild West has no past and no future) (unless you want to talk about the gentrification of the mind) (but you don't) (as if the rest will be borrowed ideas with an undertone throat fry of déjà-vu fatalism) (even if it’s true) (we are all Chinese anyway) (meanwhile Jeremy lives in a building called The Artworks, next to another building called The Artiste) (Parenthesis are dug sub-terrains to whisper private thoughts in demi-tones) (minor (major) notes) We could assess out loud that Jeremy suffers from acute and chronic nostalgia, and, seen from here, nostalgia incarnates the deaf sound of hope boxed in a specific time. The Artiste present here, surrounds himself with objects, like treasures, as witnesses of a time when Japan reached a golden age; the Pre-Digital Era as he frames it. Flip analogue clocks on every shelf, unengaged, fixated on a time, a minute, a second. Double-zero. Every object here is a monument to a space-time, namely 1970’s Japan perceived from a Western eye.  Jeremy’s life's work reminds me of a famous Japanese print titled The New fighting the Old circa 1870. In the background of the illustration, there is a steam powered locomotive, which came to be the international cliché representation of the industrial era. Jeremy, like the prophet he was named after, is lamenting the passage of time and the sudden change of guard in economical power; according to Jeremy's research, the passage of the Analogue Period to the Digital Era, whenJapan lost some terrain in the technocratic battlefield. On the walls, a series of sixteen shrines, very similar to each other, are hung. In Japanese numerology, sixteen is the number that indicates the achievement of the material power, being considered the final number of the emanation; incarnation completed. It also symbolizes construction and destruction, which relates to the 70’s decade, not only in Japan but in the West in general, where ultra-liberalism was destroyed by neo-liberalism. We cannot even trust prefixes.  The central figures mounted on the sixteen shrines show family photographs…an airplane…a train…another train…another airplane…yet…another train…yet another one…and another one…on a bridge…in the mountains…in the forests…by the falls… a tree…a blade…another family… another train…another bridge…another train and…and…bones...Human remains… 

  

 

In the last room, the most illuminated space of the live-work studio, the main shrine is a book standing on a miniature easel in front of a meditation rug. "Poetry Must be Made By All ! Transform The World! Moderna Museet Stockholm,1969’’.  Yet another train…with lots of people ready to jump on the wagon of Revolutionary Art. The book here venerated consists of an exhibition catalogue, taking its title from Lautréamont and Marx, linking radical art and revolutionary politics, for an art show curated by Ron Hunt in 1969, around notions of anti-modernism and anti-art, following the events of May 68 and the general impetus of the Situationist International, attempting to capture the zeitgeist of the moment, in the rejection of the art-object, fascinated by the radicalism of Dada and Surrealism. Hunt says they were seduced by the avant-garde as such, but also were seeking to find its contradictions, and only later understood its role in sustaining the culture it attacked.The book is an assault on art and its dematerialization, in favour of art ruling society, filled with slogans and statements such as "From cubism to Society as Art", or " It is Said that Art will Disappear". Ron Hunt, born in Bristol in 1936, was a self-taught art historian who spent his life working in libraries while writing for Art forum. This book is about an obscure group of British art drop outs who, inspired by the Lettrists, opened the dictionary at random and settled on the word Icteric, meaning jaundiced and a cure for jaundice. Icteric became the name of that collective and their magazine. The reconstruction of Malevich’s coffin was an example of their take on the idea of rebellion being castrated, accepted, bought and eventually sanctified by history. Petrified. It was the time of the critique of the artist being in bed with businessmen and imperialism. It was a time where instituting a revolution of style and content was not enough, perceived as only perpetuating a culture they wanted to assassinate. I opened it randomly to settle on a slogan from Lenin: "Revolution is the Festival of the Oppressed". I laughed for days. This venerated book was given to Jeremy by his father (nicked he says), given to him by his student Tom Burrows, a Vancouver artist of British origin who looked for utopia inside the everyday. In the 1960’s and seventies, utopian ideas formed the objectives of social and political activism throughout the Period, compelling Burrows to address them into his artistic practice. This is relevant some forty years later in this wave of "failed utopia genre" art, which has enjoyed some attention in the past decade. As I understand it, Burrows was not naively inspired by the book but perhaps more interested in the book as an example of the failure of an Era filled with big dreams, precisely about a wish for an artistic revolution on a planetary scale in the hope of a Coming Insurrection. Hunt says recently,  that in 1972 "in the depressing and repressive atmosphere of the time" he was glad to move on, and accept a position at UBC in Vancouver. "There, not by his instigation, the show opened at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1973" but went virtually unnoticed. Perhaps that is how Burrows acquired the book from Hunt. Hunt and Burrows in British Columbia. Hunt and Burrows. The chase and the fugue. Hunt confesses recently that he took on painting and abandoned it. He took on photography and abandoned it. He says today that he is anxiously waiting the Second Coming of Marx. This is the difference between believers and makers. Revolution is the festival for the artist manqués. For artists who only have access to one layer of reality, forming a consensus about a desire for tabula rasa of culture. This revolutionary impetus as we know it well, seems to come back every forty years…1920…1960…2000…and it usually lasts a decade. In the bible, the number 40 is used to represent a period of testing and judgment. Every forty years art seems to undergo a mid-life crisis; a questioning of its purpose. In astronomy The planet Venus forms a pentagram in the night sky every eight years with it returning to its original point every 40 years with a 40 day regression. Rotations. Revolutions.

 

 

 

It's 2014. We have witnessed the rise and decline of neo-neo-marxism in the past decade. Japanese fashion rules. We all love sushi. I am sitting in Jeremy's live-work-loft-esque Made in Vancouver artist studio. I am surrounded by his nostalgia for 70's Japan and all of his life's work wrapped around it. Jeremy seems to want to weld nostalgia to utopia (two very fashionable words) which would only make sense if we conceive of utopia from an etymological standpoint, which  we should, as both a non-place and a paradise lost. The desire for the here and now is assassin, apocalyptic, and like everything necessary, uninteresting. The term nostalgia describes sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. The term was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. Described as a medical condition—a form of melancholy, in the Early Modern Period, it became an important trope of Romanticism. Jeremy is a post-modern flâneur, strolling in his light industrial neighbourhood looking for inspiration, longing for an "Industrial" Period disappearing to a Kondo Era, collecting fragments of images, books, toys, junk, obsolete technologies, trying to salvage the remaining of a time, a space, a childhood memory, amidst the cranes and the bulldozers. While American ships were forcing Japaninto industrialization, the 18th century scientists were looking for a locus of nostalgia, a nostalgic bone.  In less clinical usage nostalgia can refer to a general interest in the past, its personalities and events, especially the "good old days" from one's earlier life, here, the golden age of Modern Japan.  Recent research shows that individuals who are involved in nostalgic reflections, also experience an improved mental state and a social connectedness, increasing self-esteem. However, recent experts critique the idea of nostalgia, which in some form can become a defence mechanism by which people avoid the historical facts.

 

Shrine, from scrinium means a case or chest for books and papers; a holy place dedicated to specific deity, hero, ancestors, martyr, saint, daemon; figures of awe and respect, worship. Shrines contain idols, relics, objects associated with the figure venerated. The current royal family, in their official public appearances, is always behind a large bullet proof window. Museified, they look like miniature figurines under glass, smiling and waving at the viewers, like mechanical dolls. When forced into declaring a new constitution after WW2, an important detail came to light: the Emperor was asked by the Allied Powers to make mention of his renunciation of his title as a descendant of the gods. While General MacArthur seemed pleased with the new declaration leading the people of Japan into a new democracy, the meaning of the exact words used has been the subject of much debate, in particular for the phrase officially translated into English as "the false conception that the Emperor is divine", because of the way it was worded, stilted with judicious choices of subterfuge prefixes and suffixes, that would still preserve him, at least in language, as a living god. He was persistent in the idea that the Emperor of Japan should be considered a descendant of the gods and would confess to his Vice-Grand Chamberlain that while "it is permissible to say that the idea of the Japanese people, as descendants of the gods, is a false conception; it is however absolutely impermissible, to call chimerical, the idea that the Emperor is a descendant of the gods." The Emperor is a symbol of the Japanese state and Japanese unity. Objects, humans, ideas, feelings, desires; everything is a symbol of a symbol.  The official declaration was drafted by Americans Reginald Horace Blyth and Harold Henderson, both devotees of Japanese culture, liaison and tutors to the Japanese Imperial Household, as well as scholars who brought Zen philosophy and Japanese poetry, in particular, haiku, to the West, in the late forties, thus directly influencing the Beat Generation of American poets. Books are the shrines of humanity. Books are traveling shrines, encasing the entire universe on paper. I fanaticize about a thirty second noise opera where all the books of the world would open all at once. I see the confusion of a menacing meteorite coming to break the glass of sound, bouncing off like a shooting star; a metallic sound-object rolling in and out of space. We are all direct descendants of the stars, from oceans, at the bottom of the sky. As I walked out of the 90's "live-work" edifice, there was a Japanese man strolling by in front of me. On his right shoulder he was carrying things he found on his path, in a white bag with black inscriptions: "The Bag Completes Me".