Sunday, June 1, 2008

Kissing A-bomb Trees

Nuclear Globe, Peace Memorial Museum

She is dismayed and inspired by Misao Okabe’s work that she gets to see at the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art in the group show Hiroshima, Mon Amour: lightboxes with transparencies of the rubbings of he did of Ugina Station, the rubbings themselves – hurriedly done, framed below framed plant samples. She finds it beyond uncanny that she arrived at such similar forms to try to respond to Hiroshima as a Japanese man has. She does not appreciate his aesthetic which seems sloppy, hurried, a bit untended to, but she loves his impulse. The piece she loves most of all is called Stroke on the Road in Hiroshima, August 1987/88 – 4 huge panels of paper or canvas covered with thick shiny graphite. She assumes these are also rubbings of roads in Hiroshima. Before she even knows that these are by Okabe, David says, “These remind me of that piece you did of the tar-whipped black rubber.” She had thought the same thing. She remembers when she made work out of dresses and little black and white photographs of the body in graduate school – so much like Annette Messager’s work, another artist she was not yet familiar with – and when she had the chance to meet Annette, she told her about how it could appear that she was copying her. Annette said, ”There are always unnamed movements in art, things in the air. Do not worry about it.” And then too, she was oddly surprised that she had arrived at such similar forms to address similar ideas as someone from a different country.

The Hiroshima Mon Amour show is excellent, with work by Yayoi Kusama, Alfredo Jaar, the Marukis, Masao Okabe. It is dark, serious and minimal. She will have lunch with the head curator at the museum, this week. She is feeling much better and less worried about comparing her work to Okabe’s. She is waiting for cyanotype paper to arrive from the states so she can make sunprints of various flowers and plants of Hiroshima, especially leaves or bark or twigs that have fallen from A-Bombed trees. Yesterday Harper kept kissing the A-Bombed trees, saying, “I am sorry. I wish I could take you home.”

She has begun a series of tight and bright watercolors of spotted leaves she finds on her daily walks – three to a page. She is taking too many photographs. She is waiting for the interpreter to return her email so that she will have a translator to explain the many Japanese-only memorials and monuments. She will also feel better and less conspicuous if someone is with her while she does the frottages. The first 2 she has done – of the plaque that reads “Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students” and the low and high-relief sculpture of the mobilized students, specifically the panel – 1 of 4 – of girls at sewing machines, were tests. She does not like them as rubbings but can picture them as haunting silver black photographs – the texts and images in a large sea of deep black. She has yet to begin the radiagraphs because she is waiting to have access to radioactive materials and objects. Once this access is secured, she will order x-ray film and begin some exposure experiments. David says that RERF has stored some materials here – bricks and other architectural materials they took after the bombing for tests. She is inspired being here and troubled.

Last night Deena babysat the children so that they could go out alone. She took her husband on a circuitous route to the sushi restaurant so he could see some of what she sees during the day. Even she was surprised by the city at night – no longer drab concrete but alive with neon and a bustling nightclub, pick-up, feasting and strolling crowd. They had the best sushi they had ever eaten at Nobu – a tiny restaurant with 5 tables and seats at the bar. They sat at the bar and had beer and cold sake, a caterpillar roll (eel, cucumber, avocado), a California roll (shrimp, crab, avocado and masago), maguro, tamago, unagi (sea eel) and anago (river eel), masago and yellowtail. The sushi chef made the waitress cry because he scolded her for bringing them the bill with the food. As far as she could tell, this is proper procedure in Japan. So far, that is what they all have done. The chef gave them a small pot of custard on the house and it was perfect. They walked most of the way home but took a taxi up the hill.

She feels as if she is in a movie much of the time, especially when she takes taxis to and from the kids’ school. She has never taken so many taxis. It makes her feel spoiled, wasteful and ultra-American. Maybe this is particularly so because half the time she asks to go to the inaccessible American post-war dormitory at the tippy-top of the hill, past the compound with a security gate. She is judgmental about all the other Americans making “base runs” to the U.S. Military base nearby to pick up macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and other American stuff. She would much rather eat the fresh local fish and fruit, the best strawberries she has ever eaten, udon and soba noodles, rice crackers and seaweed, sake and red snapper carpaccio.

Guthrie says that “Japan is much more fun than North Carolina.” She cut his gorgeous curls off tonight because everyone thought he was a girl and he kept getting so sweaty. They bought the kids some treats today: a cinnamaroll doctor kit, a light-up noisemaking sword, sandals and a polka-dotted smock top for Harper, cookies and chocolate covered pretzels. They took the kids to the Childrens Museum for Science which was free. The kids loved climbing through the maze and standing in the room of mirrors, pretending to fly a rocketship and pushing buttons that make things go and whir and light up.

Professor of Peace Studies Matuo Okamoto called on Friday night and she invited him up for dinner. He laughed and laughed, so surprised to be invited to dinner by a stranger during the first phone call. He took a taxi up with a bottle of French red wine and they immediately like each other. He has a Ninja beard and a black beret that he never takes off, just like her father, and Harper wants to kiss him after a little while. In his late 70s, he has a gentle and all-knowing manner. He and David share quite a few friends and Matsuo had just had tea with Yuki Tanaka with whom she had had noodles the day before. Matsuo had also just met with the mayor that day to assist in his annual Peace Declaration. Matsuo had once wanted to be a missionary and describes his earlier self as a fundamentalist Christian, but now he is a full-time scholar of and for peace. He coined the term “peace studies” in Japan. He and his wife finally live together after 20 years apart for professional reasons. He shows them how to get television programs in English and how to use the rice cooker. They cooked a humble meal that was almost embarrassing – not having been prepared for this spontaneous dinner: fried chicken, rice, eggplant and a simple salad of cucumber, the sweetest tomatoes, onion, avocado, green pepper and an oil and vinegar dressing with a fresh watermelon for dessert. He did not comment on the meal.

What she is most struck by these past few days is the utter disappearance of whole cities and people, structures and nature, not just by bombs and war, the A-bomb and natural disasters, but by deliberate and calculated progress, development, profit and growth. Most of the time, if she ignores the signs being in a language she does not understand, she could be anywhere – in New York or Lyon, Los Angeles or Charlotte. Concrete, neon, western-style everything, even on the other side of the world - in “the East”.

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