Monday, July 28, 2008

Her Last Day in Hiroshima

The white gloved hands of the taxi driver.
The barefoot school.
Perfect cassis gelato.
Sardine and scallion sushi.
Honwara Elementary School - almost completely destroyed by the A-bomb - now a Peace Museum full of: paper cranes; scratched and cracked walls like Cy Twombly paintings; glass, button, wood, buddha, decorative, ceramic and cloth artifacts in vitrines; rusty switchboards; scarred stairs. When she walks outside of the dark and thick interior, she is blinded by the late July sun beating down on the new white school surrounded by palm trees and sculptures.
The Peace Park full of memorials, a fallen sky, bones, ashes, between rivers once full of corpses.
Guthrie dressing up as a girl and dancing like a ballerina before she left to go make pictures.
Harper excited to be going home, for water play on her last day of Japanese school.
The Chinese Parasol tree with big big leaves.
The survivor's notebook of yellowed pages covered with a text she can not read.
The library with Richard Rhodes' collection - books he donated.
Packing tea cups, passports, airplane snacks, cameras and a thick roll of rubbings/frottages.

She knows she will be back in Hiroshima some day but today feels like the end of something, thick with finality. She has held back sobs all day. This city has loved her and she loves it back. Hiroshima will never be finished or resolved. It is a constant and eternal place. She could make art here forever.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Things She Will Miss

She will miss dearly: Machiko, Steve, Deanna, Brenda, Mari, Kahori, Miwako, Kiriko, Yukie, Sasha-sensai, Julie Ann-sensai, Caroline, Emi, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Hiroshima, The Peace Memorial Park and Museum, The YMCA, Tanaka-san's, Buono Buono, SATY, Hijiyama Park, temples, stone buddhas, sushi, anago, unagi, miso soup, tempura, cold soba, udon, ferries, islands, a view of the hills and city, stray cats and kittens, rubbing history, being on the other side of the world, umesu, sake, being a foreigner, walking with a sun umbrella over bridges and down narrow streets, okonomiyaki, shiso leaves, shiso juice, seaweed, aloe vera yogurt, japanese snacks, the rooftop view, nice strangers, having popsicles - shaped and tasting like a slice of watermelon - or ice cream every day when she picks up the kids, taking the old trams, A-bombed trees that continue to grow, A-bombed buildings and ground that hold so much history and trauma, this blog, feeling an uncanny affinity for Hiroshima, Ishiuchi Miyako, the shinkansen (bullet train), Kyoto, Osaka, Miyajima......

She went right back to that basement (where a man survived) on Friday morning and shot 2 rolls of black and white film with her Mamiya - probably much better photographs than the ones she "lost". She was sweating down there with the hard hat on but only had to focus on the Mamiya and tripod and not the Nikon and huge rubbings, paper, etc. David looked at the x-rays and lo and behold, there is a lot more exposure than she had thought: spots, dots, cracks, fissures, registration of some sort of radiation. She is eager to print through them and to print through all the rubbings as paper negatives. Tomorrow she goes to Shukkein Garden to rub the A-bombed bridge with Deanna.

Deanna babysat for them Friday night so they could go out for a tempura feast: delicate prawn heads, prawns, fish, river eel, fanned eggplant, lotus root, okra - all dipped in curry salt or daikon sauce, some sashimi, lemon sherbet, whipped green tea. They drank cold Umesu, her favourite new drink that tastes like a cocktail - plum wine that is sometimes served with a plum that has been soaking in the liquor for quite some time. She served lots of Umesu last night at their rooftop party. Lots of people came- curators, activists, friends, guides - to watch the Ujina fireworks. She had never seen such spectacular fireworks before. There was a slight breeze and they all drank sake, umesu, beer, scotch and nibbled on dries squid and peas, edamame, nuts, chips, wasabi and shrimp crackers and big grapes that you squeeze into your mouth, leaving the skin off. It was fun. She felt honored when they all begged her to come back, bestowing on her the title of a "hiroshimian".

They are busy unpacking all the boxes she packed to ship, as it would cost a minor fortune. Luckily, they found 2 old but sturdy unclaimed suitcases downstairs, so they will check 6 big bags and her tube of rubbings. She is anxious about the trip home - taking 2 taxis to the trainstation to catch a shuttle bus to the airport, checking in for a flight to Tokyo and then one to Washington DC and then finally, to Raleigh-Durham. They leave and arrive on the same day due to the massive time difference. This seems impossible to her.

It is hotter than ever here, breaking all records for heat and humidity in Hiroshima. You cannot walk in the sun for more than 30 seconds without being drenched in sweat.

Things she looks forward to in North Carolina: being home, Emma dog, Bilou cat, Lucy, Pam and Henry, val and Laura, Luci and Nico, Kathy, Cafe Driade, neighbors, her kitchen, Mexican food, unpacking all their Japanese treasure, getting into the darkroom and digital lab to print, Cary, Carol, driving (but as little as possible with the gas prices - maybe getting a scooter like David), Amy, John and Sadie, her studio, sending books and gifts to friends in Japan, David going to France, Harper's 3rd birthday party, Guthrie starting kindergarten at Carrboro Elementary, Harper starting at at the Children's Center, Tim and Lisa, Cate and Guin, having fall off, listening to music, watching movies, having gin and tonics with val and Laura, walking the dog, going to the gym, having massages......

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Blank Film

Today she was in tears in the photo shop when she looked at her 120 film from the haunted basement (in the Peace Park Rest House where one man survived) and saw that 8 of the 10 exposures were blank. She must have left the lens cap on which makes her feel dumb and inadequate. (Why do cameras allow you to take pictures with the lens cap still on?) Luckily, there was another roll - all good - and she did shoot with her digital Nikon too and made rubbings of the basement. Still, she will return on Monday with her tripod and more film. She walked down the Rijo-Dori crying in the blasting sun under her umbrella for shade and privacy. She made another rubbing of the old bank vault and the A-bombed tree at the Rio Sanyo museum. Then she took the tram to pick up her x-ray film. Most of it is blank, practically all of it. There are some marks on a few sheets and she will print through them when she gets home. Her emotions are high and volatile - relieved and happy for Kahori and Mari and everyone else working at the Peace Museum and living in Hiroshima that these objects are "safe", but disappointed for her art, as if she failed. She tried to hold onto what she tells her students, "your attempts are never failures, but always research." Already she is planning to come back with a lead box and proper exposure equipment and proper x-ray film. The anti-nuclear, anti-radiation, anti-bomb, anti-war message would be stronger if she could get this to work.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cyanotypes of A-bombed Objects

A-Dome beam; bottles; leaves; bark - 24" x 30" cyanotypes

Friday, July 18, 2008

Winding Down

Madeleine's Picture of the Family
at MotoUjina National Park in Hiroshima
(the Island of Ninoshima is in the background,
where quarantined horses and soldiers -
and later bomb orphans - were sent and in 1971,
A-bombed objects and bones were unearthed.)

Today she shopped all day: buying boxes of chocolates for the YMCA teachers; beautiful "Made in Japan" gifts for Lucy; poster tubes for shipping her rubbings-drawings back home; wooden serving spoons, a butter dish, a sea salt pot, sea salt to put in it; traditional Japanese pajamas for her father; two rolls of decorative masking tape. She feels in a bit of a frenzy, leaving in little over a week, as if she must take every bit of Japan home with her that she can manage. She has been packing up boxes to ship home: art books on Ishiuchi Miyako and Yayoi Kusama; books about Hiroshima; new and used clothing; Buddhas; a plasma light and nightlight; kids' drawings; tourist paraphernalia; shoes; leaves and bark from A-bombed trees.

She took Kahori and Mari out to lunch today in gratitude of all their help at the Peace Memorial Museum. She took them to a traditional Japanese restaurant that translates as Moonlight. Neither of them had been there before for food. This was her third time and it was delicious, again: a small bowl of sashimi with a sheiso leaf and spun radish, wasabi and purple seaweed pods; a bowl of hearty rice over which she poured another bowl of gelatinous root; a bowl of pickled sardines in broth; lovely okra, shrimp, bean and squash tempura; a dish of seaweed salad; small green salad with ginger dressing; miso soup and ice tea. They all had the same thing and talked about boyfriends, work and dreams. Kahori wants to go work in Africa with children some day. They both love working at the Peace Museum. They both made her feel so happy and good, said they would miss her and that they had such fun with her. She will miss them too and plans to send them gifts from the states, including a print of the Workers Dreaming that she took of Mari holding a melted A-bomb bottle.

Earlier that day, in the sweltering heat of July that feels as if you are moving closer to the sun with each step, she walked around with Brenda who showed her the most fabulous 5-story kitchenware store - full of gorgeous Japanese dishes, chopsticks, vases, cloths, silverware, and more. She hopes to convince David into shipping some assorted sets home - 8 big plates, 8 bowls, 8 small plates. They are so lovely - metallic grey, floating pink flowers, brushstrokes of blue in a sea of white, ceramic spirals and black orbs.

She is still waiting to see the x-rays, anxious about them being sent to the right place and being processed correctly. She hopes to get them back next week. She expects they will be "blank" but perhaps there will be something there? She is excited to show the cyanotypes of A-bombed objects and leaves and bark and flower heads to everyone - friends, curators, gallerists, family. She loves them and wishes she could do hundreds. Maybe she will return some day to do more. Packing up the rubbings today she realizes she has quite a lot of them. She is eager to get into the darkroom to use them as large paper negatives and to print photographs from the black and white Mamiya negatives and to make digital prints. She feels as if she has just begun working and now they have to go. Maybe that is the best time to leave.

David is out with his colleagues after his second successful presentation on his work here. She is always amazed at his disciplined work ethic, his critical genius, the way he stays calm and focused, even in a very tense professional situation. He has been invited to return here to do more research and this is both a compliment to him and his negotiating skills and personality and a comfort to her, knowing they can return some day.

She needs to finish a 600 word review of Ishiuchi Miyako's show for Art Papers by July 22. She has written twice that and has a hard time editing. There is so much she wants to say about that work.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ninoshima and Ghosts

She is oddly happy with the ghostly white shadows of the ragged aluminum lunch box and round canteen, the slender hair comb and small circular watch face that glow amid the cyanotype blue. Mari, one of the sweetest women in the world, helped her make the prints in the tiny "sunshine garden" of the Peace Museum. She will go back tomorrow to make bigger cyanotypes of fragments of the A-Dome beam, glass bottles, other canteens and lunch boxes, watches. It is an odd happiness because when she places these objects on the paper she feels elated and disturbed simultaneously: so lucky to have access and to be able to make this work she dreamed of making and bothered by the enormous absence that these things mark and hold, aware that once again, here is an American exposing these objects - not to radiation or a bomb this time, but to light in order to render their shapes and being in soft white shadow forms, much like the white shadows cast by people and bridge railings, ladders and plants at the time of the A-bomb. She made a large explosion cyanotype today on her roof using dead flower heads. It looks like stars.

She went to the island of Ninoshima yesterday with Michiko. Ninoshima is 20 minutes by ferry from Hiroshima and it was where soldiers and horses were quarantined during the war and then where bomb orphans were sent after the war. Now there is a boarding school in the same facilities - with old chimneys, military watchtowers and ammunition bunkers close by - for 200 unwanted children. It was beyond hot as they walked around the island to find the horse crematorium, the A-bomb cenotaph, which she did a rubbing of because it said "Comfort Souls" and she doubts she will be given permission to do any rubbings in Peace Park, military foundations and tunnels. There wasn't as much there as she thought there would be but it is still a haunted place. There are thousands of oyster shells - strung in long ropes and heaped up in orderly piles. There were women there working on stringing them together. The oyster factories were closed for the season. February is the month to eat fresh oysters. Michiko worries about poisonous oysters during the summer months.

She was given permission to do rubbings and make photographs in the basement of the old Fuel Hall and City Planning Office - now the Peace Park Rest House. She spent over 2 hours there last week, wearing the required hard hat and sweating profusely as she set up her tripod and 2 different cameras to take pictures of the black rain-like satins on the wall, the worn stairwell banister, the dark and damp room, the rusty door and lonely paper cranes left for Mr. Nomura Eizo, the man who survived at the age of 47 and died in 1982 at the age of 84.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

July Glitches

Harper with a fever

A-bombed glass bottle on cyanotype paper

Man walking outside of Peace Museum

She can not believe they are leaving in 3 weeks already. She wants another month to make more work because she has run into several obstacles. There are A-bombed objects - split and burned bamboo, a tree knot, a roof tile and others - sitting on x-ray film in light-tight bags in the basement of the Peace Museum where they keep over 19,000 artifacts in a 3 large storage rooms with sliding cedar doors. She finally got a box of medical x-ray film from Guthrie's best friend at school, Kenta's mother, Yuko. Unfortunately, she still has found no one to process the film. She and David think that most radiologists and doctors here either do not want to be involved in such an experiment that may indicate higher levels of residual radiation than anyone admits or they don't want to participate in a failed experiment, "to ruin her work". She can not take the film with her because it would no doubt be x-rayed several times on the trip home. Te objects have been sitting there for a week. She is supposed to pick the film up tomorrow but she will leave it there until she has a processing place. She is not sure any of it will work. She and her sister Madeleine loaded the envelopes with the film and objects in not such a light-tight room. They noticed the light leaks around the door after the first 2 envelopes and fixed the leaks. But there might not be any exposure at all and even if there is, it COULD be background radiation, radiation from the table the objects are sitting on. It is not a very controlled or scientific experiment. Saying it is "art" seems like a lame explanation.

She has also been struggling with the cyanotypes of A-bombed objects at the Peace Museum - a marbelized-satin-pink strapless watch, melted bottles, a hair comb with one tooth missing. The ocyanotpyes she did on the flat roof of their apartment on the top of Hijiyama Hill are perfect - deep blue explosions of dead flower heads, ghostly characters made from eucalyptus bark. At the museum, she placed the paper and objects next to a window with thick glass and watched the paper change. When she removed the objects there was the yellow-whitish shadow of the object but when she washed the paper at home, there was close to nothing - a blurry orb in an uneven sea of ugly blue. So she bought a daylight bulb at a photo store because the salesman told her it was ultraviolet. She made 3 test strips and placed them under the light with household objects upon the paper. She and Madeleine kept hearing a POP! and when she finally went to check, the bulb was smoking and the plastic fixture melting. She quickly turned the light off and again, when she washed the paper after a 15 minute exposure, there was close to nothing - a barely white fork in a barely blue field and only one hot spot of blue from the light's reflection through the anise liquor bottle that Madeleine brought her from Hong Kong. She is hoping the UV bulbs - reptile or grow lights - arrive tomorrow from Lucy, her trusted mother-in-law, along with ceramic fixtures so she does not cause chaos at the museum. She will do another test and if it fails, the lovely ladies working at the museum will let her do the prints in the "sunshine garden" - a small U-shaped loading deck space at the lowest point in all of Peace Park. She will have to watch when the sun is directly overhead or the space will mostly be in shadow. They would much prefer NOT to take any of the objects outside and if I must, they must be with me at all times. They are very busy this time of year, preparing for Hiroshima Day August 6, which she is very sad they will miss with their July 30 departure.

Several museum workers have family who were "exposed to the A-bomb," which is how everyone here says it. She finds the language disturbing - that she is once again "exposing" these objects to something. Guthrie gets very upset every time she says she is going to shoot the trees. He wants her to say, "going to make photographs of the trees." He is right of course and she has known that ever since she read Susan Sontag's On Photography in high school. There is an implicit violence to photography, actually and linguistically. Kahori always knew she wanted to do something for peace and about the A-bomb. They are 2 of the nicest women she has ever met and she can not believe she has access to such haunted and holy and eternally tragic objects. She considers herself lucky to be working in the same exact spaces as Isisuchi Miyako did for Strings of Time, but she guesses she is far less prepared than Miyako was. She feels like an amateur. She hadn't thought through a lot of this clearly and fully. She should have brought more light-tight bags, a lead box, UV lightkit/lightbox, but she did not have all these ideas before she came here and finding things in Hiroshima without speaking Japanese when they involve radiation or the A-bomb, is quite difficult as an American.

She still is waiting for permission to do rubbings of many sites. Tomorrow morning she goes to fill out an application to make rubbings of the basement where one man survived - right across the river from the hypocenter. She wants to rub many more A-bombed trees and take black and white photographs with her Mimaya of all the bays at the old clothing depot - an old gargantuan red brick building that survived the A-bomb and where people have planted gardens - both flower and vegetable, and of the trees, the stone steps leading up to the Rio Sanyo memorial...

Meanwhile, Harper has had a hard time overall and it makes her feel guilty and sad. She has been to the doctor three times already, with conjunctivitis last week and bacterial tonsillitis this week. She is on antibiotics and last night woke up every 30 minutes moaning in pain, poor thing. She is homesick for her Nana and dog and friends at school, where she will not be returning. She had to miss the YMCA family picnic today but Guthrie went with David and they both got sunburned. Elin took Harper by tram down to Ujina Port and they took an air-conditioned indoor ferry ride to Etajima Island and back, not even getting off the boat and then a taxi home. Harper had a good long nap and woke up to her lunch request of bacon.

She has read so much since she has been here: Into the Wild; Fire from the Ashes- Stories from Hiroshima and Nagasaki; 36 Views of Mt. Fuji; About a Boy; John Hersey's Hiroshima (which is just about the most amazing book she has ever read); Goodbye Madame Butterfly. She wants to read Embracing Defeat - Japan After World War II before they leave.

Scattered but inspired, she is not ready to go. Maybe she will be in 3 weeks. She is looking forward to being "home" in their comfortable bed with their own pillows. Her bug-bitten body's theory now is that the little biting insects live in the barley that is in the underside of all their pillows. She longs for fresh food from the farmer's market, although every piece of fruit and vegetable she has bought here has been perfect, even peaches and tomatoes. And she longs for their kitchen and pets, their friends and family, all of them. But she will miss this great distance - being half-way around the world and the divine sushi and noodles, the long long walks and crazy taxi rides, the loud and frightening crows and stray cats, the space to be a stranger and an artist and a foreigner and a professional and mother all at once without the petty misery of her department. Most of all she will miss being completely and utterly inspired and overwhelmed by this city, this historical event, the absence that has been made present by itself.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Aloe Vera Yoghurt

is one of the most refreshing and healthy things she has ever eaten.