Fujieda City History Museum, Japan
Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest
March 5th – May 1st 2005.
In 2004 Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest presented Shimai Toshi at the Fujieda City History Museum (and in Sydney in 2005).
Taking its premise from the term ‘Shimai Toshi’ (sister cities) Shimai Toshi was developed to further strengthen the strong community and cultural ties between Penrith and Fujieda City, and was presented as a symbolic gift from one regional centre to another (Penrith to Fujieda) and developed on the basis of filial contact between communities, contemporary artists and nations.
The Shimai Toshi exhibition program, curated by John Kirkman, was intended to develop synergies with and between contemporary visual arts practice, community cultural development and social history.
The major focus of Shimai Toshi was an installation-based exhibition; featuring four Western Sydney based contemporary artists, offering parallel symbolic ‘displays’ of filial affection, shared experience and collective critique. Intended to blend and highlight seemingly differing and highly individualised modes and methodologies of contemporary practice the exhibition intended the examination of cultural synergy and similarity between Australia and Japan.
Shimai Toshi was presented during the period November 2nd – 30th. Total visitation for the three-week period was 6,185 (double the predicted level of visitation). This level of visitation is particularly pleasing as Shimai Toshi was the first contemporary art exhibition presented in Fujieda City. Similarly, it was the first time the Fujieda City History Museum had been used as a visual arts venue.
Four Australian contemporary artists – Brook Andrew, Michael Butler, Prins and Regina Walter – presented new bodies of work. All of which, except Andrew’s, were project and site specific.
Each of the artists was based in or from Western Sydney and had substantial experience in the development of work for project specific international cultural exchange programs.
The artists were selected on their ability to combine theoretical and conceptual integrity and meticulous dexterity. Of particular importance was the fact that each artist’s practice (bar Brook Andrew) is premised on the use of ‘traditional’ modalities of art practice e.g. carving, beading and collage.
It should be noted that Fujieda hosts and visitors particularly appreciated the varying degrees Butler, Prins and Walter engaged in aspects of traditional and contemporary Japanese culture in the conceptual and physical development of their works.
The Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Sugimura was included in order to underline the collaborative nature of the project and recognised the fact that Sugimura had previously undertaken a residency at the Penrith Regional Gallery & the Lewers Bequest in 2000.
– Brook Andrew:
Andrew presented his recent kalar midday series. As Professor Marcia Langton has written
Those who see these photographs will feel that they have wandered onto someone’s dream world. Here are potent imaginings of bodies and landscapes, beings both human and animal, of love and desire, and of the unconscious.
Indeed, it is not an overblown claim on my part to say that Brook Andrew has invented, in the suite of photographs he calls kalar midday, a new space where we can imagine that dreams are held: the deep black space of unconsciousness into which our dreams flow and vault, leaping across the mind’s eye, never still and never real; the deep black space where peace and tranquillity live, and which we crave.
Audiences were intrigued by Andrew’s work and its ability to undercut traditional perceptions of Aboriginal art. This could well be the basis of a future exhibition to Fujieda (Penrith regional Gallery will be employing an Indigenous curator in early 2005).
– Michael Butler:
Butler created and presented To Kill A Mockingbird – an installation exploring the symbolic duality of object and the ever-present allegorical tussle between beauty, goodness and violence.
Sharing its title with American author Harper Lee’s great and haunting 1960 novel (known in Japan as Alabama Story) Butler’s intricate and obsessively handcrafted homage of eighteen collaged baseball bats explored familiar masculine symbols.
With subtlety and pathos Butler affectingly revealed what is innocent and playful can be similarly fearsome and evil. Importantly, his riotously decorative work soberly made the point that such symbols and allegory are international and recognisable by Everyman – Australian and Japanese alike.
This work was particularly resonant with Fujieda audiences intrigued by Butler’s symbolism and technical facility.
– Prins (a.k.a. Haro):
Prins was originally an urban aerosol (graffiti) artist and began his practice in Sydney in 1986. He developed his airbrushing technique in 1991 and began to transform his aerosol (graffiti) practice to low relief sculpture in 1996. Prins is an artist of unique sensibility and could best be compared to the late Keith Haring as an artist able to combine classicism with urban subversion.
Prins uniquely renders the billowing and intermingled lettering of graffiti into three-dimensional carved blocks. All of his sculptures feature the letters of his tag name Prins – thus his works can be viewed as intriguing self-portraits.
For Shimai Toshi Prins created a series of eleven carved works exploring cross cultural identity – detailing his respect for and acknowledgment of his own Japanese, Maori and international heritage.
Of all work presented Prins’ was the most resonant with Japanese audiences who were deeply moved by the history and execution of the works (particularly Asajiro’s Journey which told the story of Prins’ Japanese great grandfather).
– Regina Walter:
Walter’s research for Shimai Toshi led her to interpretations of nature and the elements – including the history, form and principles of Ikebana, as well as the symbolism and design of classical Japanese gardens. Concurrently, she (Walter) was also intrigued by Japanese popular culture – Pachinko, Manga, neon signage and radical fashion.
Walter variously interpreted nature, the elements and contemporary popular culture by creating a series of seven beaded and woven ‘light veils’ for the central staircase of the Fujieda City History Museum.
As with previous works Regina Walter, for months, meticulously and obsessively selected, matched, juxtaposed and threaded thousands of glass and plastic beads to create Veils 1-7. Like the work of Butler and Prins, her attention to Japanese culture (particularly fashion) deeply impressed exhibition visitors.
Community Cultural Development
The project also presented three stands of community cultural development i.e.
– Matching children’s art exhibition
– Social history exhibition
– Matching artworks from the Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest Collection with eleven Fujieda artists.
– Children’s Art:
The children’s art exhibition matched 50 works by Western Sydney primary and secondary school students matched with works specially created by Fujieda school students.
– Social History:
The social history component titled From Me to You involved community members in both Penrith and Fujieda contributing personal objects and stories for exhibition. This exhibition component was a modest and tentative investigation of how individual relationships have insistently guided the post 1945 Australia-Japan relationship from one of distrust and enmity to friendship and mutual respect.
On view were a small range of objects and related personal stories that randomly and symbolically revealed much about the nurturing of international friendship by individuals. Like an incomplete mosaic these objects and reminiscences, lent by citizens from Penrith and Fujieda, revealed much about the past, the present and the future.
This project component was particularly resonant with visitors and could well be the basis of a future and more detailed bilateral project.
– Collection Artworks:
This project component matched eleven works from the Penrith Regional Gallery’s collection with the work of eleven senior artists from Fujieda and examined the growth of Modernist tradition and art practice at two very different ends of the Pacific.
Australian artists represented were
Adolf Gustav Plate
A key element of the exhibition program was the commissioning and performance of a newly composed instrumental work by contemporary Australian composer Barton Staggs. The work, lasting fifteen minutes, was commissioned by the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Center and was performed by Japanese musicians (engaged by the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre). Staggs piece, also titled Shimai Toshi featured traditional Japanese instruments, symbolically exploring the relationship between Australia and Japan (Penrith and Fujieda).