Saturday, April 10, 2010
Fatty and Slender
This work was responding to my meeting with Takusan in Japan, 2009.
A bakers clay rendition of a Jakuchu painting.
A collection of the receipts collected whilst in the Tokyo studio at Takadanobaba for three months (which happened to fit the window at ICAN exactomondo)
Watercolour painting copy of Hokusai's "Fatty and Slender", including jewellery.
Here is the piece I wrote;
The Hanging Man at Kunitachi
I finally made it to Kunitachi, in Tokyo, to see this famous action I had heard the Yanaka dancers I knew rave about. Takusan, an older man, had been hanging himself by the neck every night for ten years, giving public showings a couple of times a week.
I met with a couple of the dancers and we made our way there, each had seen the work numerous times
It was a bit of a walk from the station, down a modest lane with an unassuming lantern hanging at the entrance to an older style dark, wooden house. There was a box with money in it, Y1000 admission. We sat in Takusan's small yard on homemade wooden benches, after picking up a cut piece of styrofoam to provide comfort, and a tiny bit of warmth. Very cold that night. He was inside his wooden house, I could see shadows of him through the glass, and hear beautiful Japanese music playing. He came out dressed in red trousers, a red polo neck shirt with a white blouse over the top, and began his gentle silent movements through the garden area. This consisted of a few straggly bushes and trees, one tall thin bamboo, and a shrub that had gone brown and died. The dark brown earth ground had been well compacted and a few paving stones hinted at a path. The fences were lined with blue tarps, old ones, very frayed with some parts spray-painted with silver.
His presence was so sincere and delicate, minimal but exploratory. I had met him once before, where he had a metal thing, like a cigarette holder, with a block of herbs smoking out one end, and he had taken my hands and pressed them and smoked them, my friends explained that it was ‘cauterisation’. He had accurately pinpointed sources of trouble and pain on my hands, and they felt warmed afterwards.
I felt the wind in the air and watched him react. Action, reaction, honouring time and moving slowly and carefully, knowing every centimeter of the ground he was covering. He moved through the space for nearly half an hour, in a gentle and magnetic way. He seemed to pay special heed to the dried shrub, taking its energy and giving it back. Near this shrub was a square hole, not very deep, dug into the earth. At its edge stood an iron anvil, and over this was a beam, with hooks. There were lights positioned on the house to illuminate the space and we could hear the outside world operating, sirens and occasional footsteps penetrating the silence. Otherwise it was completely quiet bar the wind in the trees.
Takusan explored the space, and then he climbed back into the house, tentatively I noticed...almost as though he was uncertain about it. Perhaps, a justifiable reluctance. He came back with a woven rope, red, with a hook on one end. It was at this point that I remembered that this was what he was renowned for.
Let me say I was worried about seeing this seminal part, but also curious, as the Yanaka group had raved so much about him, and after meeting him, I was interested but still a bit scared. He stepped on to the anvil, hung the rope, and then he hung himself, under his jaw, by the neck. He hung for something like 5 minutes, maybe 10. Such tremendous strength and such power his profound agility communicating something from deep within, not limp and dead, but alive and beautiful, such unbelievable beauty, I was moved beyond. He mainly faced away from us, but swung around at one point. I felt like he was dancing throughout, using his body’s muscle to retain his own life.
I felt shame at my own physical discomfort as it was so very cold, sitting so still, hugging my shawl closer around myself, and snuggling into my scarves. I watched his pain, but also his strength. Such an older man, so thin, with these worn red trousers, sewn tightly at the back in order to keep them from falling down, hanging by his neck, in a residential neighbourhood, every day for ten years. Rain, snow, sleet... He had been doing it for more than 40 years actually, I was told, but only ten years so devotedly.
This is his concept to “bring him to paradise”.
His weakness after hanging was apparent, and he fortified himself with slow movement, energy gradually returning. To sit in such a humble yard and to see something so profound, it felt very great and momentous.
After his actions, we all went inside and sat around a heated table, a kotatsu, to warm our legs, and drank shochu with tea and ate lovely things made by his partner, Mika Kurosawa, the greatest dancer in Japan. My eyes were full of appreciation for the surrounds, but I didn’t want to take photos. We discussed his work, while drinking eating, and smoking. After more than an hour Takusan said, let us make a gift for Sarah! Then they sang for me! Old Japanese songs ringing out like a clear bell of beauty.
"Correspondence", the wise man said, in English. He knew. He said strength was what life was about. “The most important thing is to be strong”.
I said I thought he was dancing to the tune of the wind, and he said he was. I asked if the neighbors knew what went on behind the fence, that there was such a great thing going on, each night, such a powerful thing, such a thing that was so private, yet public...they said shush, don't tell them!
We came home on the train full of bliss and gratitude. I loved it there. The contrasts and the fortitude, I chanced to happen on, in the outskirts of Tokyo. It gives me hope.
A piece written by Intern Rachel Smith
Following her residency in Japan in 2009, Sarah Goffman presents Fatty and Slender: The Hanging Man’s House at the Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown. The result of some intriguing experiences during her stay, Goffman responds specifically to a powerful performance she witnessed at the ‘The Hanging Man’s House’ in Kunitachi; a suburb of Tokyo. Goffman and a group of local Yanaka dancers watched on while the aging man Takusan hung himself by the neck, a ‘death-defying’ act that he has been performing every day, sometimes for an audience, for the last ten years.
Unable to take photographs during the performance, Goffman creates a mixed media installation in the gallery space, re-producing the yard of Takusan’s traditional wooden home from memory using wood, glass, cardboard, and paper as well as the stuff of everyday life collected during her residency. In addition to serving Japanese tea and sake, Goffman re-creates some of the dishes that were eaten in the supper that followed the act at Takusan’s house.
Renowned for recycling and reinventing detritus from consumer culture, such as cartons, plastic wrappers, advertising material, and plastic bags, the artist meticulously arranges these familiar objects in the space; pieces hang from the ceiling, cover the doors, lean on walls and sit neatly on carefully arranged shelves. From the bizarre to the every-day, strange and wonderful juxtapositions are created, seemingly transforming the banal to the beautiful.
In the centre of the installation, surrounded by a collection of shoes, stands an upright structure made of old jackets and shirts piled high and topped with a black hat representing the tall figure of Takusan. An exquisite miniature Japanese landscape made of dough, strikingly lit from the side is complemented by a delicate series of wooden sculptures by Peter Jackson. Goffman’s elaborate but seemingly casual installation is typical of a sensibility described by fellow artist Nobuhiro Ishihara as like ‘Ikebana’ - the Japanese art of flower arranging - “because it looks easy, but isn’t.”
Goffman includes two video works in the installation inspired by Takusan’s profound action; one of oozing liquids played on a horizontal screen transformed into a table around which visitors sit, and the distorted video Conversation with the Peachtree projected through glass on a wall nearby. The latter shows Goffman forcibly propping up a peach tree in her back yard, attempting to “sculpt” the living trunk.
Fatty and Slender: The Hanging Man’s House attempts to capture Goffman’s feelings of bliss and gratitude felt as a result of her intense and extraordinary experiences in Japan.