Caption

From Fukushima – Pt.6

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

I have come for a short weekend break to the port city of Niigata on the West coast of Japan at the mouth of the large Shinano river which also serves the huge areas of rice fields that lie between here and the inland mountains.

My first day here brought two cultural experiences that took me to the extreme ends of cultural life in Japan.

Fighting Kite Museum,  children's kites below the large ones.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Fighting Kite Museum, children’s kites below the large ones. Photo and permission Su Grierson

With several major attractions shut for renovation and total re-hangs, I decided to head out of town to the Large Kite Museum. With not so much English being spoken here finding my way on local buses was the first challenge. And with only a very rudimentary tourist map to assist me, knowing where to get off the bus proved an even greater problem. But it was certainly worth the effort.
As the only visitor in the Museum on a Saturday afternoon I was given privileged treatment. I had a private viewing of a 3D film in English outlining the annual Shirone fighting kite festival. It is a year long community effort to construct and paint the massive 7m x 5m, 30kg, bamboo and paper kites. The strength of the handmade grass ropes that are needed to keep these massive constructions airborne is critical to the outcome of the battle. It takes great skill that is passed down through the generations.

9m bamboo poles are split to make the frames.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

9m bamboo poles are split to make the frames. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Handmade grass ropes are crucial for success.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Handmade grass ropes are crucial for success. Photo and permission Su Grierson

With teams on either side of the Nakanokuchi river the aim is to catch the opposition by twisting lines so that both kites come down in the river. This is when the real battle begins as both sides enlist their whole community to tug the kites towards their bank of the river. The winner is the team with the fewest broken ropes. It can take 30 to 40 people on the ropes to get the kites airborne and hundreds of all ages pulling together when the kites are in the water.

Kites preparing for battle Photo and permission Su Grierson

Kites preparing for battle Photo and permission Su Grierson

The day before the main battle there is a children’s festival with smaller kites and a large street procession. As the film points out, these battles which are always carried out in a sense of friendly rivalry, are important in keeping old traditions and skills alive in a way that is still embedded in the community as well as promoting a genuine inter-generational unity in their society.

Museum curator laying out kites for me. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Museum curator laying out kites for me. Photo and permission Su Grierson

The Museum itself also has examples of kites from around the world, and the curator who came and laid out some kites for me to see, said they had an example of a traditional English kite. I protested that I didn’t think we had any but had to laugh when he showed me the example. It was a cane bent over and tied into an oval shape with newspaper pasted over. It had along string tail with twists of newspaper slotted into the string. I do indeed remember making a kite exactly like this, as a child in the frugal years at the end of 40’s and early 50’s. There were a few other examples of small kites made with leaves and feathers. Such simple and natural toys.

Part of Sake festival.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Part of Sake festival. Photo and permission Su Grierson

My second cultural experience came late in the afternoon when I set off to visit the Annual Saki festival held in a very large conference venue on the river banks of Niigata City. The hundreds of people walking (or more accurately staggering) towards me as they left the event was a clue to what was to follow.

Sake Festival  part of the Tasting Hall. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Sake Festival part of the Tasting Hall. Photo and permission Su Grierson

I had originally intended to buy a ‘tasting ticket’ where you are given a label and small ceramic Sake cup in which to freely sample up to 900 of the varieties on display. But one look down into the main hall quickly decided me otherwise. Thousands of people formed what looked like a monumental scrum gathered around the drinking stalls. It seemed quantity rather than quality was the aim. The palette would be so quickly flattened that I doubt it would be possible to distinguish one variety from another anyway.

Going down into the hall as a visitor I was constantly jostled by inebriated drinkers and the smoke and food smells from the surrounding stalls was sticky and oppressive, nothing like the aroma of the interesting and subtle food I have been eating while here.

The Japanese make the most clear and amusing illustrated public signage. You can never doubt that you will drown, crash you bike or walk in dog poo, but the ‘no fighting’ signs at the Sake festival really did give an idea of what might happen as the evening progressed.

No Fighting Sign.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

No Fighting Sign. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Sake is the national drink made from fermented wine. Like wine it ranges from sweet to dry depending on brewing times and water quality. It is also made into rich fruit liqueurs and can be added to many cooking sauces and dishes. Mr Sato owner of our local Yamatogawa brewery and many members of the public have donated so much Sake to our events that we need some extra gatherings just to use it all. In Kitakata generosity and levels of support for our projects are both humbling and inspiring.

Finally after reaching Kitakata again, we are faced with the news that there has been an electricity failure at the crippled Daiichi nuclear plant. It seems they do not know the cause which seems even more worrying. The online Japan News Today says:

“Electricity has been cut to pools used to cool spent fuel at the reactor 1, 3 and 4 units” as well as to the equipment to treat contaminated discharge including radioactive cesium, TEPCO spokesman Kenichi Tanabe said.

However, the incident had not so far affected cooling-water injection to the number 1, 2 and 3 reactors, which suffered core meltdowns soon after the start of the March 2011 nuclear crisis, he said.

The temperature at the pool for spent fuel from reactor number 4 was believed to be the highest and slightly above 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), still well below the safety limit of 65 degrees, he said, adding it was rising by 0.3-0.4 degrees every hour.

If the system is not restored, it will take four more days for that pool to reach the limit, he said.

“We are trying to restore power by then,” he said, adding the deadline would be about 14 days and 26 days for the other two.

This was on breakfast news today (Tuesday 19th) but I have the feeling that the people are almost numbed to disaster now. There are endless TV programmes about potential Tsunamis and personal security, yet I find that most of the people I speak to have no faith in the new Government to handle these situations. They believe they will bend to the industrial companies desire to re-open the nuclear plants, and I have seen for myself that some sea defenses broken two years ago have not even begun to be restored. There are some small anti-Government public protests in Tokyo, but few people seem to believe it will make any difference.

Based purely on the people I talk to here, I find that while they are individually inspiring, the country seems to be still struggling to cope with all that has happened and are a long way from finding a constructive way forward.

I fly home in 3 days time and by then the first cooling deadline will have been reached. Let’s hope there is only good news to report.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.
It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
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Su Grierson 25 January

From our mountain home looking towards Mt. Eide (Photo and permission Su Grierson

From our mountain home looking towards Mt. Eide (Photo and permission Su Grierson

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Report Number 3 from Su Grierson in Kitakata, Fukushima Province Japan.

Slowly, as we move around engaging with the locality and people and negotiate the difficulty of translation, we are gaining more insight into the aftermath of the Tsunami two years ago.

All the displaced and dispossessed people from the coastal disaster area are referred to as Refugees.

This term is general and has value in identifying them, but covers many differences that exist within that community. I have had no sense that the term is disparaging, but we were told that the initial intense sympathy that people held for them has been diminished as certain tensions have arisen.

There are Refugee camps in many areas in order to scatter the load on existing communities. The Refugees are housed in temporary purpose-built wooden houses (un-insulated as is common here) which they can occupy for up to 3 years. This deadline was put in place to discourage permanent ghetto-like clusters simply continuing indefinitely and to put pressure on the dispossessed to try and rebuild their lives. Many previous community groups are actually wanting to be resettled together in the areas they came from but this is mainly not possible as the land is not safe for re-building and there are insufficient large areas of free land to build new houses in any quantity. The issue seems to be unresolved.

We were told a little about the tensions that exist, and predictably money seems to be a major factor both between the Refugees themselves and between them and the rest of the community. As far as I can ascertain there were two types of compensation. Those living within the Nuclear disaster zones were paid compensation directly from the Nuclear industry and it was generally much higher than the Government payout to those who were affected only by the Tsunami. In addition, the nuclear payment was zoned by the proximity to the fallout area. Even though those living further away also lost everything and cannot return to their homes they received less. No one mentions whether exposure to the radiation is a factor or not. Likewise those who lost everything from the tsunami are receiving much less than those in the nuclear payout zone. It is not hard to see how tensions arise.

It seems this has been exacerbated by the fact that some of those receiving large payouts, who have never had so much money before, are not managing it wisely and some are buying fancy cars and living extravagantly and again that does not impress the local people and tests their degree of sympathy and support. It is human nature playing out predictably I think.

I am now on my third experience of Japanese traditional style accommodation – and yes, I can actually see the snow through the cracks in the single plank wooden wall! This is a large traditional house run by the owner as a B&B type accommodation. She and her elderly mother live in the (newer) building built alongside. This seems to be a common arrangement. As well as Yoshiko and myself there are also a Refugee couple staying here. He is very talkative but I am dependent on Yoshiko’s interpretation which she find quite challenging so I hope to piece together more of the story slowly as the days go by.

So far I have gathered that there has been a problem with the Government payout because the system is extremely bureaucratic and that many of the less educated or able people deal with the form filling. A system has been put in place to give individual interviews to help those with problems but some people even then cannot answer the complex questions about their history, income and lifestyle so they simply give up.

As for this couple they have moved 8 times in the 2 years, looking for a place to settle. He says he is looking for good water. When I asked why that was so important, thinking it might be something to do with rice growing or fishing, he explained that it was because good water was the source of life. In order to get good human life, good soil and a full eco-system (my word not his) there must be good life-giving water. The area we are in now Kitakata, he says has lots of bears which is good, but lower down the chain of animal and plant life it is missing many things. So it seems they will be off to location number 9 at some stage. At least he managed to get a job here doing night shift at a compost factory. I think he is 68 and took to farming when he retired as a plasterer and before that he worked in the nuclear plant. It would be good to chat with his wife when her talkative husband is not around but she does seem very shy at the moment. Who knows what effect such uncertainty and constant moving around, on top of the catastrophe itself might have had on her.

It is snowing hard again today and I must tell you about the way in which they clear the main roads. Down the centre of the roads where we might have ‘cats eyes’ there are little holes through which at appointed times little fountains of warm water (at least I was told they were warm but haven’t tested it) spray out onto the road. It washes away the snow most effectively without any need for the unpleasant salt that we spread with less efficiency. At our first accommodation the same system was used on the outside paths simply using hoses with holes. The country and side roads are partly cleared with snow ploughs and then every car uses winter tyres and everyone just drives on the packed snow base as normal.

Because the houses are largely un-insulated and without central heating, and anyway many people are giving up using electricity, the rooms, including our new studio spaces, are heated with ‘paraffin’ heaters (well I am not sure exactly what form of oil it is but it smells like that). Most of them are also plugged into the power supply for control. They do heat up very quickly but cut out when they reach temperature and then the cold comes back all to rapidly so it is difficult to get a comfortable even temperature.

The artists on the project with me, in addition to Yoshiko Maruyama, who is an installation artist and the originator of this project, are a sculptor, Vigdis Haugtroe, and Margrethe Aas, an architect/landscape architect working on City Planning, both from Norway. You can see more images of the project from our various Facebook pages and about us from our websites:

http://www.facebook.com/facingnorthjapan

http://www.facebook.com/SeishinNoKitae

www.facebook.com/su.grierson.9

http://haugtroe.com/

http://members.jcom.home.ne.jp/maryoshi/index-e.html

www.sugrierson.com

Until next time from snowy Kitakata. Su 

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.
It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
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Year of Natural Scotland

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Bing across the road from the Dalmellington Iron Works. Photo Chris Fremantle

2013 is designated as the Year of Natural Scotland.  We know that the Scottish Poetry Library is planning a programme around this theme, and Creative Scotland are partnering up with SNH for a conference.   We’ve listed below some information which we’ve been able to pull together.  Of course, like Homecoming, this is about tourism, but maybe it could be more?

If you want to tell us about projects or programmes you’ll be running during 2013, or resources that you think might be useful to share, just email us chris at fremantle dot org.

EventScotland listing of Festivals currently signed up to programme Year of Natural Scotland events.

Scottish Natural Heritage has grants programmes geared up for the Year of Natural Scotland.

Creative Scotland’s Creative Places Awards for projects outwith the major cities during 2013, with a special emphasis on the Year of Natural Scotland.

Creative Scotland are also planning a major conference to highlight the ways that artists and creative practitioners affect the way we imagine natural Scotland.

Scotland’s Rural Network wants to know what the top 5 nature based things that each local authority area has to offer.  Help them by making suggestions for your area.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
Go to EcoArtScotland

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Of Farms and Fables shows beauty, struggle of family farming – Theater – Portland Phoenix

FINDING THEIR PLACES Actors, including farm workers and their children, rehearse Of Farms and Fables.

An interesting show coming up in Portland, ME….

It’s all in a day’s work on a family farm. From pests to family strife to the game-changing scale of industrial farming, the challenges to the modern family farm are given unsentimentally resonant treatment in Open Waters Theatre Arts’ Of Farms and Fables, the theatrical culmination of several years of research and residencies on farms here in southern Maine.

With a script by Cory Tamler, direction by Jennie Hahn, and a cast that includes farm workers and children of farmers, this most recommended production runs October 27-30, at Camp Ketcha in Scarborough.

In Open Waters’ plain and simple billing, Of Farms and Fables is “a play about the people who bring you food.” A team of its actors, playwright, and director spent last summer working alongside those very people, the farmers and farm workers who sow and weed at Wm. H. Jordan, Broadturn, and Benson farms. After a season of learning their work, and of hearing their worries and joys, Open Waters’ artists turned to the task of making theater of the experience, to share with the public a nuanced look at the realities of family farming in the modern age.

via Of Farms and Fables shows beauty, struggle of family farming – Theater – Portland Phoenix.

PostNatural history: organism of the month


PostNatural Organism of the Month: American Chestnut Tree July 2009

From a series of artworks from the Center for PostNatural History. The caption reads:

This variety of American Chestnut Tree is engineered by a small team of researchers at the SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry program to be resistant to the chestnut blight that is responsible for reducing this American icon to a shrub. In selecting the genes to create a blight-resistant tree, researchers paid unusual attention to selecting genes from organisms that would not be seen by the public as controversial. For example, researchers chose a blight-resistant gene from wheat rather than a more commonly used toxin gene from frogs. This consideration of public perception as well as the environmental ecology is significant as this tree is among the first transgenic organisms to be designed with the intent to proliferate in the ‘wild’.

Thanks to Groundswell blog.

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Madeline Bunting in today’s Guardian: the “quiet powerhouse” that is RSA Arts & Ecology

Radical Nature’s The Dalston Mill project

Radical Nature’s The Dalston Mill project

Madeleine Bunting’s article on the role of arts in changing perceptions about the environment kicks off by looking at Radical Nature’s The Dalston Mill project, and discusses new work Gustav Metzger and new thoughts from Tim Smit and gives a very warmly appreciated nod to the RSA Arts & …

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