Bamboo Poles

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.

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Doug + Mike Starn on the Roof: Big Bambú | Current Exhibitions | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Doug + Mike Starn on the Roof: Big Bambú
April 27, 2010–October 31, 2010 (weather permitting)
The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden

Go to Flickr for behind-the-scenes photos and installation views. flickr
Read the Guided-Tour Guidelines.
Curator Anne Strauss talks to Doug and Mike Starn about the exhibition.
Download the audio file. MP3 (7.97 MB)

Invited by The Metropolitan Museum of Art to create a site-specific installation for The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden, the twin brothers Mike and Doug Starn (born in New Jersey in 1961) will present their new work, Big Bambú: You Can’t, You Don’t, and You Won’t Stop, opening on April 27. The monumental bamboo structure, ultimately measuring 100 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 50 feet high, will take the form of a cresting wave that bridges realms of sculpture, architecture, and performance. Visitors will witness the continuing creation and evolving incarnations ofBig Bambú as it is constructed throughout the spring, summer, and fall by the artists and a team of rock climbers. Set against Central Park and its urban backdrop, Big Bambúwill suggest the complexity and energy of an ever-changing living organism. It will be the thirteenth-consecutive single-artist installation on the Roof Garden.

Doug + Mike Starn on the Roof: Big Bambú

Above: Installation in progress, March 2010. Photo by Doug and Mike Starn. © 2010 Mike and Doug Starn / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

More about the Exhibition
Big Bambú is a growing and changing sculpture―a vast network of 5,000 interlocking 30- and 40-foot-long fresh-cut bamboo poles, lashed together with 50 miles of nylon rope. It will continue to be constructed throughout the duration of the exhibition. The first phase of the structure―measuring about 100 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 30 feet high―will be completed by opening day, April 27. Subsequently, the artists and rock climbers will build up the eastern portion of the sculpture to an elevation of 50 feet. By summer, the western portion of the sculpture will be about 40 feet high. An internal footpath artery system will grow along with the structure, facilitating its progress. The evolving state of the work will be documented by the artists in photographs and videos.

Visiting the Exhibition
Visitors will be able to experience Big Bambú from the Roof Garden level, open to everyone during regular Museum hours, weather permitting, and to walk among a forest of bamboo poles that serves as the base of the sculpture. Alternatively, visitors will be able to explore the artwork on brief tours led by Museum-trained guides. On the guided tours, held during regular Museum hours, weather permitting, small groups of visitors will be able to walk along the elevated interior network of pathways roughly 20 to 40 feet above the Roof Garden. Tickets will be required for the guided tours, and specific guidelines will apply to those interested in participating. Please read them for details and requirements.

Tickets for guided tours will be able to be obtained only in person and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis with Museum admission at the Big Bambú Registration Desk, in the Uris Center for Education, located at the 81st Street ground-level entrance. Tickets will be available twice a day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays, andHoliday Mondays, when the Museum is open to the public, and three times a day on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets for morning tours will be released at 9:30 a.m. Tickets for afternoon tours will be released at noon. On Fridays and Saturdays, tickets for evening tours will be released at 3:30 p.m. There will be a limit of one ticket per person, and tickets will be nontransferable. All tour participants (other than children without identification) will be required to present photo identification to obtain a ticket.

About the Artists
Born in New Jersey in 1961, the identical twins Doug and Mike Starn work collaboratively and defy categorization, combining traditionally separate disciplines such as sculpture, photography, painting, video, and installation. In spring 2009, the Arts for Transitprogram of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City unveiled See it split, see it change, the Starns’ first public commission. The work, which is installed permanently at the South Ferry subway station, won the Brendan Gill Prize. Their work has been exhibited internationally and is included in public and private collections worldwide. Their solo exhibitions include Gravity of Light (2004, 2008), Absorption + Transmission (2005, 2006), Behind Your Eye (2004), Sphere of Influence (1994), Mike and Doug Starn: Selected Works 1985-87 (1988), and The Christ Series (1988). The artists live and work in the New York area.

Exhibition Organization and Credits
The exhibition is organized by Anne L. Strauss, Associate Curator of the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum.

The exhibition is made possible by Bloomberg logo
Additional support is provided by Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky.
The exhibition is also made possible in part by the Jane and Robert Carroll Fund.
Rope is provided by Mammut Sports Group, Inc.

Doug + Mike Starn on the Roof: Big Bambú | Current Exhibitions | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.