Semester at sea

Doug's on a Boat

Spring 2020. We sent LSC Arts Program Manager Doug Sink out to sea... let's hope he can float!

Doug’s Final Thoughts:

  • Travel is great for many things- new experiences, stretching outside of your comfort zone, but most importantly to help you see the cultural lens that you’re looking through- America is not great, I’ve always known that, but we’re actually pretty good at some things and I have a greater appreciation for those things now.
  • Art around the world speaks a similar language, and it was really great to see the differences and the similarities within the cultural context.
  • The ocean is BIG. It’s so big.
  • The living / learning community made possible by programs like SaS is a remarkable experience, for both student and teacher. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy this once before in my life, and both have been life-changing experiences. I would recommend the experience of the living / learning community to  students and educators without reservation, especially in the context of cultural immersion.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic certainly impacted our experience significantly, but maybe more importantly it highlighted the difference between communities who approached crisis with a tribalistic mentality and those who embraced the whole community. It was enlightening.

Check out Doug’s art-ventures below!

Doug’s on a Boat: South Africa

April 2020

South Africa

We arrived in South Africa on March 16th. We’d learned just a few days earlier that this was the end of the line, rather than a brief stop before continuing on, and we were wrapped up in an emotional maelstrom about the end of the journey. We were sad that it was over, angry that it was over early, but most of all we were eager to be in a new place and ready to see what we could.

We found a great little Airbnb in Greenpoint, a tourist friendly area in Cape Town near the coast. There were rumors that the museums would be shutting down soon, so with a few hours remaining in the day, I sped over to the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa.

Of all the things that I was to see on the voyage, this museum was the one that I had heard the most about. I was very excited to see what it had in store, and I was not disappointed! I’d been told by a few other art nerds that the museum was very new, and possibly the best contemporary art museum in all of Africa. The building towered in Cape Town, not necessarily taller than others but certainly more unique.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

Converted in 2014-2017 from a decommissioned grain silo, the interior held both vestiges of its history and the expectations of a modern art haven. One could see the individual silos, carved out to create huge space. Spare columns dispersed around these large gallery spaces were common throughout the building. The depths of the building still held many fixtures of the granary operation, interspersed with recent works of art. It was a beautiful space, and I marveled at the building just as much as the artwork.

Of the two main exhibitions in the space, I started with Two Together. The name says it all- the curators paired 2 artists’ works together to be viewed in the same gallery, for either aesthetic or conceptual reasons. Nicholas Hlobo’s limpundulu zonke ziyandilandela was paired with Taiye Idahor’s collage drawings because they reference “mythology and legendary folklore.” Their color palettes were similar, even though the final imagery and overall tone were very different: impundulu references a terrifying lightning bird known in Bhaca and Zulu cultures,  while Idahor’s drawings show the adornment common to powerful Edo women in history, the absence of the subject evoking a ghostly reverence.

Both Zanele Muholi and Mouna Karray’s works are rooted in the practice of portraiture and photography. Both are examples of black and white photography. Both are bearing witness to struggles of confinement and oppression. Mouna Karray’s series, Noir, captures the artist sewn into a large sheet. She struggles against the confinement of the clean white sheet, the hand holding the shutter control of the camera her only tool for influence or communication to the outer world. Zanele Muholi’s project, Faces and Phases, catalogues a multitude of people living on a fluid spectrum of gender identity. The subjects of the portraits confront the viewer directly, their very human spirits challenging the discrimination they face on a daily basis.

 

After cruising through the upper floors, I descended down into the largest exhibition in the Museum, William Kentridge’s Why should I Hesitate: Putting Drawings to Work. Consuming two floors of the museum, this massive exhibition chronicled remarkable developments in the iconic South African artists career. In fact, only a portion of the exhibition was at the Zeits- all the sculptural work was at another venue that I was destined to miss. This survey spanned over 40 years of the artist’s career (1976-2019), and gave one a tremendous appreciation for the breadth and volume of Kentridge’s works.

William Kentridge is best known for his drawings, prints, and animated films. Using a unique method of animation, Kentridge will erase and draw over the same drawing, creating each still image of an animation on a single page. This process help the artist create haunting images that bear the scars of their making, and still end up beautiful.

The exhibition itself was masterfully curated and designed. We saw the breadth of Kentridges’s work, including drawings, films, sculptures, and tapestries. Again, I was struck by how well the designers had blended the unique attributes of the building with the design of the exhibition. One of my favorite portions of the exhibition was a large room that was set up to represent the artist’s studio. There were tables full of journals and sketchbooks, artworks in process, and large prints on the wall carrying words that are helpful in the practice of art.

Finally, the exhibition ended with an installation of the grand work, More Sweetly Play the Dance. This work encompasses many of Kentridge’s ideas and processes into one huge installation. I really enjoyed sitting in the dark space (quite alone, thanks to the scarcity of people around), and listening to the barrage of sounds and picking out little details in the film. I’ve included a few images of the installation, but I would encourage you to watch the linked video documentation for a more complete understanding of the work.

Tour Guide, Zachary gives the Sink family a local look at some incredible street art in South Africa.

Street Art Tour

And as expected, all the national museums did close shortly after we arrived. We took time to see some penguins, hang out with some monkeys, spend time with the remaining ship families still in South Africa, and generally do what touristing we could do. After a few more days, we ventured out with a tour guide for a walking tour of local street art.

We met our guide, Zachary, in front of the Woodstock Exchange. The building had originally been a factory for large production machinery, and once abandoned became a haven for artists looking for places to make art. When the building was later bought through the efforts to gentrify the neighborhood, much of that art remained on the walls. There were over 3o distinct works of street art found within the building.

After a thorough tour of the Woodstock Exchange, Zachary took us into the neighborhood surrounding the Exchange for a tour of more recent works of art. I was amazed to see how common it was! Zachary explained that most poeple in the are enjoyed having the art  around to beautify the space, so all you needed to do was ask folks and show them the art; if they liked it, you got to work.

We enjoyed the time we had in South Africa, but knew it was time to leave. Unfortunately Air Emirates was not cooperating, and our planned flight was cancelled. We scheduled another, but the South African President issued a nation-wide lockdown and that flight was cancelled. We ended up being in South Africa for a few days short of a month, meeting some great folks during the lockdown, and flying home on a repatriation flight organized by the US embassy. You can read more about the lockdown here.

We’re now home in Fort Collins, reacclimating to the new normal in the midst of the global pandemic. The voyage was nothing like what we thought it was going to be, but we still got what we were looking for: the opportunity to experience drastically different places and people, to challenge ourselves as a family and grow closer, to see art I’d never get to see here at home. Next week, in what will be the final post of the blog, I’ll highlight some of my favorite photos from the trip.

Doug’s off a Boat: Mauritius and Final Thoughts

April 2020

Mauritius

Oh Mauritius, what a wonderful sight for sore eyes!

By  now you’ve read in the previous post that the voyage had started taking a very different shape as the COVID-19 virus started, and I think some of those changes made Mauritius even more special for all of us. When we boarded the ship in Vietnam, we thought we were headed to Malaysia. Instead, both Malaysia and India were cancelled, and we were going to dock in the Seychelles for a handful of days instead.

Well, the day before we were to dock in the Seychelles the country informed us that we were no longer welcome. Ultimately, I think they made the choice because they were concerned that we could be carrying the virus. Either way, we were turned away from the Seychelles and told that plans for the change were being considered. We had been at sea for 14 days at this point and everyone was getting pretty antsy after another long stretch. We thought we were going to Mozambique for about 24 hours, until we learned that we were able to secure berths in Mauritius–with a caveat. We were allowed to come into Mauritius for one day, and if everyone behaved we would be allowed to stay for another week. It was like an interview to see if we would be good.

We were, for the most part, good.

Mauritius sea turtles

Tessa swimming with sea turtles in Mauritius.

Overall Mauritius was a wonderfully beautiful place with crystal clear water, stunning mountains, and gracious people. I don’t know how many times I heard someone–usually a cab driver–say, “God loves the Mauritian people.” We spent some time in Port Louis, seeing art and markets and daily life, and then headed to Blue Bay for some beach time and snorkeling. Our daughter, Tessa, turned 13 on the ship and we celebrated her birthday by feeding and swimming with sea turtles.

Institute of Contemporary Art Indian Ocean, Port Louis

The Institute of Contemporary Art Indian Ocean (ICAIO) was founded by artist and architect Salim Currimjee and is Mauritius’ only non-profit organization working to bring contemporary art to the island. They specialize in bringing African artists and their works from the mainland to Mauritius. 

We were lucky enough to see one of their most impressive programs when we stopped by to see the current exhibition. I walked into what was supposed to be a serious art gallery and instead found 20 young school children in uniforms, learning to make art with stamps, stencils, and sponges. There was a bustle of energy and absolute joy on their faces as they learned to make something wonderful and their caregivers looked on with support and excitement. This is how we met Karen, who helps to run the ICAIO–she was leading the program. Karen has been with ICAIO for some time, and leads their school outreach program. Every week 4 classes from local schools are brought to the Institute to participate in artmaking classes that have been tailored by ICAIO and the exhibiting artist to relate, both aesthetically and conceptually, to the exhibit being shown in the gallery.

The current exhibition was Walk of Life by Zimbabwean artist Portia Zvavahera. Her work focuses on a healing transformation, using dreams as fuel and the process of making as catalyst. In her exhibition statement, she wrote, “Transferring the energy of my dreams into my paintings has helped me heal myself and eliminate the negative energy from my nightmares.”

We hung out for a bit, taking in Zvavahera’s work and watching the children enjoy themselves and made conversation with Karen  We told her what we were up to and she knew exactly what we needed to see–she gave me a list of galleries to check out and then invited us to meet her boyfriend, Sebastion, who is a local filmmaker / designer / artist. 

Karen drove us to meet Sebastion in a semi-rural area, near the junction of a residential area and an industrial center, at an abandoned building. There was broken glass, refuse, burnt mattresses, discarded clothing and used needles everywhere around this large concrete building. Mauritius is in the midst of a heroin crisis and it was obvious that this place had at one time been a hotspot for illicit activity. As a foreigner and a parent, it was a little alarming, but I was soon put at ease.

Sebastion was immediately gracious and welcoming and very excited to show us what he’d been working on. We made our way around the building to discover that he and a partner had been FILLING this building with absolutely stellar graffiti. Surrounded by the evidence of poverty, drug addiction, a struggling industrial economy, and societal neglect, they were making artwork that bridged the gap between simple graffiti tags and an intense appreciation for design and science. They have big plans for the space and are working on some funding to be able to transform the space into an arts center.

After seeing some great work, we were invited back to their house for dinner and puppies. Yes, puppies! We’d been on the ship for three months at this point and dearly missed our dogs. Mauritius has plenty of strays, but they’re quite wild and we’d been advised to keep our distance. Sebastion and Karen had rescued these four scrawny pups from a dumpster and had been fattening them up and treating their illnesses. We spent an evening hanging out with some great folks, snuggling puppies, and learning about Mauritius from Mauritians, as new friends. The whole experience became the highlight of the trip for our whole family.

Imaaya Art Gallery

One of the galleries that was suggested over and over was Imaaya Art Gallery, near the center of the island. When I called, the gallery attendant said that they just brought much of their catalog back from a large show in Port Louis, but I could come snoop around. This was even better! Maybe it’s all the time I spend working with art, but there’s something about seeing the artwork on the floor, leaning up against the wall, that helps me remember that it’s an object that someone poured serious effort into, that it’s real work and not just the image on the wall.

When we finally discovered the gallery, tucked into the second floor on the back of a used car dealership, we were quite excited. First of all, air conditioning (whooo! it is HOT here), and second there was a TON of really great work in the space. Here are a few of my favorites from the visit.

Art in the Every Day

Of course, one of the best ways to sink into the art of a place is to see how folks are engaging with it in their everyday experiences. Sure, artists and gallerists are playing with art on a daily basis, but the general public does not. In what ways were everyday Mauritians getting to experience art? A quick walk through the Chinatown neighborhood of Port Louis highlighted a local commitment to street art. There were many murals by artist Wang Jian, and a multi-sight installation featuring a giant Chinese dragon made using recycled plastic bottles.

Glass artist in Mauritius

Glass artist in Mauritius

The Mauritius Glass Gallery

Alright, this one is obviously more of a tourist attraction, but I’m highlighting it because it demonstrates an important commitment from the businesses and people of Mauritius to support local craftspeople and find creative solutions to environmental issues. The Gallery was created in 1991 by Mauritius Breweries and Phoenix Camp Minerals, who make coca-cola bottles on the island, to recycle waste glass products into unique art and craft objects (the shop is even powered by used vegetable oil). They claim that 250kg (551 lbs.) of waste glass is recycled into new art and craft objects every day in their production facility. The shop is a unique opportunity to see skilled craftsmen engage in glass blowing and shaping in a way that’s not very common in the US, and while it’s more for production and artisanal product than fine art, I always appreciate seeing someone work at something which requires great skill.

Hindu Temple in Mauritius

Hindu Temple in Mauritius

Hindu Temples

Mauritius has a unique blend of religious practices that all seem to live harmoniously. There are Roman Catholic churches, Muslim mosques, and Hindu temples. Of the three faiths, the architecture of the hindu temples stand out the most. Driving around the country, you could

always tell where a temple could be found, since they were all marked by the large towers jutting over the surrounding architecture. I will not go into the cosmology, as I don’t think I can do it justice, but I was told that the towers hold representations of the many different expressions of Hindu gods. The intricate sculptures in vibrant colors caught the eye and held it with intensity.

Mauritius was a wonderful stop in our voyage, partly because it was just good to be back on land after such a long tour at sea, but also because the people were so inviting. The art was unique to the place and culture, and just as rich as anywhere else. We were sad to see it disappear over the horizon as we chugged away, but we are all excited about our next stop: South Africa!

Doug’s on a Boat: Vietnam and Destination Changes

Le Thanh Tru — “Where’s a Will There’s a Way” at the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts

March 2020

Ho Chi Minh City & Vietnam

It wouldn’t be a grand adventure if there weren’t last minute changes unexpected detours!

We find ourselves in Vietnam a handful of days early, as the Coronavirus has made it very clear that stopping in China could potentially be hazardous to our health and certainly be hazardous to the voyage.

My first thoughts? H O T! This Colorado-by-way-of-Michigan kid is not ready for 90+ degree weather in February. We’ll be here for 11 days, so we’ll have more time to see and experience Vietnam than any other port on the voyage.

Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts

Ho Chi Minh City’s Museum of Fine Arts is a three-story French colonial building with wrought iron fencing all around it. Broken into two sections, the collection examines pre-1975 and post-1975, or the Revolutionary period.

Within the pre-1975 collection, the power and voice of the Vietnamese communist government was stronger here than any other place I visited in Vietnam. It consisted of works that highlight the depiction of the battles being waged all over the country and the resulting community sorrows.

The post-1975 collection clues us into the change in government and the ways they unified the once-broken country. If not for the distinct ethnic characteristics of the subjects of the paintings, one could assume that they were the works of soviet communist propagandists or French revolutionary artists: the common people, often women, are represented in the noble position of rebuilding a war-torn nation, their labor just as honorable as the fight against the occupiers. Repeatedly, we see images of women nursing infant children in rice fields or construction sights, always with the ubiquitous ak-47 assault rifle slung over one shoulder

Something I enjoyed most about this museum was the opportunity to see a form of art making that is unique to Asia, and quite common throughout Vietnam: lacquer paintings on wood panels. The oldest of the paintings uses limited pigments and is obviously painted on reclaimed door panels or other such scraps of wood. Later examples, after the Vietnam War, known as the Resistance War Against America in Vietnam, have more available pigments and are on nicer panels. As the lacquer ages with its exposure to time, the pigments slowly change and carry with them that time. Reds, greens, browns and blues darken, while whites and golds reveal the paintings intricacies. Though blurred by time, the age of the object captures a warmth that is unique and at home in the earthiness of Vietnam.

Craig Thomas Gallery in Vietnam.

Craig Thomas Gallery

Craig Thomas Gallery is a great little spot, tucked back at the end of an alley in a slower part of HCMC. I thought I’d stumbled into someone’s front yard when I found the place, but the sculpture of bikes climbing the front keyed me off to the presence of art. The Gallery seemed to focus most on painting, with a strong representational / realist focus. I especially enjoyed Le Thuy’s watercolors on silk.

Pham Tanh Toan’s work was certainly the most provocative that I experienced in Vietnam, with its repeated nude and sexualized characters, violent applications of paint, and dark subject matter. I had the great opportunity to speak with some folks at the gallery who were enjoying the work as well, and gained some great insights into the world of the contemporary art in a place where the government keeps tabs on personal expression. According to these locals, because public gatherings (including exhibitions) require a permit from the government, artists will self-censor their works to get their work in front of a public audience. Moreover, they didn’t feel that Vietnam was an active participant in the global art conversation, but that there were a handful of great Vietnamese artists who are poised to make that jump.

Salon Saigon

Salon Saigon was less gallery and more arts center. I made an appointment to be sure that someone was there when I showed up, and was escorted though a 12’ tall iron door into the grounds of a very nice building. What looked like a stuffy, high-priced and elitist gallery on the internet turned out to be a welcoming center for artists to meet, see artwork, research art from all over the world, and share ideas. I was greeted with warmth and hospitality, happy to pay my 80,000 VND ($3.44) admission for the space.

The collection in the space was comprised of quite new works. I was happy to see another of Le Thuy’s watercolors on silk pieces. Here I found my most modern example of the lacquer painting that I so enjoyed in the HCMC Museum of Fine Arts- Phi Phi Oanh’s Laqcuerscope #2 was situated in a small room. Looking like some sort of fixture in a dentist’s office, this construction allows one to switch out small pieces of glass that have small lacquer paintings on them, and project them onto a darkened wall. This piece carried with it the investigation of material and abstraction so prevalent in contemporary art today, and I loved seeing its manifestation in a medium with such a long regional history.

The Factory in Vietnam

The Factory

The Factory is the first arts center built in Vietnam focusing on contemporary art. Built around a structure created by shipping containers, this place was everything I hoped it would be. It was well suited to the care and display of artwork, very contemporary in architecture, and full of the vibrancy of young artists engaging with ideas in new ways.

The only moment that I could make it there was my last night in Vietnam, and the opening reception for a new show featuring the works of Vietnamese artist Vo Tran Chau. The show, Leaf Picking in the Ancient Forest, is a collection of from the artist in the last 3 years. Merging methods of textile and digital photography, Chau recycles discarded clothing into complex pixel-based compositions. She chooses to represent important historical sites helping the viewer to juxtapose historic places of importance against the modern era’s “obsession with the new” against the waste products created by this obsession.

“The artist contemplates the fragility of the vessels of history in their odyssey through time and space, in the dilemma of fact between personal and collective remembering, amongst the power struggle between social control and foreign influence.” -Vo Tran Chau

The Factory in Vietnam

The opening itself was remarkable in its sameness to what one would see in the USA. Excited people dressed in their ‘artsy’ clothes met friends and family, congratulated the artist and the folks who obviously worked in the space, and enjoyed the exploration of a new visual experience. The director, both curators, and the artist all got up to say a few words of thanks and excitement.

The Factory left me with the feeling that Contemporary art, as we view it in the west, is poised to walk into the global art conversation. When I asked if the younger generation of artists rebelled against censorship, the best answer I received was, “Yes and no, but they are tricky. You wouldn’t really know they’re doing it unless you knew Vietnam and were a younger person.” I liked that answer, if for no other reason than to remind me that I’ll only ever scratch the surface in all the places we go.

Vietnam was an amazing experience. It’s hot. The traffic is absolutely terrifying. Food is fresh and spicy and delicious. The Vietnamese folks we interacted with were largely welcoming and there’s an attention to the enjoyment of life here that isn’t nearly as apparent in Japan. 

Sadly, the Coronavirus continues to spread, and now cruise ships are being quarantined if there’s any suspicion that they’ve been near an infected place. All that means that we’ll be skipping ports in both Malaysia and India. Every person on this ship is very disappointed, and we don’t really know where we’re going next. But, like we said at the beginning, it wouldn’t be a grand adventure if there weren’t unexpected detours. 

Next up, somewhere west of where we are right now!

Doug’s on a Boat: Japan and Onward

February 2020

Japan and Onward

We’ve been on the ship for so long! I cannot even fathom what this journey looked like in the age of wind-powered sea travel.

The food on the ship is great, the crew patient and welcoming, and the other voyagers engaging and fun. But there’s a feeling in the air that we’re all aching for some land under our feet. After all, we came here for a reason! Suffice to say the sound of the engine roaring as we maneuvered our way into the Kobe port of Japan was a welcome alarm clock.

The pre-port lecture given by the SaS professionals drilled into our minds that this country is the size of California with something like four times the population, all living in the 25% of the landmass that isn’t steep mountain terrain. For these reasons, people survive by treating personal space with the utmost respect. (It’s the kind of place that is certainly not designed for my 9-year-old son). All that being said, Kobe and Kyoto felt like other big cities, though generally cleaner and more polite than most of the cities I’ve experienced in the United States. 

Imura Gallery

While contemporary art is not found in excess in Kyoto, there is one gallery hailed as the best by locals likely due to its well-known location in Tokyo, but Imura Gallery certainly held its own for the opening of “Hands and Visionamusement” by Takashi Hinoda.

Though only a simple white box – a 40 x40’ room (huge for Kyoto!) with three white walls and a large glass front, the place glowed from the street.

Japanese artist Takashi Hinoda, a ceramicist adorned the gallery walls in vinyl that repeated line work found on his sculptural forms. Seven sculptural forms filled the room, some as small as 18” tall, and a central figure reaching about five feet. Overall, the show was one of chaos falling away around the vivid color of the primary figures. 

“What I consider to be the most important attribute of ceramics is that they can ‘semi-permanently remain as relics’ over time. There is more than just a nostalgic nostalgia for handicrafts, but also an exchange of sensuality, resistance and circulation associated with the sympathy of ‘things’ and human senses.” -Takashi Hinoda

This sentiment seems repeated throughout our Japan trip; the respect for traditional forms and crafts goes beyond nostalgia, as many of these art forms are reimagined and reintegrated into the contemporary practices. Curator and Art Critic Chieko Kitade wrote, “This distortion, deformation, blurring and repetition are also projections of one’s thoughts living in the present age. The repetition of operations such as forming with soil [clay] and spraying paint with its own breath from a very fine nozzle onto a surface divided by freehand using a masking tape requires control, patience, and time.”

Contemporary art galleries may have been hard to find in Kyoto, but what is available is definitely worth seeing. You can see Hinoda’s work here: @takashi_hinoda | www.takashihonoda.com | http://www.imuraart.com/exhibition/archive/post_69.html

Takenaka Carpentry Museum

Takenaka Carpentry Museum in Kobe was the highlight of my trip to Japan. I hopped off the closest train and walked the half mile to the museum, finding it totally by accident in a busy intersection. Surrounded by a high wall and a manicured garden, just stepping inside the walls reduced both the sound of the city and the harshness of the concrete environment. 

The architecture and design of the environment is a testament to the care taken in creating the museum, and while it may be a bit of a groaner, it was a near-spiritual experience for a carpenter like myself. It was quiet, dimly lit but not too dark. Each aspect of the museum had been considered, from the mismatched furniture comprised of at least a dozen different designs to the huge wooden slabs used for room partitions. Takenaka is as much about wood as it is the working of wood. 

The temporary exhibition focused on the traditional Daiku, or Japanese carpenter. Examples of clothing, apprentice tools and even textbooks of joinery and how to use such joints, accompanied by deep historical information about the Japanese carpenter embellish the museum. An apprentice usually lived with the master carpenter and contributed to their household chores as well as worked as assistants, looking at the process of learning like they were ‘stealing’ the master’s ways. It usually took someone about 10 years to steal enough of their master’s methods to become a carpenter in their own right.

As someone who curates, designs, and installs gallery exhibitions, Of particular interest to me was the way that the museum invited younger people into what could admittedly be a boring topic if you’re not into it. Through a fictional character, an apprentice, they talked about the life of the carpenter, the process of learning the trade, and the cultural role of the craft. This character shows up side by side with artifacts and helps demonstrate their use and importance to the greater cultural whole. 

Bamboo Teahouse set, Takenaka Museum

Bamboo Teahouse set, Takenaka Museum

The rest of the museum was an exploration of woodworking in Japan from the time when stone implements were the norm. We saw the advances in metalworking that allowed for iron tools, even a blacksmith’s workspace and videos about how tools were made. Of particular interest was the marking tools, where a European carpenter uses a marking knife to mark the wood before cutting or carving, the Japanese carpenter used a cleverly designed pen or string with ink.

Ornate joinery used in temples alongside samples that the viewer could take apart and reassemble littered the gallery. A model teahouse featured installations of the materials as well as the methods for its assembly. We learned about the incredible strength of bamboo, and how traditional carpenters used that strength to their benefit.

You might ask yourself why, if I’m supposed to be writing about art, am I drooling over an exhibition about carpentry. Fair question! Art is as much about making the work as it is about experiencing the final piece (we call it an ‘artwork‘ for a reason). Honestly, I get lost in the making more often than the experiencing and it was remarkable to see a museum dedicated so wholly to a making discipline, especially one that is so well considered and treated so reverently.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine was an adventure and a very nice walk in the woods. Dedicated to the Shinto goddess of rice, sake, agriculture, and business, this shrine was founded in 711 and now serves as the head shrine for over 30,000 Inari shrines across Japan. Most remarkable is the red torii (entrance gates) that line the path to the main shrine, stretching just over 4km and bound by over 10,000 of these red gates, donated throughout the years by those who seek, or have received, success in business.

Dotted throughout the landscape and at major junctions of the pathways are large stone foxes, each holding something in their mouths. These foxes are the messengers of the goddess Inari. Some believe they can possess humans, and they carry the keys to rice granaries. Also found throughout the grounds of the shrine is evidence of other belief systems, predominantly Chinese guardian lions (commonly called foo dogs in America) and statues of the Buddha.

As an American, who lives in a very young country that has admittedly worked to erase the evidence of the indigenous people who have suffered as a result of colonizing forces, it’s always exciting to see artistic evidence of a culture with such a long history. Just as interesting, is to see how belief systems have evolved over time within that culture, and how people have celebrated those systems through manipulating their surroundings, through making.

Kimono Forest, Kyoto

We stumbled upon the Kimono Forest as a quick side trip on the way to our train, though I’m glad we did! It’s a great example of most of the modern art that I saw in Kyoto, wherein it relies heavily on the historical context of the place that it comes from. Kimono forest takes on a traditional form. The installation is placed in and around a train station that seems to service primarily tourists on the hunt for the many temples around Kyoto.

We came upon the installation at just the right time of day: dark enough that the glow of the kimono columns was apparent and exciting, but not so late that you couldn’t take in the setting as well. in the gloomy evening, the colored light of the columns was even more exciting. One could wander the maze-like installation, even with dozens of other folks around, and still only see the repetition of the columns and the many patterns they host. A mirrored pond lies at the center – an invitation to place one’s hands on the surface and make a wish- and reflects the colors of the columns back at the viewer. 

You can be totally immersed in the color and patterns of the traditional kimono, all set in the midst of what is really an older, kind of run-down train station. Each show their age. It is an example of the type of architecture that organically occurs in a crowded city where you can’t build something new without destroying something old and laden with meaning. The Kimono Forest glows with light and color, exciting to witness but also haunting to experience, as the ghosts of past travelers adorned in bright and ornate patterns of their own time.

We’ve learned that we won’t be stopping in China – the coronavirus outbreak there has made it unsafe to enter the country. Instead, the powers that be have organized an early dock in Vietnam. We’re all bummed that we’re going to miss China, even if it is for the best, but I think the extra time in Vietnam will be something special that we won’t have on the rest of the trip.

Next time, we’ll see art in Ho Chi Minh City!

hawaii logo

Doug’s on a Boat: Hawaii to a few hundred miles east of Japan

January 2020

Hawaii to a few hundred miles east of Japan

Hawaii comes into view in the darkness of our seventh day from Ensanada, Baja, Mexico. Having never visited Honolulu, the nearing lights of a big city are a surprise to me.

Morning brings gray skies and the students grumble about day-long storms. But for an art nerd like me, this just means an exceptionally pleasant visit to the museum.

We spend the earlier part of the day traveling to the north shore and enjoying Waimea Bay Beach Park. The water is warm; the kids don’t care if it rains on them while they enjoy the ocean. I don’t mind it much either, but I notice it seems the locals are waiting out the storm. While making conversation with a shopkeep, he says in four years he’s never seen a storm like this, ironic in contrast to the weather we’re leaving behind in Colorado.

After a wet morning and a quick lunch, we return to Honolulu and finally set out to see some art.

Lucky for me, the Honolulu Museum of Art is exhibiting a couple favorite artists of mine: Louise Nevelson and Lee Bontecou.

A female artist at a time when women artists were often not given the opportunities they deserved, Nevelson is a leader in American Modernist sculpture. She plays with formalist ideals, stripping most of her works from pesky things like color. Nevelson is known most for her giant black and white relief sculptures made of wooden offcuts from furniture and production facilities. Suffice to say Nevelson is a ceramicist icon. But Louise is not what I’m excited about…

Lee Bontecou is who I’m here for. Speaking to both the nerd and the maker in me, she’s strongly influenced by space exploration and science fiction, and also scrounges her materials from the environment, assembling them into constructions that become something else entirely. I didn’t learn about her in school, but she’s recently been popping up in much of my own artistic research and I’m happy to get to see just a couple of her works in person.

Of course it would be ridiculous of me to come to this museum and not look at Hawaiian art, so I head up to the wing of the museum dedicated to contemporary Hawaiian artists. There’s an exhibition here called “Arts of Hawai’i” that highlights both the transnational practices of many Hawaiian artists and the ever-changing aesthetic of a place with such a deep visual history.

On the way out of the museum, I stumble onto a great little surprise, a beautiful stoneware vessel that looked very familiar, and it was!

Wheel-thrown and hand-built, glazed stoneware by previous Colorado State University professor, Richard Devore. #847, 1998

One of Richard DeVore’s wheel thrown and hand built vessels, all the way from Colorado State University! Previously a CSU Professor of art, you can still see his influence in pottery studios today.

I follow Devore’s pot, stumbling upon a part of the museum exhibiting their extensive collection of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. It is the third largest collection in the United States, accounting for over 10,000 prints.

Artists imploring people to seize the joys of a life that is beautiful and ephemeral created the blocks centuries ago. Scenes of alluring courtesans, dramatic Kabuki plays, and stunning natural scenes highlight the opposition to austere Buddhist doctrines of the time.

Hawaii was wonderful but short.

We soon find ourselves back on the ship with a 12-day embarkment to Japan to look forward to. These seas are infamous for their treachery this time of year. So, we attempt to concentrate our efforts on getting the Art Club going.

After a couple of meetings and a lot of confused scheduling, we’ve settled upon the main goals of the club. We decided to hold informal studio time for folks to work on their pieces. The students seem to really enjoy these sessions, warming easily to sharing what they know about art with one another. As a service to the shipboard community, we’ll also host a formal pre-port conversation where we share what we’re excited about in the upcoming country. Our first session was a big hit, and I walked out with more ideas than I do time to see art.

Next up is Japan! We’re busy as can be preparing to dock at a country the size of California with three times as many people.

It’s going to be great!

Doug’s on a Boat: San Diego and Somewhere in the Pacific

January 2020

San Diego to Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

We begin our voyage in the city of San Diego…

My partner, Elizabeth Sink, is in training for her responsibilities on the big floating campus called Semester at Sea for the next few days. This leaves the kids (Tessa, 12 and Finn, 9) and I to wander SanDiego to look for art. Lucky for us, the ship is docked a quarter mile away from the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art. Extra lucky for me, they’re hosting a small but wonderful exhibition called “Bound to the Earth: Art, Materiality, and the Natural World,” about Earth Art in the past 60 years. Plus, the exhibition features a couple of my favorite sculptors of all time: Martin Puryear and Ursula Von Rydingsvard!

Boarding the ship was a real trip.

My family is a bit crunchy. You could say we’re you’re typical Colorado family — we tend to camp and backpack more than any other vacation activity, raise chicken in our backyard for eggs, and hang our underpants from the clothesline for the neighborhood to see. Thus, setting foot on this super opulent ship, with its brass railings, crystal light fixtures, and exotic hardwoods is kind of like stepping into a different world. There’s art EVERYWHERE, mostly portraits of old sailors and fancy rich ladies, but there are also quite a few bronze sculptures.

After a few days of training, meeting folks from all over the world, and settling into our little cabin, we set off towards Hawaii! Though our journey has just begun, I can tell the kids are just as excited to explore art around the world as myself and my students.

Next stop: Honolulu. Let’s see where this art-venture takes us in the Aloha State!

See it from Doug's lens...