To, from and in Onomichi –  a personal response through drawing

RE- & DE- Japan, Onomichi Exchange

As part of and alongside a pedagogic focus of RE- & DE-, an interdisciplinary hybrid research project and model, was to build links nationally and internationally with artists and communities through practice.

The central focus of the Re- & De- project is to examine and initiate discourses around the etymological perception of perceived opposing prefixes.  The prefixes re- and de- are commonly seen as opposing or opposites.  In addition, they convey a sense of negative or positive, for example, reconstruction and deconstruction.  The project Re- & De- is to question the placement and agency of both prefixes in the context of global notions of decentralised pedagogy and practice considering the post-pandemic future and its ramifications in person and online. Instead of emphasising the opposing or dualistic dimensions of each prefix, the project focuses on the dialectical process of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction to rethink/recreate pedagogy and educational methods in art and design education and re-imagine art and design practice through decentralisation.

Throughout the four-week residency, I engaged with various approaches to instigating, building and developing a dialogue with Onomichi, fundamentally looking at drawing as a vehicle for and of correspondence across and between spaces, places, individuals and communities.  The intention was to engage with its etymological depth and dichotomy of correspondence through the lens of the RE- & DE- agenda, unpacking communication by exchanging letters, the act or condition of agreeing or corresponding and similarity or analogy.  The first of these initiatives focused on sending, receiving and exchanging correspondence.

 Letters to Onomichi: three found moiré envelopes were created before the residency and later exhibited as part of Ichi-Ne-San-Shi-Dōzo.  These three drawings responded to the original moiré patterns and the history of use of the envelopes.  Grids were then constructed, formed and overlaid, creating unique spaces which were then inhabited and populated by objects developed from a range of imagery, recorded, remembered and imagined. The resulting hybrid objects were directly affected and formed by the spaces that inspired and moulded them, a creative and constructive approach more akin to installation and site-specificity within the context of the physicality of sculpture than the more speculative expectations and perceived limitations of drawing.  The three letters to Onomochi functioned as both introduction and reintroduction, shared with a range of collaborators through discussion and as constant inhabitants of the various working spaces encountered throughout the residency as both heralds and observers.

Postcards from Onomichi: a series of postcards were produced and mailed to the UK from Japan each day for the first 17 days of the 27-day residence.  I initially created grids on the back and front of the cards, loosely derived from linear notations of the immediate built environment and found maps of Onomichi. As I travelled around and worked in Onomichi daily, I populated these spaces with hybrid images derived from the objects and space I encountered, whether domestic, collegiate or liminal.  The cards were posted the following day, forming an essential structural rhythm or routine, working as an armature to build other activities and initiatives on or around.

The fascination with notions of and responses to correspondence ran throughout the residency, particularly the nature of process and materiality and its link or role in the actions to correspond, send, notate and share.  I continued to immerse myself throughout the project in the nature of repetitive and continuous action or intent, embracing the notion of work and process as Sisyphean by nature, a constant cycle of collecting, collating and storing or housing information.

The Sisyphean approach took the form of two large-scale drawings, using re-used and found windowed envelopes as constructed grounds, acting as landscape surfaces to explore the unique urban landscape and identity of Onomichi’s hillside culture and communities.

The first large-scale drawing set up was Ono-Moiré – a constructed ground of over twenty re-used windowed envelopes, taped together, attempting to mirror or mimic the unique topographic tessellation of Onomichi’s hillside communities’ architecture.  In Ono-Moiré, I used externally facing taped construction for the first time, combining that with initial grids developed from generic house outlines and overlayed onto concentric circular patterns, which relate to the mapping of repeated routine-based journeys around the area.  The spaces formed through the combination of physical constructed elements and applied frameworks were then populated with drawings.  The drawings were hybrid constructs and responses to the object and pattern-based materiality I encountered while in Onomichi.  The newly formed objects are combinations of things and patterns – direct responses to objects, observed and imagined individually or collectively.  The objects evolved and developed in response to the compartmentalised spaces formed by the grids, which simultaneously confined, tailored, and authored them.  The final part of this process was to remove a section, using a template of a generic house to cut a negative space that purposefully disregarded and crossed over and interrupted the tape and grid-based language boundaries.  The negative shape formed a new window akin to the embedded windows of the initial fabricated envelope ground.  Instead of the traditional cellophane window cover, the new window was covered or glazed with ledger-like semi-transparent document paper.  A document format used by the local authority and housing companies to catalogue, collate and archive the condition and contents of the vacant or abandoned houses before future or re-use.  This was a direct commentary on the reality that many of these hillside properties remain vacant.

The second large-scale drawing is – Morié-Iè. Iè is the Japanese word for a house.  Instead of the previous focus on landscape, this drawing centred on a specific construct or icon of a house or home.  The initial ground was constructed from re-used windowed envelopes joined together to the outline of a generic house shape or silhouette; this was a multiple envelope construction, with mixed widow orientation, in many ways resembling the packaging or wrapping of an object.  The fabrication process was no longer a visible component of the drawn framework.  In this work, initial grids were formed through direct response to boundaries created through the juxtaposition of envelopes and response to constructed lines from original paper folds and seams.  The semi-relief based nature of the constructed envelopes was combined with more three-dimensional linear references to house-based profiles taken from adjacent houses and the surrounding area.  The grids were used to form hybrid visual forms and commentary focusing on the internalised nature of contents, and how contents define and narrate spaces and their surroundings, questioning these objects’ perceived existence, hierarchy or function previously as subordinate shapes or spaces, they exist within.

The last two works produced and exhibited in Ichi-Ni-San-Shi-Dōzo were by-products or residues of the two main works, Morié-Iè and Ono-Moirè. The first was Ledger, a collage on found document paper, using the cut-out house silhouette with a centralised widow taken from Ono-Moirè. The cut-out was placed on a semi-transparent ledger document paper used by the local authority and housing companies to catalogue, collect and archive the condition and contents of the house before future use.  The house silhouette was placed within the housing contents inventory form rubric, which would list individual contents or wear and tear.  This composition directly comments on the reality of these communities and that many properties remain vacant.

The second of these residual works was Spent, a small blue and white patterned ceramic vase appropriated from the Hono-ie residency space. This small vase became the receptacle for all the used blue pens used on the drawing and construction of all work produced in the twenty-eight days of the RE- & De- residency in Onomichi, in July/August 2022.  Spent was situated on a plinth adjacent to Moiré-Iè at the entrance to Ichi-Ni-San-Shi-Dōzo, fulfilling two very different roles or functions, either as a dispenser or repository.

Ichi-Ni-San-Shi-Dōzo was the exhibition of the Re- & De- residency and the work produced by Dr Kyung Hwa Shon and Gary Clough exhibited at the Air Café Gallery, followed by tours and talks by the artists.  The title Ichi-Ni-San-Shi Dōzo came from a phrase we both used with our limited Japanese when working with diverse groups of learners to begin or instigate action in taught workshops.  Kyung Hwa and I also felt strongly it spoke to the dangers and inherent irony of the artist-in-residence as a momentary or fleeting construct.  We want to ensure the residency is not to be viewed as a conclusion or end but to focus on its prime role in building and nurturing legacy and the long-term impact and remit of the broader project RE- & DE-.