Lessons from IMHC 2011 and Visiting Japan

I have had some time to get over the jet lag of the return trip from Japan and to think about the lessons learned from the First International Moku Hanga Conference and the additional 10 days I spent exploring Japan.

Traveling to Japan
As a conservationist and environmental artist, I was concerned about the impact that the March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster had on the conference, the people of Shiga prefecture (Michigan's Sister State), Kyoto and the environment. It seemed to me that the best way to support the living was to follow through with my plans to go to Japan. I was dis-couraged about going by many well meaning friends and family, which is understandable. But, as was pointed out to me over and over again in Japan, it was over. Life was going on. I was told many times to encourage everyone I knew to come to Japan. The impression in the U.S. was that the whole of Japan was affected by the nuclear disaster. But that is like saying the the whole of Pennsylvania and the east coast was rendered unlivable after the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown.

I saw and felt the deep, deep sorrow among the local Japanese people that I met about the thousands of lives lost. The economic fallout from people changing travel plans, from business lost - the domino effect will be ongoing. The environmental impact is incalculable at this point.
But to everyone who reads this............GO! The warmth and generosity of the Japanese is unparalleled. You will be welcomed! It is safe! The food, lodging, sights, sounds, people are rich in flavor, texture, personality and hope. Go! Enjoy!

1st International Moku Hanga Conference
I'll just preface this by saying - I can't wait for the next one!

People first - I was so happy to meet the real people that I have only know through forums, print exchanges and emails: Annie Bissett, Andrew Stone, Jan Telfer, Florence Neal, Preston Lawing, George Jarvis.
To be in the same room with the authors of my printmaking textbook, The Art and Craft of Woodblock Printmaking, Kari Laitinen and Tuula Moilanen, let alone get to know them as colleagues, was, as I explained to my tool collecting husband, like meeting the inventors of the screwdriver!
I was able to meet and get to know artists that I have admired: Karen Kunc, April Vollmer, Paul Furneaux; innovators in the printmaking world: Richard Steiner, founder of the Kyoto International Woodblock Association and Susan Rostow, inventor of Akua Kolor; printmaking instructors from around the world: Michael Schneider, artist & professor at the University of Austria, Vienna; Seiichiro Miida, artist & professor at Tokyo University of the Arts; Bess Frimodig of the University of West England, Bristol; Keiko Hara, artist and Professor of Art Emeritus at Whitman College, Washington.

The demonstrations, workshops and presentations opened my eyes to the history, complexity and commitment to the art of moku hanga. I came away with the absolute certainty that we, as a group, are determined and resourceful; generous with instruction and encouragement.

One lesson that I learned was that as a moku hanga printmaker, the tools, paper and techniques that I use and love are "endangered". If there was a list of endangered art forms as there is with animals, moku hanga would be at the top.

THE most important lesson I learned was that the spiritual feeling that I personally have as I create a print is shared by moku hanga artists now and through-out history. It is something hard to express. But we know it. And I have found that people viewing my prints know it too. They describe a peacefulness, a depth of meaning and a meditative feeling that comes over them.

My friend Annie Bissett, who I spent so much time with outside of the conference and at the same workshops and presentations, has expressed it so eloquently that I won't even try. I will quote her, (with my changes in gray ink) and also refer you to her wonderful blog, Woodblock Dreams.

"..........a carver named Hiroshi Fujisawa was demonstrating traditional carving. Fujisawa san is a professional carver who works in a home-based workshop in Kyoto. He was an apprentice beginning at age 16 to master carver Kikuta Kojiro and has now been carving for over 50 years. He is said to be one of the best carvers in Japan.

By the time I made it over to Fujisawa san's demonstration, he had finished carving and was giving a talk about how his study of Buddhism informs his work. In his talk he used the words kokoro (心) meaning heart/mind/spirit and kuuki (空気) which means atmosphere/mood/tone. He spoke about the importance and the difficulty of representing these qualities, the heart of the artist and the tone of a place, in a print.

As he spoke, I thought about the "kokoro" and "kuuki" in my own work. I thought about how I've been using mokuhanga to express my thoughts and feelings (kokoro) about Michigan, it's waters, environment and threatened beauty and wildness. I thought about how I often surround myself with the music of nature sounds and books and photographs about Michigan and water in an attempt to create the "kuuki" of a time and place in my studio while I work. I've always felt that somehow those feelings and songs and words and ideas that I'm immersed in, the emotional/mental/spiritual energy I use to create my work, become embedded within it and are readable by the viewer, however subtly.

It seemed to me that Fujisawa san was saying that something inherent in mokuhanga allows these invisible and ineffable qualities to be expressed, that something about the method itself allows this process of embedment to occur. My answer to what it is about mokuhanga that allows these ineffable qualities to appear would be the following list.

- The slowness of the method allows (or forces) one to go deeply into the work.

- The tradition and history attached to the techniques and tools give them an almost ritualistic quality.

- The deconstruction of an image required in separating the colors onto different pieces of wood and then putting them back together into a new form offers many opportunities for the artist to react and respond to the materials in the process, embedding new decisions in the "memory" of the printed image.

- A woodblock artist uses her whole body to make the work. There is a very physical wrestling with the resistance of the wood in order to carve an image, and printing with a baren instead of a press also requires a lot of physical energy. The artist's body is part of the print."

For you to see into my soul and how I feel about the waters and landscapes of our precious world is what keeps me going. My faith in and respect for the Creator and the creation, the using of former living things - the kozo (mulberry plant) of the paper, the wood that I carve - and asking them......pressing them, to give of themselves again to draw you in to a moment or a place - that is moku hanga to me.


PrestonLawing said...

Beautifully stated, Linda.

So wonderful to meet you, and all the others at this amazing gathering.
The stars certainly were in alignment!

Bette Norcross Wappner -- said...

I'm so happy you were able to go. What an amazing experience. The photo you show here is beautiful as is your writing about the conference and about the spirituality of moku hanga. I hope you post more!