If people don’t come to the mountain…

The milestone of a residency at TWS is the official Open Studio end of August, about two thirds through the residency period. This event is organized by Tokyo Wonder Site and scheduled on a Saturday. It is followed by a day of workshops with schoolchildren from ages 6–16 on the Sunday. We all worked like crazy for both events and the ‘common room’ was occupied night after night until 3-4 o’clock in the morning. For my project, I managed to make an optical device, like a telescope or a “Sehmaschine”, that gives the viewer an illusion of a mountain on the horizon. This is playing with the fact that Tokyo is scattered with “Fujimi” spots, locations where one should be able to see Mt. Fuji. Yet, building construction and bad air quality makes it increasingly impossible to see this icon of Japanese identity. Mount Fuji is not just landscape or a ‘nice view’, it’s a deity, it’s THE symbol of Japan – hence this project triggers strong emotions with Japanese.

Apart from it’s optical function and being a prototype for site-specific installation, the device is also a tool to collect stories. To my surprise, looking into it made people share stories of Mt. Fuji, about their personal memories, about other places that are connected to the ‘real’ mountain, historical facts about Mt. Fuji and also their worries about volcanic activities after the big earthquake in 2011.

Prior to the Open Studio/Workshop weekend, Tomoko and I took the device to a place in the Yanaka-area of Tokyo. This is a neighbourhood where you can still get a sense of the atmosphere of old Edo. There’s a small and old fashioned shopping street called “Yanaka Ginza” which ends in stone stairs, these are called “Yuyake Dandan” (Sunset stone-stairs) and this is where we set place. Since our project is about affect and the city, the encounter of idyll and – with our focus on Fujimi-places – also about spatial memories, we’ve decided to make stillness our research method. Instead of quantity: visiting and analyzing a variety of different places in the city, we decided to chose this one spot and let its stories come to us.

We engaged local people in a dialogue and we learned that teaming an ‘interesting looking’ and this ‘attention catching’ foreign person (me) with a ‘familiar looking’ Japanese speaker (Tomoko) is a very successful strategy.

To come back to the Open Studio, altough TWS was doing all they could to promote the event, it was unfortunate timing at the end of the holiday season, just after Obon. It probably didn’t come to a surprise that only a small audience found their way to see our work.

And this is were the one big advantage of a residence at TWS comes in: it is really fantastic to have an exchange with a bunch of fellow residents – at the moment we are about 15 people, locals and international. Synergies form, ideas spring up, connections are made, help is given… And so, we, the residents, decided to do our own ‘Open Studio’ to attract professionals from the Tokyo art scene on personal invitation. This has proven to be a very successful strategy and we all felt much more satisfied with the second event that came together in just 2 days.

Susanna Hertrich / / Art, Artists, Residencies / Permalink

About Susanna Hertrich

I work with devices, photography, graphic, sculpture and video. The essence of my work are stories that describe alternative realities. I encourage the viewer to break free from accustomed perspectives on everyday life and take a position beyond valid norms. I build devices and scenarios in which I combine my imagination for the functionality of objects with actual scientific possibilities – thus linking reality with fiction. Being interested in technology I find myself working with scientists in research labs from time to time. Sometimes I even publish papers at tech conferences, yet I consider myself a complete non-tech person. Three years ago I returned to the city that – most of all other places – I consider my 'home'. I had partly lived in Norway, studied in the UK and did residencies in research labs in Japan and the US. So currently I find myself in the awkward situation of being a German in Germany. Being on the move again now after three years in Berlin is essential for my work, my stories – and my mental well-being.

Leave a Reply