Friday, September 10, 2010

Katsura, Katsura

SJG 2010 - Ishimoto's work in Tateuchi Room
Not bad at all:  from not knowing much about Katsura just a few days ago,  I chanced upon not one but TWO presentations on the topic in one day.  Thursday morning a lecture arranged by our educational committee for the guides who are about to start  monitoring Ishimoto's Katsura exhibition  and given by the architect and Urasenke tea student Chris Ezzell (of Japanese Garden Advisory Council);  then, in the evening, during an actual exhibition opening reception, a commentary on the photographs and the whole presentation from Ken Tadashi Oshima, Associate Professor of architecture at UW.

Katsura Imperial Villa is actually not a villa in the western sense, but a cluster of buildings and gardens, built in 17th century for the members of the imperial family near the Katsura river on the outskirts of Kyoto; and now one of Japan's most important cultural treasures.  Also known as Katsura Detached Palace, it is considered one of the greatest achievements of Japanese architecture and consists of Old, Middle and New Shoin  ('drawing room'), tea houses and a strolling garden.  It was meant to be used in warmer months of the year and the main theme of the place is moon-viewing.
SJG 2010 - my own, 'unique' composition: Prof. Oshima
and the kitchen sink...  oh, well :(

The photographs are black and white, strikingly beautiful and, we were told, artistically very innovative and avant-garde, considering the time they were taken (1950s).  Ishimoto's unique take on Katsura - grid-like composition and unusual perspective, as opposed to earlier, traditionally nostalgic photographic depictions of the place - became influential in the field of architectural photography since they were first presented (if it's not obvious to the reader:  I also know not much about photography, just writing down what I think I heard).

Seattle has a big museum downtown, and a separate Asian museum on Capitol Hill,  yet SJG in Arboretum was chosen as place for the exhibition, because of close cultural and environmental ties between the Garden and the subject of the photographs. During his commentary Prof. Oshima actually sent us out for a stroll in the Garden, to look for those connections ourselves, and it was there, on the East Path,  that  I run into two fellow guides, one of them waving Katsura brochure (he visited there last May) and excitedly exclaiming:  'there it is!". He was pointing to OUR rocky peninsula, which is indeed, a copy of similar installation in Katsura Villa, which, in turn, was inspired by miles of rocky coast elsewhere in Japan - some real meta-connection...

Because of the rather small size of Tateuchi Room the photographs will be shown in 2 installments:  the second part of the exhibition will arrive to SJG at the beginning of October. So, please come and visit again, then.

The Katsura photographer, Mr. Ishimoto, was born in 1921 in San Francisco and currently lives in Tokyo;  I found it quite touching to hear that he personally prepared descriptions which accompany the photographs (look below the photos).

Reception: delicious Umeboshi came with written instruction: 'do not eat the pit (seed)  inside the plum'.  Isn't there something really odd about our need for excessive caution?  

A few related links for your enjoyment:

Wikipedia article on Katsura
Katsura Detached Palace from Japan Atlas, Historic Sites
Katsura Walking Tour, from Columbia University, NY
• Wikipedia article about Yasuhiro Ishimoto
More about Yasuhiro Ishimoto, from Museum of Contemporary Photography
Review of Ishimoto's Katsura work from Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2/2010)

雨降って地固まる (ame futte chi katamaru) Literally: after the rain, earth hardens 
Meaning: Adversity builds character./After a storm, things will stand on more solid ground than they did before.

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