INTERVIEW - April 12, 2020
Facing a disaster, thinking about "art's role" and "what I should write".
Interview with KANAMORI Akane
Long time no see, everyone. How have you been? This year, 2020, has turned out to be a really tough year. As of May, the new coronavirus is still raging. As you know, the lockdown in London, New York and other overseas cities is continuing. Fortunately for Japan, it's not that severe, but since the government declared a state of emergency on April 7, it has recommended that we reduce our contact with people by 80 percent. Golden Week was called Stay Home Week. Many people were puzzled that this is the first time they haven't had so much to do on GW.
Everyone in the world is fighting the threat of the virus in their own way, not to mention the infected people and medical workers. Meanwhile, I wanted to find out what the artists are now thinking and what their struggles are, so I used Google Hangout to conduct an online interview with an artist.
The speaker was KANAMORI Akane, an up-and-coming young artist. She has said for some time now that the Great East Japan Earthquake made her ponder what she should write as a calligrapher. We asked her about what she thinks "art can do" in the midst of the catastrophic disaster that is currently progressing on a global scale. She also talked about the reason why she insists on "writing letters" and "calligraphy" while aiming for bold expression without using Sumi ink, brush, paper, and ink stone, which are the four treasures of calligraphy. Enjoy reading to the end :)
KANAMORI Akane 金森朱音
Born in Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture in 1991. Lives and works in Tokyo. After graduating from Tokyo Gakugei University's calligraphy department, she started teaching calligraphy to the next generation at a high school. In 2014, she held “KANAMORI Akane Exhibition - What to See, What to Think" at Gallery Le Deco in Shibuya. As a mother of a child, a calligrapher, a teacher, and an artist, she spends her busy days facing her inner self, sometimes venting, sometimes expressing herself, in a hectic way.
My current situation
ーー Today is the fifth day since the state of emergency was declared. I hope you and your family are doing well.
My daughter's kindergarten has been cancelled and also I have to work from home, I've been spending time at home since the end of February. We try to avoid contact with each other, even among children, because we don't know how they can get infected. She doesn't go outside, just plays in the garden. It's a good thing she's still small, because it's not so much that she misses playing with her friends, it's more that she's happy to be home with her mom and dad. However, my husband still commutes to work by train (as of April 12), so I'm still worried. My dog is the most energetic one :)
My thoughts on the last catastrophe, the "3.11" series
ーー Today, KANAMORI-san, I would like to talk about how you are facing this new coronavirus disaster as well as what kind of changes you are in the middle of. But first, let me ask you about the work you wrote during the last catastrophic disaster. You wrote the works "3.11 Life and Death" and "3.11 Scream" at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Can you tell us again what you were thinking at that time?
Yes. About a year after the Great East Japan Earthquake, I wanted to see the affected areas with my own eyes, so I visited Minamisanriku, Onagawa-cho, Rikuzentakata, Kesennuma, and other places. From that experience, those works were created.
It had been a year since the disaster, but there was still no train service, so I had to take buses and taxis on my trip. Everywhere there were piles of rubble and nothing really. There were bulletin boards in many places with photos of the towns before the tsunami attacked. The photos showed that such places were originally ordinary residential areas, with houses, parks and buildings. I realized that people's normal lives had disappeared in an instant. I got the messages from the people I met that it's not over and that it's still a tough situation. I was aware of the situation to some extent from TV news and other media, but seeing the disaster area with my own eyes was unbelievable and shocking. I was also surprised to find that nothing has been restored.
When I returned to Tokyo, I was stunned to find that there was so much gap between the two areas. Right after the disaster, the situations in the affected areas were reported on TV every day, but gradually there was less and less news. Even though the recovery was not progressing in Tohoku, Tokyo was steadily getting back. It made me sad and angry to think about how people can be so indifferent to things that aren't happening to them. At that time, I thought I wanted to write and "I had to" write, and that's how the works of the "3.11" series were created. A year had passed, I wrote this with the intention of reminding ourselves that we still have work to do against we have forgotten about the disaster and came to be indifferent to it.
ーー That is the background of your work. How did you choose the words for your subject matter?
I wrote "3.11 Screams" while remembering a story I heard from a taxi driver when he drove me around the disaster area. On the day the tsunami came, there were many people stranded in their homes and buildings. The driver said he was able to spot people on top of buildings even far away from where he evacuated. Since there were screams from many places because rescue efforts were not able to catch up with them. However, he couldn't do anything for that cry for help, and he said that scream had stayed in his ears.
When I heard that story, I didn't know how to speak up, and I felt so powerless. I was in Tokyo at the time of the earthquake, so I was affected, but not to this extent. That's why I thought, we can't forget what actually happened, and I want a lot of people to know, I definitely have to write this. It's something we should firmly convey and leave behind.
ーー The driver probably thought that he didn't want everyone to forget about it, so he told you.
Yes. But there is a difficult part of calligraphy. I can write only the word "scream," and it's not like I can leave it all as a sentence. There are parts that can't be conveyed on the work own, so I think I need to convey that more.
ーー Is "3.11: Life and Death" also based on the specific experience you had on that trip?
At that time, the only word that came to my mind was "life and death" because I actually felt that life and death were so close to me at hand in the disaster area. When it comes to creating artworks in the theme of the disaster, it tends to be positive images of recovery, hope, and looking forward to the future. Yet I felt that I wanted to convey the reality of the disaster and that I needed to convey it. I also struggled with the idea of being too direct, but nothing more came out of it than these words.
The thoughts putting into the "Blood" series
ーー Is the "Blood" series also related to the earthquake?
After 3.11, it made me think about how I would be aimed to write and what I should write about. Instead of writing what I "want" to write with my senses, I started to think deeply about what I "should" write and to create my work. "Blood" is a subsequent series, so there's a connection.
ーー I was wondering what kind of meaning was put into it.
The word "blood" in that series doesn't mean blood as a liquid. In our body, various emotions run through it, not only blood, but also love, anxiety, and sadness, right? I wanted to express those "feelings" and the idea of being alive. I projected myself onto the letter "blood". The emotions running through my body become dots, lines, characters, and finally an artwork. There was a time when I was obsessed with writing "blood" day after day. I created different "blood" every day naturally and the experiences were fresh for me.
'I exhibited a collection of works from the series 'Blood', which I was writing in 2013. Putting it in a box creates a tightly packed mass of my daily emotions, and it's an attempt to express that the character is myself.'
About writing the artworks
ーー I digress a bit, but are you mindless when you write?
It's not heartless. After all, I have feelings.
ーー What about your thoughts? Do you think about how you want to write it, or how to balance it, or how to write it well?
That's the hard part. I do think about the structure of the artworks, but if I think too much in advance about how I'm going to write it, I feel like my feelings at the time will fade. So it depends on the artwork. When I write it for an open Japanese calligraphy exhibition, I carefully consider the composition. But when I write according to my emotions, I feel like I'm giving priority to my emotions. Even when I write with emotion as a priority, in the end, what comes out is something that is ingrained in my body, something that I have accumulated through my past experiences with hand-copying model texts and artworks. Ideally, the movements and techniques will come out naturally chosen. That's why I feel it's important to accumulate daily.
ーー You also use paints. Your calligraphy skills have been developed over the years, but did you also study painting techniques?
It's all self-taught.
ーー Is there such a thing as a lack of skill that makes it easier to let out emotions? For example, you don't have to worry about the rules.
The lack of skill or ignorance makes it possible to have pure fun like a child, and to approach things differently than usual in terms of freshness. I still don't know how to use tools such as painting, but I think that my writing style comes from Japanese calligraphy in the end, even when I use paints. It's just that the tools I use have changed from Sumi ink to paint, so it's still the same as being a calligraphy in my mind.
About artworks to be written now
ーー It's wonderful that you clearly recognize that what you write is "calligraphy" no matter what tools you use. Now, I would like to move on to the current topic. Are you writing artworks now?
Now that I'm spending so much time with my daughter, it's hard to take time out of my day to write. It's like finding spare time. I realized once again that I used to be able to create because I was helped by the kindergarten and the people around me.
ーー Also today, your husband is watching your child during this interview. So, what do you think the work you're going to write will look like?
In this time of crisis in our society, paintings and calligraphic works can't directly satisfy people's hunger or quench their throats. But I believe that the power of art is a very important part of human life. I think it's often said that we can "give hope and courage through art", but "expression" is something that anyone can do by nature. Writing, drawing, or singing, it's all about dealing with emotions. Face the inside of yourself and let it out. The experience brings energy to the person and leads to confidence. In that sense, I think art is important to people.
I also believe that one of the important roles of art is to be able to convey reality and pass it on to future generations. Right now, there are many things that are happening with the coronavirus that should be reviewed, such as what should have been done. I think that art can call to attention to prevent such things from happening again. If you look at the history of art, there were many people who left works that were anti-war or against social conditions.
A 2017 exhibition at the National Art Center, Tokyo called "Sunshower," which showcased contemporary art from Southeast Asia, featured a number of works that dealt with foreign conflicts, issues of racism, and diverse values and cultures. Watching these artworks made me realize for the first time that there are so many people in such a painful situation in Southeast Asia alone. I realized that one of the roles of art is to make the viewer think. I think that in many cases, even if it is conveyed through images, sounds, or print in the news or newspapers, it is instantly lost in the memory, but if we leave it as artworks, we can make people will be able to see it, feel it, and burn it in their minds. I think a piece of artwork is more moving than words like "no war". Even if art doesn't directly stop the war, I believe it can lead to a step toward a better future, no matter how small.
ーー Listening to your story, I realized that you believe it is very important for people to face their feelings and express them. I really agree with you. And it seems that you have a strong desire to appeal to society with your art in the future. After the end of the coronavirus, the world is going to change. How do you think it will change?
I think each person will think and act more deeply than before. We’ve been too optimistic and not enough self-discipline, so we need to take a fresh look at ourselves. I felt it strongly at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, but after a certain amount of time has passed, people easily forget about it. When it happens around you I think an artist is able to say, "Let's remember well," or "Are you okay? That's why I want to write with what I should express and send out based on what's happening in the world and around me.
ーー Finally, is there anything you're looking forward to after Corona?
Now, the art world is being a huge affected by the cancellation of exhibitions and art fairs. I think the environment for all the artists has changed a lot, and I'm wondering what each one of them is feeling. I think that various activities will begin after Corona, but I wonder what the artists will absorb from this and how they will turn it into artworks. I'm looking forward to seeing the artists' work. I would like to continue to write my artwork in my own way.
ーー I'm really excited to see how the art will change after Corona. I'm looking forward to your new artwork, too. Thank you very much for your long hours today.
Interview Note We used an online meeting tool, Google Hangout, and before I knew it, it was almost two hours. It was a very fulfilling and fun time, even though it was only a voice interview, muted the video because we were both without any makeup. KANAMORI-san is truly fascinating because she speaks her own opinions straight out of the box and no one else's. I'm not sure when Corona or the self-restraint will come to an end, but I hope to find out how much I've changed after Corona by using the extra time I spend at home. Thank you to everyone who has read this far. Please take care of yourself and we will see you again.
Photo: YAMAZAKI Ayumi / Interview, text: YOSHISUE Mayumi / Special thanks to FUNAYOSE Kaori (Translation for the latter half)