In January 2013 I began a 10 week residency at Kitakata in the Aizu area of Fukushima Province in Japan. Although this area is several hundred miles to the West of the disaster area which was blighted by the Nuclear accident the tsunami and earthquake in March 2011, it has suffered by association. The name Fukushima is synonymous with disaster the world over. The Province also still houses 100,000 refugees from the disaster in temporary accommodation. This residency funded by the Japan Foundation and the local IORI club had the purpose of bringing artists from Northern countries to work and connect with the area and people. We were three residents, a sculptor and installation artist and an architect from Norway and myself from Scotland. We joined Yoshiko Maruyama from Japan whose project 'Spirit of North' was the catalyst for the residency and became tightly linked to it.
The area was covered in very deep snow when I arrived and became the immediate focus of my attention. I soon discovered that everyone I spoke to both local and refugee really hated the snow and the work it involved and I wondered if by thinking more about it I could produce images that might suggest a different perspective. Avoiding the many obvious picture postcard views that captivated on sunny days I tried to think about it more objectively.
Normally when we look at the landscape we see many signs of human occupation like houses , roads , agricultural buildings . But when deep snow comes these objects become covered and we see only shapes, patterns, textures and the element of snow itself. This absence and loss of detail became the first aspect of my attention reflected in my initial images. What is lost accentuates what remains. Before leaving the area I returned to see the same locations with rapidly disappearing snow, they had regained their detail but lost all sense of engagement of mystery and perspective.
Then spending more time in town I was interested in the effects of snow on the light and the way that in turn affected window reflections. The Japanese have a habit of blocking out light - or maybe just prying eyes - with thin patterned curtains, adhesive patterned plastic sheets, cut glass, or with paint which often carries the scratches of wear and tear causing an interesting effect. The reflection of the snow and snow covered building in these semi-clear windows created many unusual layered views of these locations.
I also began looking at the concepts of Japanese Sumi-e painting. The ancient concepts of essence of place in which information was omitted and selected detail used to stand in for the whole, and of the broken paint technique which simply suggested form and movement through abstract marks seemed to have much resonance with the work I was making. And it began to direct my interest.
I named my exhibition 'link' after one image in which by using computer rotation I created a long line of trees each linked by a single branch. This very much reflected the many conversations I have had with local people who talk much about the connection with nature and between the forces of nature. Many people here live by these concepts in their daily life. A Blog from the project can be found at http://ecoartscotland.net